Hero (2002, Directed by Zhang Yimou) Mandarin 9

Starring Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, Donnie Yen, Chen Daoming

(9-Great Film)

Stunning. Epic. Awesome.

Set before China was a unified country, a nameless hero (Li) is granted an audience with the emperor (Daoming) after defeating the three most dangerous assassins in the land-Broken Sword (Leung), Flying Snow (Cheung), Long Sky (Yen). The emperor demands to hear Nameless’ story of how he managed the feat, and as the hero tells his story, we, like the emperor, begin to suspect hidden motives. Time has dulled some of the film’s technical marvels, but not its ambition, scale, and beauty. It’s a sweeping tale of myth-making and nationalism. It’s one great set piece after another with a surprising, powerful finale.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954, Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki) Japanese 10

Starring Toshiro Mifune,  Rentarō Mikuni, Kuroemon Ono, Kaoru Yachigusa, Mariko Okada


Epic. Gorgeous. Awesome.

The first film in this epic trilogy charting the evolution of the legendary swordsman Musashi Miyamoto (Mifune). This installment follows Miyamoto in his early years as a rebellious soldier out for personal glory along with his friend Matahachi. After fighting for the losing side in a war, the two men forge wildly different paths for themselves, with Matahachi becoming idle after marrying an older seductress, and Miyamoto becoming a priest after a saintly man rescues him from his life as a fugitive. Added to the plot is Miyamoto’s romance with the woman who was supposed to marry Matahachi, and the story is set up for later installments. It’s a beautiful film on its own, but even more substantial as part of this sweeping series.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The American Friend (1977, Directed by Wim Wenders) German 8

Starring Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz, Lisa Kreuzer, Gérard Blain, Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller

(8-Exceptional Film)

Enigmatic. Elusive. Haunting.

This bilingual, international classic will probably benefit from a second viewing. I admit, if I wasn’t familiar with its source material (Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith), I’m not sure  I would have understood what was going on. There are some major deviations from Highsmith’s novel, but essentially her most famous character, Tom Ripley, gets involved in seducing a decent German man, Zimmerman (Ganz), over to the dark side. Told he has just a short time left to live, Zimmerman agrees to kill a man for a large amount of money that he will give to his family. Dennis Hopper makes a strange but engaging Ripley. He projects almost nothing, while easily capturing the characters contrasting sides (Ripley the criminal manipulator and Ripley the American friend). Ganz is immensely watchable, in a way few people are. He doesn’t have to do anything to hold your attention. The photography, hallmark of Wenders’ work, is superb. The plot and themes take backseats to the mood and feel of the film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Boy and the Beast (2016, Directed by Mamoru Hosoda) Japanese 8

Voices of John Swasey, Eric Vale, Ian Sinclair, Sean Hennigan, Bryn Apprill

(8-Exceptional Film)

Moving. Imaginative. Dazzling.

After the death of his single mother, a young boy named Ren wanders the city, and a chance encounter brings him to the Beast Kingdom. There, he becomes an apprentice to Kumatetsu, a strong but reckless bear-like man who wishes to succeed the Grandmaster as the Lord of Beast Kingdom. The two slowly develop a strong bond, and the film spans the length of Ren’s boyhood. Though lesser renowned than Studio Ghibli’s work, Hosoda has quickly formed an impressive filmography. The animation here is astounding, and the story is very moving.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Seven Samurai (1954, Directed by Akira Kurosawa) Japanese 10

Starring Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Isao Kimura, Yoshio Inaba, Daisuke Katō, Keiko Tsushima


Epic. Impressive. Unforgettable.

A quaint village suffering the tyrannical rule of a local gang of bandits must resort to outside help. With little or no money, how can they expect any great warriors to come fight for them? Eventually, they get a saintly warrior to take up the cause, and he, in turn, enlists five others. Add to this mix, the star, Toshiro Mifune, who tags along pretty much uninvited, becoming integral to their fight later on. This story has been told so many times in its wake, but The Seven Samurai remains the best of its model. The pinnacle of epic filmmaking. Grand, classic entertainment. Inspired The Magnificent Seven, A Bug’s Life, Three Amigos! directly.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Masquerade (2012, Directed by Choo Chang-min) Korean 8

Starring Lee Byung-hun, Han Hyo-joo, Ryu Seung-ryo, Jang Gwang, Shim Eun-kyung, Kim In-kwon

Image result for masquerade korean movie

(8-Exceptional Film)

Gripping. Rejuvenating. Strong.

Mixing Anthony Hope’s classic adventure story, The Prisoner of Zenda, with ancient Korean history, Masquerade stars Lee Byung-hun in the dual roles: King and imitator. King Gwanghae (Lee), who, I learn, was a real person, is growing more and more paranoid by the day. It’s not without basis, however, since he’s soon put in a coma by some mysterious poison left in his food by a servant. His lead advisor, Chief Secretary (Ryu) Heo Gyun, hushes the coma up not wanting chaos to break out from an empty throne, but to do this, he’s forced to call on Ha-sun (Lee), a jester of sorts with a striking resemblance to Gwanghae, to fill in until they can get the real king back. The premise is endlessly compelling when done correctly and Masquerade is a fascinating blend of adventure and political intrigue. Lee Byung-hun does an excellent job of transforming the lead character from a kind buffoon to a noble hero fit to be king.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Great Wall (2017, Directed by Zhang Yimou) English 4

Starring Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe

Image result for the great wall

(4-Bad Movie)

Silly. Unspectacular. Unsatisfying.

Mercenaries, William (Damon) and Pero (Pascal), on a quest for black powder in China during the 11th century are captured by a group of elite Chinese warriors. While imprisoned, they get wrapped up in their captors’ fight against a race of mythical creatures. One of China’s most expensive productions, I was surprised and disappointed to find the CGI especially bad. Of course, the plot is silly, the characters are thin, and the dialogue stilted, but I thought they could have at least stepped up on the visuals. It’s actually very bad all around, and I might even be going too easy on it, since, for some reason, it was still rather entertaining. However, with the level of talent involved in this picture (Zhang Yimou, Edward Zwick, Matt Damon for example), I can’t understand why it falls so flat. Yimou made a much better film about the Great Wall in 2002’s Hero.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-