Review: Deception of The Novelist (作家的謊言: 筆忠誘罪)

作家的謊言: 筆忠誘罪 (Deception of The Novelist) (Blu-ray release 2019-7-31) is a Hong Kong thriller based on an internet novel.  A famous author leases the apartment one floor above his home to a sexy tenant, who seduces him to lower the rent.  A short time after that the tenant is dead.  What happens next and the revelation of the killer is anything but straightforward.

Given the predecessor movies and the theme of this story, I am surprised that there is no nudity here, and some sex scenes even had clothes on.  I think that the story is too ambitious about its twist that I’m not certain some details about covering the killer’s tracks are realistic.  However, I’ve found no other critic who shares the same concern, so perhaps I’m a bit too harsh on it.  Everybody else praised this movie.

Review: Free Solo

I’ve always wondered what are the criteria for selecting the best documentary.  Watching Free Solo (Blu-ray release 2019-7-19) does not really provide general answers for me, but it is so unique that it really deserves its award.  It is about the first human in history to climb El Capitan without rope.  The uniqueness of this documentary is that it is exceedingly clear to the film crew, who are experienced climbers themselves, that there is very significant possibility they may capture his plunge to death on film.  Their mere presence puts pressure on the protagonist who is doing this already life threatening sport.

Review: Missbehavior (恭喜八婆)

恭喜八婆 (Missbehavior) (Blu-ray release 2019-7-26) is a Chinese New Year raunchy comedy movie, about a group of friends trying to find human milk to replace one bottle that was accidentally used to serve coffee to a client.  I require movies to have a basic story that is intact, so this mess fails for me, and I consider it to be the worst movie from this talented director.  The presence of a poop joke shows how low this movie goes.  Apparently a lot ideas are taken from internet forum jokes, so some people are already familiar with them.  The climax makes no sense to me.

Note: The director came up with the idea of this story in one night, based on the Chinese movie title provided by his wife.  He completed the shooting in 14 days using a Panasonic GH5 camera, because there was no investor.  Reportedly a producer is interested in making a Hollywood remake of it, surprisingly.

Review: The Lady Improper (非分熟女)

非分熟女 (The Lady Improper) (Blu-ray release 2019-7-25) is a Hong Kong fictional drama inspired by a real life case of a woman who remained to be a virgin for several years after marriage.  Directed by a female director, this movie intends to portray a woman freeing from sexual oppression and achieving independence, symbolized by the metamorphosis of a butterfly.

The result, however, is not convincing because there are several unrealistic aspects in the screenplay.  In particular, the issue of not being able to have sex after marriage forms the basis of the movie, but it is resolved without any difficulty, made little sense, and therefore undermined its own foundation.  Other than the lead actor, the secondary love interest and all other potential ones are abnormal men.  It is marginally comedic but actually distracts from the main theme.  The part of the story that deals with the father-daughter relationship is better, but that is not the point of the movie.

Review: Hulk (2003)

Hulk (UHD Release 2019-7-9) shows incredible details in 4K, but with some sharpening halos in a few scenes.  Its video quality is better than I expected from a 2003 movie.

Hulk (2003) was not a commercial or critical success.  The movie studio clearly was not pleased and therefore cancelled its planned sequel.  It was abandoned, not considered to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but its 2008 reboot was, even though the latter movie did not really make more money.

With dozens of superhero movies now, we can look back at Hulk (2003) and fairly evaluate what it did wrong, if any.  With the success of Spider-Man (2002), people expected another fun movie like that, but Hulk is clearly not this kind of movie and disappointed them.  The concept of a serious and sad superhero movie was not validated until the groundbreaking Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy a few years later.  In a way, it was ahead of its time.  There was never any guarantee a trying-to-be-fun superhero movie must be a good movie, the disastrous Batman & Robin (1997) is a perfect example of that.

The choice of Ang Lee as the director was very interesting.  It makes this a movie about families, which happen to include a superhero, instead of a superhero movie.  People do not normally look at this movie this way, but it is again about fathers and daddy issues, not completely unlike Ang Lee’s father trilogy before it.  There are even two fathers in this movie but there was only one father actor in the earlier three movies.  Even though mainstream audience did not care for it, I would argue it is what makes this movie unique and memorable.

Normal superhero movies are about superheros combating supervillains with great action sequences.  This movie does not offer that – the dogs are no good, and there is not really combat with the only supervillain in this movie.  What we got instead is the superhero treated as a monster and is running away from people.  Unfortunately, it is more like King Kong than a superhero.

People also criticized its comic panel presentation.  I think it was a nice try, it was not necessary but I do not consider it to be annoying.  Occasionally it offered multiple angles of a scene that makes it worthwhile.  As for the CGI, it looks a little odd but was at the limits of the technology at that time.

To summarize, it was underrated because people expected something different.  Ang Lee was exhausted and almost ready to quit after this movie, until his father gave him encouragement to do the next one (and passed away soon), which turns out to be the award winning and box office success Brokeback Mountain (2005).

Review: Ang Lee’s Father Trilogy (李安父親三部曲) (1991-1994)

李安父親三部曲 (Ang Lee’s Father Trilogy) (Blu-ray release 2019-7-22) is a digitally mastered collection of Ang Lee’s first three movies from 1991 to 1994.  This digital remaster, however, is a technical failure.  There are unnecessary digital noise reduction artifacts and color grading of certain scenes look wrong.

Video quality aside, this collection shows the unique talent of Ang Lee and his perspective of traditional Chinese family in the modern world.

推手 (Pushing Hands) (1991) shows the cultural conflict between the Chinese father and the American daughter-in-law, and the inability of the son to keep the family in harmony.  In order to understand this movie, one must understand it is a Chinese virtue to live with the elderly and take care of them.  Although individual scenes are humorous, ultimately we see the destruction of the Chinese family due to Western individualism.  The movie reflects the state of being at a loss of what to do with Chinese tradition in the modern world, and the son’s inability to carry out his moral obligation represents Ang Lee’s own guilt towards failing his father’s expectation.

囍宴 (The Wedding Banquet) (1993) is a story about the Chinese son going through a sham marriage with a Chinese woman in order to hide his gay relationship with an American man from his parents.  It is a Chinese traditional value to have offspring.  Clearly a gay relationship is not going to achieve that.  So the son is in conflict between his own desire and his moral obligation.  The movie provides a positive but somewhat unrealistic resolution.  Interestingly, to uphold the family everyone hides knowledge of the truth from each other.  The very last scene with the father being checked by airport security with his hands up represents the surrender of tradition to the modern world.  Note that this movie predates another Ang Lee’s award winning gay movie Brokeback Mountain (2005).

飲食男女 (Eat Drink Man Woman) (1994) is a quote from Chinese “飲食男女,人之大欲存焉”, meaning “The things which men greatly desire are comprehended in meat and drink and sexual pleasure”.  Although the movie looks like a food porn, the scenes showing the family having dinner actually represents, again, the relationship of the family.  Everyone of the characters hide their thought and desires under the table, unlike the food they eat and drink on the table.  The lone father cooks for the three daughters.  The daughters are also aware of the obligation to stay in the family to provide him company.  However, the lies and the willingness to sacrifice for the family led to empty lives, in the words of the screenwriter.  The family cannot communicate, just like the food that looks great but with deteriorated taste.  The taste deterioration of the father also represents sexual oppression.

Watching the movies as a trilogy, the father in Pushing Hands could only leave the family to maintain the relationship with his son.  The father in The Wedding Banquet could only accept the son’s gay nature and hide his knowledge to uphold the family.  The father in Eat Drink Man Woman finds himself only after selling the home and destructing the family.

According to Ang Lee, the son in Pushing Hands was at a loss of dealing with heritage.  The gay son in The Wedding Banquet weakened this heritage.  There is no son in Eat Drink Man Woman, leaving only daughters.  The taste of heritage has already deteriorated.

The analysis of the movies in this article is based on by FUNGMO.

Review: The Wrath (2018)

The Wrath (Blu-ray release 2019-3-21) is a remake of the Korean horror movie Woman’s Wail (1986).  A vengeful ghost haunts a family, and kills every son on their wedding nights.  It is rather average without any surprises, with the exception that the professional help the family hired is distinctly powerless.  The ghost appears as human during a large part of the movie, so it is actually more like a slasher movie than a ghost movie, and fails to be scary.

Review: P Storm (P風暴)

P風暴 (P Storm) (Blu-ray release 2019-6-28) is the fourth Storm movie following Z Storm (2014), S Storm (2016) and L Storm (2018) about anti-corruption investigation in Hong Kong.  This is a self contained and complete story, so it is not necessary to watch the previous movies first, although a villain originated from the first movie.  This time the protagonist goes into a prison to carry out investigation – that’s why it is called P Storm.

While this prison idea is fairly interesting, the plot is not really believable and cannot be taken seriously.  Nevertheless, it has enough entertaining elements in it with a well known cast.  So each sequel got increasingly higher box office in mainland China.

Review: Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary (2019) (Blu-ray release 2019-7-9) is a remake of the 1989 movie based on a Stephen King novel.  A family moves to a place with a native American burial ground, where the dead can be resurrected.  I think most of the changes in the new version are positive, except the early revelation of the wife’s backstory.  The new version also has more jump scares happening more frequently than the 80’s version, although a number of them are redundant.  The ending is also changed from before.  I do not like either movie enough, however.

Review: Mystery Murder (2019)

Mystery Murder (Netflix) got no love from critics, but I like it.  It is exactly the type of movie I like to watch – a classical formulaic structure murder investigation movie that is also reasonably funny.  It has all the necessary elements for an entertaining commercial movie, and with very good pacing too.  I do not care about Adam Sandler, but I have always been a fan of Jennifer Aniston.  It is a little odd being a giant advertisement for a certain brand of medicine though.