Archive for sdaff

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!

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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

sdaff-three

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 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

zoneprosite

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.

SDAFF 2013 presents How To Use Guys With Secret Tips

Posted in comedy, drama, Foreign, Movies, Romance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2013 by aliciamovie

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Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Director: Lee Won-Suk

Review Rating: 7.5

Downtrodden Choi Bo-Na is stuck in the mans world of advertising, until a chance encounter with a manic salesman and a series of instructional videos turns her world upside-down!

So Choi Bo-Na (Lee Si-Young) is a 2nd string DA (that’s Directors Assistant) for a firm that makes television commercials, which means despite actually being talented enough for the job, Choi gets all the crap parts that come with the job piled on her daily, along with the standard sexist remarks. Choi does a ton of work, gets pretty much none of the credit, and honestly doesn’t have the time to bother with things like makeup and feminine clothes. It all culminates in a grindingly dull and frustrating experience trying to shoot a commercial on the beach, when Choi is left behind and finds a street merchant (Park Yeong-gyu) selling the entire series of How To Use Guys on tape. Next thing you know, a female face emerges from that concealing hoodie, a girl trying to use whatever tricks will work on the male-controlled advertising world. And it’s working, even on the impossible star of the commercial who led her to the tapes in the first place, Lee Seung-Jae (Oh Jung-Se), who finds himself in love with her to the point of riotously adorable madness. The self-styled guru narrator from the tapes Dr. Swarski acts like a game show host a good deal of the time, when he’s not freezing scenes like teenaged Saved By The Bell, or cleverly dispensing advice from a windowbox scene to Choi simultaneously. Most of the film is kept at an enjoyable manic pace, except for the beginning of the third act, where an incredibly weird love scene between Lee and Choi comes about from a damned dog, jealousy, and the set of a Bollywood-style Korean romance movie!

The film is an adorable adventure down the inequalities between men and woman in, well, just about everything – from business to love, and all the awkward stuff in between. We get to see Choi find herself and her worth, which is I think, the actual main purpose of the video series How To Use Guys. Then again, some of us might rather enjoy using the video series in our own real lives – see the film and decide for yourself!

San Diego Asian Film Festival 2013 presents The Haumana

Posted in comedy, drama, Foreign, Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2013 by aliciamovie

haumana

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Studio: Hula Nation Filmworks

Director: Keo Woolford

Review Rating: 8

After their beloved Hula instructor dies and chooses as her successor a native considered to be a sellout to his own people, the boys of the Royal Hula company struggle to continue the dancing legacy of cultural generations.

It’s not often you find a film so deeply trenched in the cultural history of Hula, and yet firmly grounded in modern concerns, like peer pressure, drugs, and yes, religion. It’s even more rare to find a film about Hula from the male perspective, given that far too many folk think that dancing for men is a sissy or homosexual thing to do, and yes that topic is addressed in a light-hearted way in the movie too. What we have here are teenaged boys, and their reluctant-at-first instructor, who train their little hearts out, dancing and training through pain and misunderstandings, giving it their all and dancing because they want to. The performance as part of the Royal Hula company, while being the focal point of all the dance training, is simply a showcase for the great performance of the Hula all these boys have been practicing so diligently.

Each boy has his own issues after Kumu Hula (Master Hula teacher) Auntie (Marlene Sai) dies and nominates Johnny Kealoha (Tui Asau), considered a sellout to his own people given his lounge-lizard singing act, to lead them in her place. The traditions of Hula clash with modern issues often, like when Kealoha takes the boys into the wilds to collect ferns for their palapalai (traditional lei offerings to the Gods, in this case for Auntie’s spirit), only to be confronted by a gun-wielding man intent on protecting his marijuana plants. One boy is too intent on his girlfriend and his weed consumption to really take the tradition of Hula seriously, and make the strong commitment this sort of thing requires. One boy is too embarrassed to tell his very white adoptive parents, though it turns out he needn’t have worried at all. One boy chooses football as his alternative outlet, unable to let go of Auntie’s death. One boys father believes that the tradition of Hula is far too Pagan, being a very Christian man himself. Which is an interesting thought and honestly one that never occurred to me, but technically the man is right. Kealoha’s response to such concerns are delivered with grace and beautiful understanding. In fact, as the film goes on, Johnny Kealoha embraces his role as instructor, coaxing his boys along while learning himself all over at the same time. The film demonstrates the sheer amount of effort put into training that most people aren’t even aware of, akin to what Ballet performers go through. And of course bartender Kelly Hu is a hilarious help to Kealoha. The boys performance at the Royal Hula showcase is a tribute to all their hard work, the love for the fine ancient tradition of Hula, and the legacy that Auntie left them behind.