My Sassy Girl (2001, Directed by Kwak Jae-yong) Korean 7

Starring Jun Ji-hyun, Cha Tae-hyun, Kim In-moon, Song Ok-sook, Han Jin-hee, Yang Geum-seok

My Sassy Girl' (2001): An Inexplicable Non-Romance | Express ...

(7-Very Good Film)

Quirky. Cute. Appealing.

The Girl: Wanna die?

It’s rare and largely unnecessary for a romantic comedy to feature any measure of originality. Most people look to the genre for easy laughs, cute faces, and a reassuring story. My Sassy Girl is now nearly twenty years old, but I’m struck by how fresh it feels. The setup is familiar enough. On the subway one evening, a young man, Gyeon-woo (Cha), meets a very drunk girl, simply referred to as The Girl in credits, played by Jun Ji-hyun. She throws up, he’s burdened with seeing her home, and later, through a serious misunderstanding, Gyeon-woo is tossed in prison. So begins their relationship and it’s a strange one, chiefly because she’s a bizarre girl; demanding, moody, reckless. Gyeon-woo can’t help himself from falling for her, and it’s a credit to the actress that we fully understand. Mean girlfriends aren’t anybody’s idea of a romantic lead but Jun and the quirky writing make The Girl a slow charmer. My Sassy Girl relies heavily on misunderstandings; for its humor and its story. That’s generally considered a weakness in movie storytelling but it works here and the final misunderstanding leads to a surprising and satisfying finale.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(949)

Dil Chahta Hai (2001, Directed by Farhan Akhtar) Hindi 8

Starring Aamir Khan, Akshaye Khanna, Dimple Kapadia, Preity Zinta, Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Kulkarni

Flashback Friday: Dil Chahta Hai

(8-Exceptional Film)

Compelling. Attractive. Intimate.

Akash Malhotra: Dad, there is more to life than just signing checks.

Akash’s father: Really… What is that?

I don’t know of many films (or novels, for that matter) that focus on typical males in their twenties. Dil Chahta Hai stars Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, and Akshaye Khanna as best friends Akash, Sameer, and Sid; three adult university students trying to find their direction in life as they fall into complicated relationships. Carefree Akash falls in love with a girl, Shalini (Zinta), engaged to a rich jerk, Sameer discovers he has feelings for the woman, Pooja (Kulkarni), his parents tried to set him up with, and Sid, worst of all, becomes infatuated with a troubled older woman, Tara (Kapadia). Great music, a fresh look at modern India (despite this being nearly 20 years old), and engaging romance make this a classic. I’d rank it with Barry Levinson’s Diner (1982) as the best film about twenty-somethings.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(947)

The Tai Chi Master (1993, Directed by Yuen Woo-ping) Cantonese 6

Starring Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Chin Siu-ho, Fennie Yuen, Yuen Cheung-yan, Lau Shun, Yu Hai

Tai Chi Master 1993 – Enter the Dragon

(6-Good Film)

Action-packed. Uneven. Frenetic.

Junbao: The past is what makes up who we are. Don’t let it become your burden.

Junbao (Li) and Tienbo (Siu-ho) grow up together as brothers in a Shaolin Temple studying as monks in the ways of martial arts. After the generally misbehaving pair are expelled, they move out into the world and see first-hand their new town’s rampant corruption. Junbao joins a group of rebels in response, while Tienbo lusts for power and joins the soldiers. Shocked by Tienbo’s betrayal, Junbao loses his mind and it’s up to his new friends, Siu-lin (Yeoh), for one, to help him find himself in time to master Tai Chi and save the people. This is a fast, fun action flick with a heavy dose of legend and history mixed in. There’s always a bit of a bizarre acclimation process that goes on when I watch these Hong Kong action epics-the flying, the defying of physics, what-have-you. I know we, of course, have fantasy in western culture but I’m never quite prepared for it. I think maybe because films like this one look so grounded in history and reality. The action scenes are well-done, showing off the impossible speed of its performers, particularly its star Jet Li, naturally. The story, however, falls short of the epicness it strives for and underuses its supporting cast.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(945)

Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (2000, Directed by Aziz Mirza) Hindi 5

Starring Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla, Paresh Rawal, Johnny Lever, Atul Parchure, Sanjay Mishra, Sharat Saxena

Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani' failure made me stronger: SRK | Catch ...

(5-Okay Film)

Disappointing. Overwrought. Mediocre.

Tagline: Love, laughter, and freedom.

Reteaming him with director, Aziz Mirza, and costar, Juhi Chawla, Shah Rukh Khan claimed that this film was the biggest failure of their careers. I don’t know just what he meant or why he feels that way. The film was a modest commercial success and fared reasonably well critically, but there’s no question that it is disappointing. With its high pedigree and its strong premise, borrowed partially from classics like His Girl Friday, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani should be much better. Khan and Chawla star as rival t.v reporters competing for ratings as they slowly fall for one another. Meanwhile, a huge story develops involving corrupt politicians, revenge, and a local assassination. The film simply attempts too many tones to successfully deliver on any of them. Most Bollywood films alternate between tones frequently but it’s too jarring here. There’s a subplot wherein a father kills the man who raped his daughter and there are goofy scenes like the one in which Khan fends off past girlfriends who want to get back together. It just doesn’t work. By the end, all ideas of fun have completely left the picture and what’s left is overwrought. Too many tearful closeups.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(940)

Iron Monkey (1993, Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping) Cantonese 6

Starring Donnie Yen, Ringo Yu, Jean Wang, Angie Tsang, James Wong, Yuen Shun-yi, Lee Hai

Iron Monkey

(6-Good Film)

Action-packed. Fun. Outlandish.

Wong Kei-Ying: A man should shed blood, not tears.

One of the dozen or so pictures I’ve seen depicting Wong Fei-Hong, this is the only one that shows the legendary Chinese hero as a young boy. It’s the 19th century and he wanders into some small town with his tough, widowed father, Wong Kei-Ying (Yen), to find that the local officials are corrupt and a masked vigilante known as the Iron Monkey is terrorizing them, doing his best impression of Robin Hood. Father and son get involved in the action once Kei-Ying agrees to catch the mysterious hero. Fast-paced and full of action, Iron Monkey is a lot of fun. It’s also a bit bizarre to me as a westerner, though I’ve seen a number of martial arts films. Iron Monkey feels particularly foreign in its style, sense of humor, and artistic flourishes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(939)

3 Idiots (2009, Directed by Rajkumar Hirani) Hindi 5

Starring Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor, R. Madhavan, Sharman Joshi, Boman Irani, Omi Vaidya, Mona Singh

3 Idiots Locations - Movies Locations

(5-Okay Film)

Fun. Silly. Emotional.

Rancho: Pursue excellence, and success will follow, pants down.

Insanely popular, 3 Idiots, to me, is a very strange epic. Alternating between tones frequently, as is common in Bollywood movies, I found the mood swings to be a bit jarring. In any case, a number of films, when they want to highlight the extraordinariness of a lead character, will use a more “average” character to be our point of view. We see Sherlock Holmes through Doctor Watson’s eyes or Andy Dufresne through Red’s eyes, for example. 3 Idiots introduces us to Rancho (Khan) through the eyes of his classmates, Farhan (Madhavan) and Raju (Joshi). They attend the highly competitive Imperial College of Engineering and when Rancho makes an enemy of the Dean by challenging tradition and the way the school puts pressure on its students, Farhan and Raju are forced to decide who to follow, Rancho or the Dean. The soundtrack is infectious and the three leads make a merry trio of friends. There are also a couple of good surprises along the way. The romance is less compelling, however, and overall, despite being one of his biggest hits, 3 Idiots isn’t as strong as some of Khan’s other star-vehicles; Dangal or Lagaan being my favorite.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(923)

The Cat Returns (2002, Directed by Hiroyuki Morita) Japanese 7

Voices of (English version) Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Peter Boyle, Elliot Gould, Tim Curry, Judy Greer, Andy Richter, Kristen Bell, René Auberjonois

Image result for the cat returns

(7-Very Good Film)

Lovely. Light. Captivating.

From the powerhouse of Japanese animation, or really just animation as a whole, Studio Ghibli, The Cat Returns follows a high school student named Haru (Hathaway) who saves a meandering cat from becoming roadkill only to learn that the cat is royalty in a far off kingdom inhabited exclusively by cats. In danger of being whisked away to said kingdom and forced into marriage, she enlists the help of the cat bureau led by Baron Humbert (Elwes) and the portly cat Muta (Boyle). This is a wonderful, light, oddball fantasy with truly fine voice work by its English cast. Not quite on the level of Hayao Miyazaki’s work but that’s no real indictment.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(901)

Fireworks Wednesday (2006, Directed by Asghar Farhadi) Persian 8

Starring Hedye Tehrani, Taraneh Alidoosti, Hamid Farokhnezhad, Pantea Bahram, Houman Seyyedi, Sahar Dolatshahi

Image result for fireworks wednesday

(8-Exceptional Film)

Painful. Assured. Poignant.

“Human beings are condemned to consequences.” Some wise old British writer once said that, though I’m struggling to place who. I, perhaps erroneously, remember reading it in some Graham Greene novel many years ago (The Heart of the Matter), but maybe it was Aldous Huxley as someone else has suggested to me. In any case, the quote perfectly underlines what’s at the heart of each film by the great, two-time Oscar winner, writer-director, Asghar Farhadi, a master in his prime. He found international acclaim and came to my attention back in 2011 with his powerful fifth feature film, A Separation, which won that year’s prize for Best Foreign-Language Film at the Academy Awards. He went on to win a second Oscar in that same category years later for The Salesman, and, as his reputation grew, some of his earlier works were made available to us in the Western world. One of these early films is Fireworks Wednesday. Young bride-to-be, Rouhi (Alidoosti), takes on short-term work helping the wealthy, dysfunctional Samiei family. The wife, Mozhdeh (Tehrani), is almost certain, let’s say ninety-nine percent sure, that her husband is cheating on her, and it’s that one percent doubt that is wearing on her. He makes her think that she’s crazy. Maybe she is. Like his other films, Farhadi’s Fireworks Wednesday focuses on the collateral damage, the innocent victims of domestic strife. In this film, it’s Rouhi, who’s like a third wheel in a toxic relationship, and it’s the Samiei’s young son. This is an involving drama and a potent one.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(890)

Porco Rosso (1992, Directed by Hayao Miyazaki) Japanese 8

Voices of (Dubbed) Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes, Susan Egan, Brad Garrett, David Ogden Stiers, Kimberly Williams-Paisley

Image result for porco rosso

(8-Exceptional Film)

Exciting. Odd. Singular.

Its premise may be slightly reminiscent of the popular French fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, but that’s where comparison stops. Like all of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, even the adaptations, Porco Rosso is wholly original. Marco Pagot, also known as Porco Rosso, was an ace pilot for the Italian military before going rogue after the events of World War I. Now he’s a notorious bounty hunter with the long arms of fascism reaching out to claim him from one side and jealous pirates trying to kill him on the other. Along the way, he befriends a young, spirited teenage girl named Fio, who has a talent for designing planes. Miyazaki’s obvious love of flight is on full display, perhaps never rendered as spectacularly as it is here. Typical of the master’s work, this is an artistic tour de force with a strange, engaging story and a fantastic score by Joe Hisaishi.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(865)

Shoplifters (2018, Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda) Japanese 6

Starring Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Mayu Matsuoka, Kirin Kiki, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Sasaki, Naoto Ogata

Image result for shoplifters 2018

(6-Good Film)

Curious. Interesting. Muddled.

Acclaimed worldwide at its release, I was at a loss as to what to make of Shoplifters. It follows a ragtag, thrust together family of misfits living in poverty in modern-day Tokyo, collectively known as the Shibatas. None of them are actual family, apparently. The “dad,” Osamu, relies heavily on shoplifting and passes the dubious skill on to his adopted children, Shota and Yuri. The “grandmother”, Hatsue, collects payments from her ex-husband’s family. The “mom” works a menial factory job, and the “aunt” works as a performer at a hostess club. The idea of a makeshift family living together under one roof, shoplifting, to my Hollywood-influenced mind lends itself to the sentimental, family-friendly genre so well. The charming miscreants go through ups and downs but find that they all love each other in the end. That’s not what this is. Shoplifters looks to be more of a social drama, going for realism, I suppose, but I think that’s my biggest problem with it. I don’t know Japanese culture well enough to say anything with authority but I didn’t buy these faces as the look of abject poverty. They are a beautiful family with some dirt rubbed on them occasionally. It’s also a pretty shallow portrait of what it means to be a family. Shoplifters is a group of people using each other. That doesn’t take away from the acting, which is strong, or the storytelling but by the end, it didn’t add up to much for me.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(857)