Archive for san diego asian film festival

San Diego Asian Film Festival presents ‘Train to Busan’: Grab your baseball bat!

Posted in Action, drama, Foreign, horror, Movies, Sci-Fi, suspense with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2017 by aliciamovie

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Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Director: Sang-ho Yeon

Studio: Next Entertainment World

Review Rating: 8 out of 10

A South Korean train ride takes a deadly turn when a zombie apocalypse breaks out!

Yes, it’s Korean and therefore subtitled and, yes, it’s another zombie movie. Those things being said, Train to Busan is a terrific throwback to the original Romero-style zombie movies, where it’s half about the scary zombies and half about the potentially worse stuff we humans do to each-other during the zombie apocalypse. I can never remember the actual character names in many of these Korean flicks, so they get designations and you’ll just have to live with it – onward we go!

So Big Daddy (Gong Yoo) is a businessman, your typical Korean male who has little time and patience for his ex-wife’s shenanigans or his Daughter’s need to be with him, while he negotiates business deals on his cellphone all day long. It’s finally Big Daddy’s chore to take his sad little Daughter on the early-morning train to go see her mother, especially after missing what was meant to be her live singing performance at school and all. And this ill-fated train ride is where it all begins.

On the train itself, Big Daddy is still on his phone and mostly ignoring Daughter (Kim Su-An), while she attempts to familiarize herself with the other passengers. Here we meet Boxer (Ma Dong-Seok), the strapping muscle-bound train-goer with his very-pregnant wife, whom I’ve aptly dubbed MomtoBe (Jung Yu-Mi), and other everyday passengers as we go along – the Elderly Sisters (Ye Soo-Jung and Park Myung-Sin), two aged women taking a train ride together; the Baseball Team and their Cheerleader squad; the older gentleman who is anything but, that I designated NastyMan (Kim Eui-Sung); and of course, the Homeless Guy (Choi Gwi-hwa), who knew about everything going on before anyone else did.

Technically this first train Big Daddy and Daughter are on isn’t going to Busan, they just kind of end up getting thrust in that direction. The first train is where the outbreak begins, at least as far as train rides go, and these are virus-class zombies – get bit, you turn in just a few minutes; black veins on the face and white-blue death eyes are the main indicators; running and shrieking and attacking anything that moves, as the survivors eventually figure out, is the SOP here. Homeless Guy hopped onto this first train and as he sits muttering to himself about how they’re all dead, one thing leads to another and suddenly, everywhere, zombies!

Big Daddy thinks he can just call in favors to get himself and Daughter rescued, even as they try to switch trains in a station after several near-misses, and it just doesn’t work out in the end, so they have to board yet another train, this one being the one officially (eventually) heading for Busan. Here we meet NastyMan, the asshole who will not be denied, who incites everyone panicking into barricading themselves against the rescue attempt Big Daddy and Boxer have to go and make. Daughter and MomtoBe mistakenly end up stuffed in a bathroom and to get to them, Boxer and Big Daddy and the one remaining Baseball Boy (Choi Woo-shik) who wasn’t turned have to guard their arms and arm themselves with baseball bats and go through like 4 cars full of zombies, twice. (As in, go through 4 cars to get there, rescue everyone, and come all the way back.) Even after watching one of the Elderly Sisters sacrifice herself, NastyMan is doing everything he can to insist people not let the rescuers back in this one uninfected car, and that means he doesn’t see the other Elderly Sister go to open the other door to the zombies until its almost too late!

We’re whittling down the survivors on the way to Busan, and even the Conductor is starting to have his doubts about safety once there. A blocked train at a pull-in station forces our survivors to try and switch trains, but the trains are still running and crashing into each-other without Conductors and hordes of mad zombies are exploding out of broken windows to come get you! Will any of our survivors make it to Busan?

I don’t want to give away the ending, but believe me, it is heart-wrenching. Enough story snippets have been tossed in among the zombie carnage to make Train To Busan much more than just a brain-eating fest of a movie, and I thought it was excellent. Right down to NastyMan finally getting a well-deserved comeuppance, damn it.

Grab your baseball bat to watch Train To Busan right now on Netflix!

San Diego Asian Film Festival presents ‘The Mermaid’: Thinking with your Hectocotylus

Posted in Action, comedy, drama, Fantasy, Foreign, Movies, Romance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2017 by aliciamovie

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Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Director: Stephen Chow

Studio: Alpha Pictures

Review Rating: 8 out of 10

A hidden mermaid is sent to assassinate the rich developer planning on destroying her ecosystem, but instead manages to fall for him!

This film is absolutely adorkable and I can’t say enough good things about it. The traditional premise of the well-known Little Mermaid story is given a modern Chinese slant from director Stephen Chow, famous for fun films like Kung Fu Hustle. His cheeky slapstick humor with the sly fish-scale edge and the well-known Asian taste for seafood gives the film a veneer of roe humor we all need rather desperately right now. Because you know, the taste and smell of fish can overpower practically anything, including bullshit!

So Liu Xuan (Chao Deng) is a very wealthy businessman, or at least he tries very hard to be. Money he has in abundance, but apparently even that can’t buy the respect of his fellow richers, for he’s rather constantly reminded of his common roots, and how he had to create himself out of practically nothing, rather than being born into money. Shan (Yun Lin), the most lithe of the underground merfolk, has been practicing her human walk, and is sent on a mission to assassinate Xuan just as soon as it becomes apparent that he’s planning on purchasing the Green Gulf, where her merpeople live. For the purposes of a sea reclamation project and using sonar technology, which of course damages the merfolk something awful, Xuan generally thinks only of money and how to get more of it, until Shan drops a honeypot trap on him.

But no-one, especially not Shan herself, expected Xuan to turn out to actually be somewhat of a good guy, one who can actually relax and enjoy seeing a pretty girl go nuts on her whole-chicken entrée in a park. Shan never expected to care for Xuan, or he for her (since he thinks she’s little more than a hooker sent to tempt him), and not even the rival richer Li Ruolan (Yuqi Zhang), who keeps trying to seduce or undermine or both Xuan, can dissuade him from pursuing Shan with a fervor.

Of course Octopus (Show Lo) himself wants Shan, and causes all kinds of troubles when he departs Green Gulf to come try and aid Shan on her mission. And by “aid”, I mean Octopus laughingly tries to keep Shan from falling in love with Xuan, keep himself from being made into sashimi by Xuan’s men, and in general, Octopus is way more of a hilarious nuisance than he is any kind of help. But he’s thinking with his … *ahem* hectocotylus instead of his head, so there you go.

Along with being extremely funny and not always in a slapstick-y way, The Mermaid has gorgeous visuals, mostly of merfolk tails, and high-flying acrobatic performances that actually make perfect sense for the confines of the story. Chow reminds us that humanity is quite capable of acting monstrous without any outside help, thank you very much. The story itself remembers that no matter how rich and untouchable you might think you are, your actions can have far-reaching and unexpected consequences, and no matter how high (or low-down) you get, to always remember the people, not-quite-people, and even the occasional monster that got you there.

San Diego Asian Film Festival presents ‘Three’: Cast your vote, for the Cop, the Crook, or the Doctor

Posted in Action, comedy, drama, Foreign, Movies, suspense with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2016 by aliciamovie

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Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Director: Johnnie To

Studio: Media Asia Films

Review Rating: 8 out of 10

A showdown in a hospital brings the life choices of the three main characters – the Cop, the Crook, and the Doctor – to bear the consequences simultaneously!

The latest in a long line of Johnnie To action films, the zany Three is an almost non-stop ride of wth coincidences, amazingly choreographed fight scenes, and even slapstick comedy. To has a large cult following which includes the likes of Quentin Tarantino, and if you haven’t seen the Chow Yun Fat-starring movie Office, or the over-the-top film Drug War yet, you really should.

It took me awhile to figure out why the film is called Three, when, duh, there are three main characters whose life choices kind of all culminate in this one catastrophic night in a hospital. First we have the Doctor (Vicki Zhao), overworked and underappreciated, who pushes herself way too hard to pick up other peoples’ slack and in doing so, causes the death of a patient. That and, yknow, a severe lack of sleep, has her on a short leash when the next player in our farce is delivered to the hospital, the Crook (Wallace Chung).

The Crook took a bullet in the freaking head when the far-too-determined Cop (Louis Coo) told one of his comrades to just shoot the Crook, already, and by gum, he did. Now the philosophical Crook has been hauled into the Doctor’s hospital by the Cop, and though he is terrified of the retribution from the Crooks gang he just knows is coming, the Cop demands the Doctor save the Crook.

Here, it gets sticky: the only way for the Doctor to save the Crook is of course to remove the bullet in his head, and the Crook is refusing to let the hospital and the Doctor operate on him. It is apparently his right under the law. The Doctor mostly just wants to save the Crook’s life, though she wrestles with her own ethics versus the Hippocratic Doctor’s oath of “do no harm” and the like. The Cop tries to insist the Doctor go ahead, but there’s a whole bunch of other important stuff going on in the background and side-bars, that ends up twisting the main three all around.

The main fight scene of the whole movie, you’ll know it when you see what I mean, is truly epic and Matrix-like, but also has a bunch of mini funnies tossed in, like those gleeful “fuck-youuuu” moments of Wanted or even Fight Club. A wonderful romp of an action film with a zany round-robin storyline of drama, guilt and even mercy, Three is a movie worth catching multiple times, for the teensy jokes To left in there, if nothing else!

San Diego Asian Film Festival presents ‘The Royal Tailor’: Make Art until someone dies

Posted in Action, Comics, drama, Foreign, Historical, Movies, Romance with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2016 by aliciamovie

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Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Studio: Bidangil Pictures

Director: Wonsuk Lee

Review Rating: 8.5

The film rather incongruously begins with a modern-day showing of a fabulous hanbok (traditional Korean dress) wedding dress, apparently mistakenly attributed to the only royal tailor of Korea’s Joseon dynasty, Jo Dol-seok. After allowing the audience to admire the hanbok a moment, the movie moves right into what actually happened so long ago in the royal courts.

The King and the Queen of the courts have the rather standard relationship of many asian royal courts, which is to say, almost none at all. Because the King ignores his Queen, there are no children either. Jo Dol-seok has tailored clothing for three generations of Kings before finally working his way to the head of the Sanguiwon, the official department that makes royal clothing, and is justifiably proud of this fact. Dol-seok has very little in the way of imagination, innovation, and wants nothing to do with new ideas, so when the Queen asks him to repair a sacred robe belonging to the King that was accidentally burnt, Dol-seok has to say no. It’s against all tradition and for him, is akin to sacrilege. But the Queen is going to get into serious trouble if she doesn’t do something about the King’s robe, and this is how she meets Lee Gong-jin.

Gong-jin is young, handsome, reckless and headstrong. He also seems almost divinely inspired to make clothing, bright joyful colorful clothing in very non-traditional styles, for all women, not just the women of the court. The film credits Gong-jin with the newfangled bell shape of the hanbok and the introduction of brighter, happier colors. And at this point his fame has become fairly wide-spread, so much so that the Queen, desperate to find a tailor to fix the King’s robe, contracts Gong-jin to do the job.

This of course leads to all sorts of further palace intrigue – Gong-jin falls in love with the Queen, Dol-seok decides to let himself be used as a pawn in a plot to get rid of both the Queen and Gong-jin, and the King lets his need for loyalty outweigh proper good sense. As the film nears its climax and Lee Gong-jin is soon to be executed for his non-part in the plot with the Queen to overthrow the King, Dol-seok realizes he actually had a kindred spirit in the younger, flashier tailor, and comes to regret his part in the whole sorry mess. Not enough to let history remember the proper fashion designer to the Joseon dynasty, of course, but still. And thus, this being a rather traditional Korean film, the whole thing ends in tragedy, leading to the shameful execution of Lee Gong-jin, in sorrow and lamentations.

The film itself is sublime and I simply cannot say enough good things about it. Not because of the gorgeous well-replicated costumes, the lavish sets or even the very fine acting, but because of the manner in which the movie approached the fundamental need to make art. Like Jim Morrison of the long-remembered Doors band, the tailors in the film are tormented and at the same time delighted by the art they create with their own two hands. The absolute need to create art, as fundamental as breathing and even sometimes more important than that, speaks to the beautiful soul of every artistic person, famous or not, in the whole world. In this case, as with many other artists we lost far too soon, Lee Gong-jin and even his stilted counterpart Jo Dol-seok literally made art until someone died, and as tragic as that is, it is still a gorgeous and long-lasting testament to their artistic spirit.

San Diego Asian Film Festival presents Crush the Skull

Posted in comedy, drama, horror, Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2016 by aliciamovie

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Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Director: Viet Nguyen

Review Rating: 7 out of 10

Some rather hapless and desperate thieves end up trapped in the house they intended to rob, which it turns out is the lair of a deranged serial killer!

The movie actually starts off with the two would-be master thieves arguing about needing to retire from the burgling business – while they’re trying not to get caught inside a house they’re currently robbing, of course. Ollie (Chris Dinh) and Blair (Katie Savoy) have made some manner of career out of robbing upper-class homes while dressed as erstwhile painters, but Blair wants to get out of this situation ASAFP, especially when Ollie mistakenly tries to help some of their victims and lands his dumbass in jail! Blair, forced to take out a loan from criminal underworld shark Timmy Song, now has to take on another job to pay back her now debilitating debt, and this leads Blair and Ollie, Blair’s brother Connor (Chris Riedell) and his crewman Riley (Tim Chiou), to the last house they ever should have tried to home-invade.

Blair and Ollie’s relationship, awkward though it may be, seems to work well for them trying to pull off a job together. Brother Connor, despite aspirations of master-burglar-hood, is about as useful as trying to crack a safe with a fork, and his little homie Riley, even less so. Somehow I still adored Riley and his insistence in trying to be helpful somehow, and if nothing else, his loyalty. But good intentions won’t save you from a good knifing once they’ve entered the supposedly empty house of some rich person who’s supposed to be off on vacation. Blair and Ollie get more and more frustrated, checking the empty rooms on the ground floor, only to get startled by the first of many jump scares and find themselves in a secret underground torture lair right out of the Saw movies! And if you thought Connor and Riley were unhelpful before, discovering wannabe-Norman-Bates’ basement down below, complete with leftover victims, just makes everything so much worse!

The black humor our heroes espouse once they’re stuck in the dungeons below the house is completely appropriate for the situation, and let’s face it, something we all would likely be doing if we were in the same spot. There are plenty of horror standard jump scares and director Nguyen actually manages to pull them off fairly well, along with some fine storytelling and even a twist at the ending that not everyone would see coming. Based on two previously successful film shorts, the feature length of Crush the Skull is a fine little horror-comedy romp that is worth a try, if for no other reason than to cheer right along with our heroes when they gleefully wail on villains with a shovel to, say it with me, crush the skull!

San Diego Asian Film Festival 2014 presents The Songs of Rice

Posted in Foreign, Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2015 by aliciamovie

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Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Director: Uruphong Raksasad

Studio: Extra Virgin

Review Rating: 7

A visual record of rice culture and its impact, influences, and observances of the people of different parts of Thailand.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this particular film, given the title and short synopsis in the program guide. I thought perhaps there would be rice harvesters and rice rituals with many different songs showcased (there are, scattered here and there), and a narrator who followed the journey of the rice grain from paddy to plate. Instead what we have is a kind of visceral experience unlike any other – we do indeed travel with the rice farmers who are still working and sweating while the rest of us are dead asleep, killing vermin and doing tractor maintenance; we follow the many flavors of Thai people as they head to the Mae Phosop (Thai Rice Goddess) festivals, where we encounter as much diversity as you will find anywhere else in the world. Filmmaker Uruphong Raksasad invites us to attempt to immerse ourselves in the whole experience without commentary, as he does, in the total experience as though we were there standing right next to the cameraman.

Unusual but beautiful, The Songs of Rice is a thoroughly immersive experience that includes all walks of life and the ways and means all of humanity connects through the humble, valuable and forever adored grain of rice.

SDAFF 2013 presents Zone Pro Site: The Movable Feast

Posted in comedy, drama, Foreign, Movies, Romance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2014 by aliciamovie

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Reviewed by Alicia Glass

MPAA Rating: N/A

Director: Yu-Hsun Chen

Review Rating: 7.5

A story of the variances of life, love, cooking and it’s consequences, all wrapped around a contest of “Bandoh”, the traditional Taiwanese outdoor banquet!

So some time ago, Grandmasters of the “Bandoh” tradition existed, and Master Fly Spirit tried to pass on his sacred recipes to his daughter before he died. Wan (Kimi Hsia) however, only wants to escape the family catering business, and runs away to attempt to become a model. That doesn’t work out well, so now Wan is back with her Mother in the family restaurant, which is inevitably hopelessly in debt. Searching for a way to turn everything around, Mama and Wan decide to take one last all-or-nothing shot at winning the national Bandoh competition, which may just save their restaurant! In their way is Master Ghost Head, a Bandoh chef recently released from prison, and his adoring and ambitious assistant Ah-Hai (Yo Yang), who already has a thing for Wan when they discover they’re soon to be competing against eachother! The hapless would-be gangsters who’ve told Wan she owes them money and followed her to Mama’s place, get conscripted to help with the competition, and away we go!

As one might’ve guessed, everything in the film is over the top and adorable with it. The movie rather reminded me of Ratatouille, that Disney gem that stresses the way cooking can bring together the unlikeliest of peoples, all together to sit down and enjoy a meal that was made with love. Even Wan has to admit that, when all is said and done, everybody pulled together to help her in the Bandoh competition, with even a surprising roundabout aid from love interest Ah-Hai.