Thursday, March 31, 2011

SP : The Motion Picture | SP野望篇 [ Movie Review ] ★★

The Pitch

The SP here stands for Security Police and it centered around the trials and tribulation of a team of Japanese politicians bodyguards. SP first found life as a TV series (3rd Nov 2007 to 26th Jan 2008) and like many popular Japanese TV drama series these days, SP was made into 2 motion pictures (this being the first one and a second one that's likely to be heading to Singapore cinema eventually).

The most interesting aspect of this movie (for someone who have not caught the drama series) would be that this movie topped the Japanese Box Office for 3 weeks (from 30th Oct to 14th Nov 2010)* and the follow up movie SP: The Motion Picture II is currently at the top too ( 3 straight weeks from 12 Mar to 27th Mar 2011)*. It's intriguing to find out what the drawing power that this franchise got on the Japanese audience that make them come back for more.

(* Box Office Information from )

The Plot

For the uninitiated, SP: The Motion Picture basically introduced a team of Japanese politician bodyguards. The focus here lies on the team leader, Soichiro Ogata (Shin'ichi Tsutsumi / Suspect X) and one of the member Kaoru Inoue (Junichi Okada). Inoue stood out from the rest with his special "ESP" abilities to remember stuff, detect traps and even premonition. Needless to say, as the protagonist, he would go above and beyond the call of duty.

The plot thickens when Secretary General Kunio Date (Teruyuki Kagawa / 20th Century Boys series) gathered a group of politicians from various departments for a meeting to create crisis that would unite the Japanese citizen. Among the group, Ogata been tasked to carry out the plan and attempted to recruit Inoue for the sinister cause.

It's not hard to figure out how would the hero react to such invitation. Before he got time to ponder more about Ogata's unexplained cause, an emergency occurred and his team had been tasked to protect another Secretary who was making his way to the Prime Minister house. Let's just say that it won't be an easy mission for the hero and his team mates.
The Perspective

As someone who going into this movie without any knowledge of what happened in the TV series, it's relatively easy to get up to speed. Although one might not know the significant of certain character that died in the TV series, it's easy to figure out the plot setup and characters' motivation.

This movie also focused on how the Security Police protects the various politicians from potential harms. But in a strange way, it did too much of "securing" for it's own good. The movie gets bogged down by one security mission after another. It's not only bland (just imagine following a security details around), it does nothing to advance the story and there were plenty of loopholes in their operations.

The most glaring loophole would be how the security team would choose to hand to hand combat when they have other form of weapons with them. It felt like a blatant attempt to show realistic take down that security forces might use. While the fight scenes look different from the usual exaggerated kungfu fight scenes, it felt that the security operation had been stupefied so that they can show the audience how they whack people with their bare hands.

Last but not least, Inoue was quite a boring and tedious character to follow. He got all these supernatural powers that makes him a super bodyguard. It's almost impossible to surprise him when he could see into the future or detect what's round the corner. But the power are wasted in a manner that even when he detects that something is wrong, he would usually react a moment too late. Kinda negated his special abilities most of the time and it makes one wonder why give him special powers in the first place when it doesn't do much for his character or the story.

As the first part of two movies, SP: The Motion Picture failed to entice me to catch the second movie. In fact, it felt like a telemovie that didn't deserve the cinematic treatment. It also felt like if it had remove the introduction arc (for newbies like me), the movie would probably have enough screen time to get to Secretary General Kunio Date's big sinister plan. Perhaps there's more in the TV series and folks who had watched that might appreciate this movie more but right now, it's doing nothing to interest me to the TV series or the 2nd movie.

My Best Bodyguard | มาย เบสท์ บอดี้การ์ด [ Movie Review ] ★1/2

The Pitch

The first time I saw My Best Bodyguard poster in a Thailand cinema, I can't help but noticed that Shawn Yue is in a Thai Film. The next thing that caught my attention was the leading lady on the movie poster. Not exactly the type of actress that grace most of the Thai action flicks posters these days. There's an aura about her that stood out and upon some research, it turned out that she is the princess of Thailand.

The very next chain of thought would be whether did she use her royal connection to get this film made. Will she have the on screen charisma and/or looks to pull off the leading role as an actress? Will it be a decent action flick or an excessive indulgence by the rich and powerful?

Shawn Yue's participation in this movie was totally forgotten at this point. But it's interesting to note that MediaAsia had "loan" him to this project and will be taking charge of the Asian countries distribution of this movie outside of Thailand.

The Plot

The NSSD (National Security Special Detachment) is facing a major crisis in Thailand. There's a deadly virus outbreak and the Americans are threatening to interfere by taking over the crisis control. Jate, the section leader of NSSD promised that he and his team would resolve this issue within a week.

My Looks Could Kill Too
Meanwhile, a hotshot reporter Nicha (Ubolratana Rajakanya)  is doing her own investigation on the matter. An infected doctor seeked her out and gave her valuable information that could expose a foreign pharmaceutical company dirty secrets. Before she could get more information, the doctor was assassinated by Thud (Shahkrit Yamnarm).

Nicha decided to press on and confronted Shawn (Shawn Yue), the young and successful businessman who is leading the foreign pharmaceutical company. The ambitious business man has no qualms in sacrificing the weak for profits and medical advancement.

She later discovered a number of Thai citizen were used as lab rats to test out the virus. The first bunch of infected individuals were assassinated by NSSD in an attempt to control the outbreak of the virus while the remaining five were held captive by the pharmaceutical company. Her investigation unwittingly caused her to captured by Shawn's henchmen and they decided to inject her with the virus.

We don't need to shoot them up close
While waiting for a possible antibody from one of the remaining few, the NSSD suddenly appeared to bust Shawn's  illegal business dealings. The evil doers managed to send the infected personals away with NSSD on hot pursuit. Unexpectedly, the assassin, Thud who killed the infected doctor appeared to rescue the infected personal.

It turned out that Nicha's father was a Colonel and Thud works for him out of gratitude. Not only that, the Colonel also had past dealings with this form of virus and told them that the antidote might be in one of the infected personals. All they could do was to sit and wait for the one to appear. It's not an easy task as the infected personals would like to contact their love ones in case they are not so lucky to survive this experiment. NSSD and the foreign pharmaceutical company are also keeping a look out for this infected personals. 

The Perspective

I am deaf to all your criticism
First and foremost, what can one expect when the story was written by a person that uses the initial C.R.A.B as the writer credit. One heck of a bad story flow and characters motivation. In another word, it's CRAP.

If the plot above sound pretty convoluted and patchy, that's because it written as how it was shown in the theater. Excessive characters and subplots that does nothing for the main story. One setup moves to another setup without the linkage in between, making one wonder if there's a missing segment between those two scenes. Needless to say, the setup for the main characters' motivation were sacrificed when the movie attempted to chew more than it can swallow and digest.

The other notable problem with this movie would be Shawn Yue's attempt to speak English for the whole duration of the movie. Shawn Yue's English was pretty bad as compared to the rest of  the Thai cast. It sound so unnatural and unclear that English subtitle would be a great help.

Stop or the Princess will Shoot!
Last but not least, the problem with My Best Bodyguard would be Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya involvement. She lacks the looks factor to carry the movie as the female protagonist. While there are other actors that do not relies on their looks and instead hone their performance to hook the audience, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya lacks that edge to draw in the viewer with her acting. Her acting came across as stiff and too much of the royalty aura that make her character less convincing as a working class reporter. It certainly doesn't help when she filmmakers hired so many good looking male counterparts to star in this movie with her. It's simply a glaring distraction with the incompatible pairings.

In summary, My Best Bodyguard is a pile of crappy mess that going to top my bottom ten movies of 2011 list. The story was a dismay mess and tried to take on too much. Shawn Yue was out of element when he been tasked to speak in English. The action sequences in My Best Bodyguard was a tame affair that does not require any attention. I don't want to be rude but my take would be that My Best Bodyguard is a vanity project for Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya. The movie industry could be a very harsh place and if you don't have the X Factor, you don't have the X Factor. One could only wait and see if she will ever make another movie after My Best Bodyguard.


In veins of some great Asian action flicks, My Best Bodyguard went on to show the NG segments of this movie. In particular, it focused on an accident that happened when the princess was making an escape from the captive. It was a simple scene that accident should not have happened but it did and in all honesty, it looked like the princess had a rather nasty face first fall. The rest of the coda segment dedicated their admiration for the princess's preservation to complete the movie.

As an action flick coda segment, it also fall pretty flat like the movie. There's nothing impressive about the action sequences in My Best Bodyguard that needed glorification in such manner. In fact, if someone didn't trip and fall in a bad way, there might nothing to filled the length of the end credits.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sanctum [ Movie Review ] ★★1/2

The Pitch

No, James Cameron did not direct this movie. But looking how this movie poster and other form of advertisements are pasting his name in big unmissable fonts, you might just be mislead into thinking that he directed this "base on a true underwater cave exploration survival story" movie. James Cameron is just the executive producer for Sanctum.

It's also well known that James Cameron is a big dive fan and perhaps there something about this underwater caves diving expedition gone wrong story that attracted him to put his name on it. So if James Cameron put his name in this film project, it must be good then? Well not necessary ... read on.

The Plot

Millionaire Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd) and mountain climbing expert girlfriend Victoria are going to visit an underwater cave exploration site that set up by Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh). Together with them, they brought along Fank's son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) which made Frank upset.

While the visitors were settling down at a base camp inside the caves, Frank and Judes (Allison Cratchley) went to explore an unexplored section of the cave. Accident happened and Frank ended up dragging Judes body back. Josh started blaming his father for the death of Judes and wanted to leave the expedition.

But before he could leave, a major storm broke up on the surface and enclosed the survivals in the caves. They could not sit and wait for rescue as the water is rising. They must find a way to escape from the rising water and the only option would be the unexplored section of cave that Judges had died in.

The Perspective

Having James Cameron name on your movie poster could be a double edged sword. While you get the extra attention to draw folks to watch your movie, you would also invite comparison between James Cameron direction and yours. Incidentally Avatar and Sanctum are both stories that been done before. The only difference would be that James Cameron is a good story teller and the director of Sanctum wasn't good enough to make a mediocre plot great.

From the introduction, to the conflicts and bonding between characters, Sanctum didn't do a good job in merging them into a story that would make us feel for the characters. Instead they became characters that you don't want to be stuck in a cave in and you probably wouldn't care less if anyone of them die from this freak storm.

The treatment between the father and son (Frank and Josh) were the most uneven one. One moment, Josh was all upset with his father for "killing" his dive partner and the next, he looking at him with admiration. But when things go wrong again, Josh couldn't wait any second to whine about how terrible his dad is as a human being.

Those are the issues with the story telling aspect of Sanctum. There are some technical aspects of the movie that stood out as a sore thumb Personally, I have done some some diving trips, climb a mountain (and a few hills) and watch a couple more documentaries on this sort of extreme sport expedition. Some of my personal complains were that how people who participate in such sports could behave in such stupid manners.

The first unbelievable issue would be  how Victoria refused Frank's advice to put on a dead woman suit. Although she had never dive before, she was a expert climber who had earlier mention about the dangers of mountain climbing. She of all person should know that when participating in such extreme sports events, it's rather important to listen to the leader's advice at those crucial moments. Her rich boyfriend and expedition bank roller Frank said nothing to try and change her mind. Instead he shone a light in her face at another crucial moment. That is of course the unlikely behavior of people who does outdoor sports. 

There's also another issue of how Judes's air hose snapped and had problems sharing full face diving mask to buddy breathe. I never used a full face diving mask before but won't the protocol for such emergency be swimming up for air? They had just discovered a new caves with lights above. Wouldn't be a survival instinct to swim up for the precious air? Or didn't it even occur to them to off the tank that's containing the leaking hose and use the remaining  air like what Frank's son did at the end of the movie? It's really hard to believe that a hardcore dive expedition leader like Frank would just freeze like an novice diver facing an emergency.

The real life story that Sanctum is based on was not filled with stupid decisions like those that were just mentioned. It's equally scary but people don't make silly novice mistakes here and everyone got rescued. I can't help but wonder why didn't they just make a movie that truer to the incident that had occurred.

It's likely that this movie is made for audience who had not tried scuba diving, mountain climbing and other various extreme adventure sports. This movie thrilled the female audience sitting beside me while I was shaking my head in disbelief. I got a feeling that she is going to enjoy the technical aspect of this movie more than me. There's also the weak characterization and story flow that marred all that's good about the movie. It's a pity because both the actors and the cinematography were good.  I couldn't recommend this movie but neither am I thumbing it down ... too much.

Beyond The Movie

Read Andrew Wright actual account of the real life story that Sanctum is based on here.

Stunt Diver Agnes Milowka who did the stunt double for the two female characters in Sanctum died when she run out of air in one of the caves dives. The incident happened shortly after the film was released. Her life and more on the incident that took her life could be found here.

Worth the 3D price?

Oddly enough, you would think that with producer James Cameron in the project, the 3D effect would at least be a notch better than those movies that jumped onto the 3D bandwagon simply for the extra financial incentive. But there really nothing 3D about Sanctum. Not even a gimmicky throw at the audience. Most of the time, the setting is either in the dark underwater or in the dark caves and there not even much gradient effects to talk off. Seriously, save the extra money if you really do need to watch this (which in the first place would be unnecessary).

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Man From Nowhere | 아저씨 [ Movie Review ] ★★★★

The Pitch

The Man from Nowhere was the Top Korean Film of the 2010 Korean Box Office. That information alone should perk some interest and curiosity for this movie. It's also headlined by Won Bin, one of the top artist in Korea with his huge fans base. But it's unlikely that the fans could push a film into the top spot. There must be something good in the movie that garnered so many viewings from non fans or business from repeated viewings.

The Plot

Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin) leads a quiet life a pawnbroker in a neighborhood pawn shop. A little girl So-Mi (Kim Sae-ron) kept pestering him and became his companion (irregardless whether he wants it or not). Troubles started knocking on their doors when thugs wanted to recover some drugs that So-Mi's mom had stolen and she kept it in a camera bag that she had pawned to Tae-sik.

What they didn't realized was that Tae-sik is not your ordinary pawnbroker and he is not a man to trifle with.

After a tense standoff, the thugs managed to leave with the drugs and So-Mi. In order to rescue them, he agreed to run an errand for them and ended up getting double crossed by the thugs. The police arrived at the exchange location and apprehended him. They were surprised to discover So-Mi's mom dead body in the trunk of his car. To make matters worse, the internal organs are missing and that would mean that these thugs are not simply trafficking drugs.

Time is ticking by and Tae-sik is forced to go all out to rescue little So-Mi before she suffers the same fate as her mom. It's not only the bad guys, Tae-sik had to content with the police force who are investigating this case.

The Perspective

The introduction arc of The Man from Nowhere felt like it's a remake of Léon (The Professional). It's awfully similar to how the young girl bonded with the quiet neighbor and the parents who are involved with drugs. I was half expecting the little girl asking for her neighbor to coach her in the ways of assassins. But then again, it's not a remake of Léon. Almost half way through, it became a movie about drug / human organs trafficking and one man's mission to rescue his young friend. He did it in a very brutally effective way and the movie took a turn for Liam Neeson's Taken.

But nevertheless, the movie has a solid run with it's rendition of those familiar elements and could stand on it's own without being label as a knockoff. It's largely based on the performance and how the story was told.

First of all, there are pretty memorable villains in this movie. The two leaders are wildly wicked and bestially cruel. Their right hand man is a cool hitman with a strong sense of ethics. The things they do to the kids are so repulsive that it makes their gory comeuppance a joy to sit through. They might be  stereotypical but they were effective here in defining the hero's struggle.

The story also had a great pace and flow. Keeping various turn of events coming a brisk pace that it will keep one on the edge of the chair. From the revelation of Tae-sik's background to the true nature of the thugs' trafficking, it just hooks you and never let go till the end credits.

Then there's the little girl's performance as So-Mi. Kim Sae-ron exude a sense of adorableness without being too annoying. There a sense of worldliness and innocence to her that makes her her a great supporting act. Given her young age, Kim Sae-ron is definitely someone to watch out for in the future. 

Last but not least, this is a Won Bin movie and he got screen charisma in spades. From the hard hitting unflinching man on a mission to one dealing with lost cause, it's easy to see why he had such a huge fan base.

The Koreans are also know for their hard hitting take on vengeance movies and they are constantly pushing edge of morality. With the right cast, performance and direction, the movie will grip hold of the audience long after the credits are over. The Man from Nowhere is one of those movies that balance violence and emotion well. One of the finest Korean movies in recent years and definitely worthy of it's placing in the 2010 Korean Box Office.

Beyond the Movie

The Korean title for this movie Ajussi means Uncle.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Rango [ Movie Review ] ★★★

The Pitch
The last time Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski teamed up, we got Captain Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Caribbeans franchise. Now they are back with an animation about a pet chameleon roughing it out in a small old west town populated by desert animals.

We have seen Johnny Depp in a variety of memorable roles that range from a murderous barber, the owner of a chocolate factor, a author of a classic story and a character from a classic story. Mostly characters that are a bit weird but always interesting.

Rango, a talking lizard who is out of his elements seemed like a role that suits Johnny Depp like a glove. A domestic pet trying to act tough in face of adversity has plenty of opportunities for laughs and Johnny Depp might just be the man to deliver it. The story of an accidental hero is not new but it might be lots of fun with Johnny Depp in the lead role.

Plus Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) who gave us  memorable special effects in Star Wars and plenty of others films, would be providing their first full length computer animation feature. Would be interesting to see if they can challenge Pixar, Dreamworks animation and other animation companies for a piece of the animation market pie.

The Plot

A lonely pet chameleon became accidentally stranded in a dessert after his tank was knocked out of a vehicle. After getting some direction from an armadillo, the chameleon set off to find the town of Dirt. Before reaching there, he was chased by a hawk and was nearly eaten up.

He met Beans (Isla Fisher) and she took her to the Dirt, a small town that looks like the Wild West. He enters a bar and found that it was filled with mean looking animals that are about to chew him up. In a moment of inspiration, he decided to role play as a tough character and called himself Rango. To gain some street cred with the folks in the bar, he decided to share bravado stories of his "past"

 Meanwhile, Beans who was trying to save her father's property, discovered that the only bank in town was running out water. Water in this movie is like the money, a prized commodity in this town and without it, the folks are leaving town.

Rango on the other hand, fascinated the rest with his stories until the real outlaws came by to challenge him. A shootout was about to happen when the hawk returns to Dirt. While everyone scrammed to hide from this predator, Rango was blissfully ignorant about it. In the overused accidental hero angle, Rango eventually found out and in moments of panic, he managed to kill the hawk.

The town mayor decided to make Rango the sheriff of the town and without thinking much about it, he took the job on. A worried Beans then demand Rango to quickly solve the water shortage problem.  Town folks also informed him that with the hawk gone, the second super predator, the rattlesnake might return. Rango who was busking in his new found adulation did not take those warning seriously and promised that he will solved the problem eventually.

On the first night as a sheriff, Rango inadvertently gave the mole robbers the bank location and tools to "prospect" the bank. Waking up to the discover that the bank had been robbed, Rango was tasked to form a posses to retrieve the stolen water. Along the way, Rango and Beans noticed that something is fishy about the town running out of water and it might be more than a mere robbery.

The Perspective

With high expectation comes disappointment. Rango is still somewhat enjoyable entertainment but it's definitely not as good as one would hope for.

From the start, it was incredibly tedious first hour that almost put me to sleep. It could be that I was tired but it felt like a long walk in the hot dry desert. The jokes were mostly flat and the best scenes were already on the trailer. It doesn't help that the movie moves in such a predictable fashion that it felt like it was cut and copy from many classic (cult or otherwise) movies. It's like I seen this movie before, in many different other fashions.

The characterization was a problem here and ironically Rango was the biggest culprit in most part of the movie. It was really hard to relate to this character. Personally, that not much in Rango character that would make me root for this underdog masquerading as a top dog. In fact, he became rather irritating egoistic when he became over confident. Not to mention there a silliness about Rango that seems like a desperate bid to endear himself to the audience. Some might like it but it did very little for me. Using Jack Sparrow as a reference, Johnny Depp's Rango would be like the Captain Sparrow in the last two installments where it would have been better if there's less of Captain Jack Sparrow.

But then again, things start to pick up in the later half when the story finally moved into the right gear. Once Rango and gang attempt to retrieve the water bottle from the moles, the action adventure started to veered into the right excitement. Things became more sinister and dark truths about the missing water started to unravel. A villain that worthy of attention finally shown up and things escalated to an interesting twist. Our hero went on a  personal journey to discover his identity and met a very iconic western genre character before going for a grand showdown.

It makes me wonder what happened in the first half. Was there a change in writers? Why did the story took so long to get where it was going? The last act was the redeeming part of the movie. It makes Rango likable once again and brings some sort of excitement to the movie. If only the movie was consistently good as the last act.

The animation factor. ILM did a commendable job. Some scenes were beautiful to look at. The rendering of Rango and his animal friends were top notch. Personally, I am looking forward to their next animation project.

Last but not least, Rango is filled with reference to classic movies and particularly Johnny Depp movies. See if you could spot references like Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas and Mad Max 2 . Some hit the right spots as intended while others did nothing much as being an obvious reference to those who knows. References to other movies might help up the fun factor of the movie but too much of it might bring along a negative effect.

Watching Rango makes me wonder how is this movie going to be marketed to kids. There are plenty of moments that felt too dark for a kid show. The reference jokes might be lost with them too. Personally, the film is marred by the slow start but somewhat redeemed by the final arc. Rango is entertaining but not as good as expected. Perhaps it's the high expectation or personal weariness that didn't allowed me to enjoy the first half of Rango as much I would like to. I am more than willing to rewatch this movie again to see if the perspective changes.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

All About Love | 得閒炒飯 [ Movie Review ] ★★★1/2

The Pitch

Vivian Chow (周慧敏) returns to the big screen after 14 years of absence and she took on a role as a lesbian. How's that for a comeback? Not only that, she is paired with Sandra Ng (吴君如) (the comedic maestro in Hong Kong) as a pair of lesbian lovers reuniting in a very strange circumstances.

All About Love is directed by Ann Hui (許鞍華), one of the renown directors in Hong Kong and produced by Wong Jing (王晶) (renown of lowbrow entertainment flicks). Strange combination but these days, they collaborated for Night and Fog before and that was one of my favorite Hong Kong movie in recent years.

The Plot

Macy (Sandra Ng) and Anita (Vivian Chow) used to be lovers until Macy left her. They reunite at a pregnancy talk after 12 years later. Even though they are both pregnant, they are still single and there are still chemistry between them. As they took long walks in sending each other home, they recount about how they got pregnant.

Anita hooked up with Mike (William Chan) a blind date who turned out to be a quick draw but he was a quick and accurate shot and pretty soon, Anita found out that she is pregnant. As a mature pregnant woman, the doctor assured her that it will be all right if the male donor is healthy. Taking that in account, she seek her one night lover out and realized that he is only an university undergrad who is approaching 20.

Macy pregnancy on the other hand had it's own interesting tale. Her law firm was running out of funds and in desperation, she took up the job of defending Robert (Eddie Cheung) a wife beater. After listening to his side of story, she advised her client on how give his wife the proper love instead. Her method worked and her wife decided not to sue the wife beater. Their celebration eventually turned into a night of affair and like Anita, Macy became pregnant in the most unlikely circumstances.

After the meet up at the pregnancy talk, the feeling between them reignited. But as they resumed their relationship, there are still some obstacles in their way. The two sperm donors / fathers were still hounding them. Macy was still having commitment issues and would like her lesbian friends who are having problem with child adoption to adopt her unborn child. Anita on the other hand would like to raise their children as one happy family (like what happened in The Kids are All Right).  To top it off, Anita had to face discrimination at work for being a unwed pregnant mom.

The Perspective

All About Love had a pretty good start. A whimsical romantic introduction to the characters had a mixture of European flavor with distinctive Hong Kong backdrop. The ladies enjoying each other company at Hong Kong iconic outdoor escalators evokes an image of romance in Paris. It had the seductive setup to start a forbidden romance or simply rekindling the feelings of the past.

Vivian Chow still look that stunning after so many years of retirement from showbiz. Even though she had aged considerably, she still retain that screen presence that still make her still so ever desirable. It's also good that she had pass her prime so that she could take on controversial roles that she couldn't take on when she had to uphold her pop idol squeaky-clean image. In a way, it's became more liberating for her to choose her roles (if she does really want to end her retirement). 

Sandra Ng gave a commendable performance as the bisexual butch. She made it believable that both gender would fall for her. Her comedic touch is not wasted here either. Some of the funniest scenes in All About Love came from scenes involving her.

Eddie Cheung and William Chan were pretty amusing as Robert and Mike, the supporting males. Mike's embarrassing premature ejaculation and how he handle the situation was quite funny. Robert's funniest moment came about when he gave the real reason why he abuse his wife, it was so funny that it seems that Sandra Ng can't help but break into laughter.

There's also some interesting discussion on Bisexuality and Homosexuality for a straight guy to absorb. Specially when Macy visited a lesbian group to find out that their views on sexuality clashes and intolerance goes both ways.

However, the story loses steam after the third quarter. It was taking on to many issues for it's own good. Especially Anita being discriminated at work was as weakly staged as the street protest shown in this movie. It also felt like the filmmaker didn't know how to end the movie. Macy's lesbian friends with adoption issues felt like an unnecessary addition to the movie. It might have been better if the focus was on Macy, Anita, Mike and Robert's unique love rectangle.

There no erotic sex or even nudity between Vivian Chow and Sandra Ng in All About Love but the chemistry between still sizzles. Pretty good performance by the key players in this movie but it's a pity that the script couldn't work out a proper climax for this movie to end.

Beyond the Movie

The Chinese title for this movie, 得閒炒飯 is a slang for When You are Free, Let's have Sex or Having Leisurely Sex. 得閒 (De Xian) would mean "When Free" and 炒飯 (Chao Fan) would mean Fried Rice / Fry Rice. It was said that in Taiwanese context, the 炒飯 (Chao Fan) also means the act of sex. There you have it, De Xian Chao Fan, When Free Have Sex!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau [ Movie Review ] ★★★

The Pitch

Free Will versus Fate. Can true love fend off a group of individuals with seemly omnipresence power? That seems to be what The Adjustment Bureau trailer had presented.

The love affair between a politician and a ballerina that is affected by strange and powerful mysterious forces. A philosophy musing exercise with sci-fi entertainment and a douse of romance.

Personally, The Adjustment Bureau has a dash of Minority Report, Dark City and even the Martix feel to it. There are mentions of "Bourne meets Inception" but personally, I dont see much linkage except to cash in on what popular (and profitable).

Based on Philip K. Dick's short story, Adjustment Team, this might just be an intelligent and entertaining film that find it's place with Blade Runner and Minority Report.

The Plot

David Norris (Matt Damon) was preparing for a losing speech as his run for the United State Senate was coming to an end. A beautiful mysterious lady (Emily Blunt) suddenly appeared and they shared an engaging conversation. Sparks flew and they engaged in a sudden kiss. They were rudely interrupted when David's aide came to inform him that it's time for the speech. Before he could get her name, the security guards came and chase her away. David Norris went on to give a honest speech about his political career and was widely praise for it.

The next day, a mysterious man sat a park bench waiting for David Norris. He was given instruction to spill coffee on David Norris at a certain timing. The mysterious man fell asleep and missed the timing. By that time, David Norris was already on a bus and he met the mysterious lady from last night. They clicked once again and this time, the lady introduced herself as Elise and gave him her numbers so that they can stay in contact.

David reached the office and was surprised to see his boss and colleague motionless. They were examined by men in strange attire. He tried to make a run for it but no matter where he went, they were just a step behind. David was captured and took to a warehouse. The mysterious hatted men then revealed to him that they have special power and the ability to read minds. They are sent by "the Chairman" to make adjustment to people's thoughts so that things can go according to plan. David was warned that if he ever revealed this matter to others, they would reset his mind and he will end up lobotomized. Before leaving him, the hatted men told him that he was not meant to ever meet up with Elise and needs to forget about her.

After destroying her numbers, they put him back into the office and David noticed the slight change in his boss's stand on a solar panel project. But at that point he was most affected about his new found romance coming to an sudden and unnatural end.

Three years later, David managed to see Elise on the streets. They reconnected and that drove the Bureau to work overtime in keeping them apart. They threw everything at them, changing their schedules and even using doors as a teleporting machine to deter them from building a relationship. Ultimately they failed and realized that they were actually meant to be together until a recent change in plan.

The Bureau had no choice but to send their top agent to break up this couple. Would their relationship be able to withstand such a supernatural pounding? Or would they choose the easier route that fate had intended?

The Perspective

First of all, there are plenty of loopholes in this movie. Personally, it's hard to believe that it was so difficult for these two to meet again. She is aware of his identity as a Senator candidate and if she was really as affected by the first meeting as she said she was, it shouldn't be that hard for her to locate him. It's also pretty convenience that the adjustment bureau was aware of the first re-meet up but totally missed the second one, specially for key individual who is traveling on the same bus route for 3 straight years. This guy is destined to be a very special man in their fate book and no one at the Bureau bothered or was even assigned to check on him for years?

Thinking more about it, The Adjustment Bureau, filled with supernatural powered individuals doing God Chairman's work, have absolutely no deterrence for unauthorized intruders at all.

But the movie kept moving in a breezy pace, throwing new elements to keep the viewers intrigue and minds off those loopholes. What are the mysterious group of hatted men up to? Who's their boss? What are they capable of? How is Matt Damon David Norris, going to outwit them? Could true love happen in first sight and span over years? Will love hinder one's goal in life? All these questions keep coming in to intrigue the viewers while the two love birds made a run for it.

The romance between David Norris and Elise Sallas worked due to Matt Damon and Emily Blunt on screen chemistry. This whole movie hinges on the acceptance of their romance. Without it, there's basically no story. The best part would be that the movie does not overly sells the romance and keep the two apart for most part of the movie. It really boils down to how they portrayal their longing and perseverance for their true love. Emily Blunt is spectacular in that aspect of showing the emotion restraint and endurance while working with a shorter screen time as compared to Matt Damon.

Last but not least,  John Toll painted the picturesque New York city with his camera that beautiful to look at. It brings along an aesthetic beauty to complement the actors performance and the storyline progression.

But then we have to reach the end and personally, that was the crux of a story. There are some average movies that became great due to how it chose to end and there are movies with potential premise that falter with it's ending. The ending got to be the worst part of the film. The Adjustment Bureau ended in a way that it sort of wipe away what had been established throughout the movie. It took away the importance of why they are running and the difficulty that our star crossed lovers faced to be together.

The ending will probably appeal to the masses with it's convenient ending but personally, it's just disappointing to see how it lacks the ball to close the story with what it had been building. It was just too anti-climatic and too easy for the two main characters. It doesn't have to be bleak but going against destiny needed more than was done in the movie to justified their final fate.

Perhaps there might be an alternate ending in the future Dvd extras but one can only hope. Currently, the more I think about The Adjustment Bureau, the more I find things that I don't like about the show. It's adjusting my initial liking for the show. I thought it could be one of the first great movie of 2011 but the ending was such a game changer. Nuff Said.
Beyond the Movie

The Adjustment Bureau is based on Philip K. Dick's short story, Adjustment Team. According to Wiki, the protagonist in the short story is a estate salesman and there's no love interest involved. Just a man who discovered the Adjustment Team and been warned about revealing their secret.

More info here