Review: The Empty Hands (空手道)

空手道 (The Empty Hands) (Blu-ray release 2018-2-14) tells the story of a little girl, who lost a karate competition, had since resented her Japanese instructor father.  She grows up,  becomes a mistress and is messed up in life.  She is surprised to find that her father gave half of the dojo to another student in his will.  That student entices her to compete again in order to regain her life.

Although the screenplay has some notable gaps concerning the supporting characters and the ending, I find the movie to be a little special.  We see an expansion of the lead actress’s acting from this movie and Husband Killers (2017).  The movie reflects the social problem of real estate in Hong Kong, and public park occupied by square dancing women, etc.  I think the primary reason of it failing at the box office is that it is a drama, instead of meeting audience expectation of having more fight scenes as implied by the Chinese title.  Strangely enough it has some cleavage scenes, and a supporting character is also shown to be doing a sexy job at the end.

(Note: There exists a political interpretation of this movie.  The year 2014, during which the student did something morally right and went to jail, marks an important political event in Hong Kong.  The mute supporting character, and people not helping him, may represent people’s voice not being heard.  The director, who is also the lead actor, having been banned from China due to his political stance is perhaps keeping his stance, even if this means losing money as shown as a throwing and damaging a Rolex.)


Review: Second Summer, Never See You Again

Second Summer, Never See You Again (Blu-ray release 2018-2-23) is a Japanese romance movie.  The protagonist confesses his love to a classmate just before she dies.  The girl is not impressed and tells him to go away.  Magically he is given a second chance to time travel back to 6 months ago.  He decides that this time he will not confess, yet her behavior changes slightly.

I’m not impressed by this plot.  I think the girl’s initial reaction is unreasonable.  How it ends is odd too.  The movie often refers to a legendary band that inspired the whole thing, but keeps it a secret.  The final revelation of the secret is dull and only makes the story more incomplete.  I think the time travel is used merely as an excuse to create a movie that tries to be tear jerking.

Review: The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist (Blu-ray release 2018-3-13) is a true story about the making of The Room (2003) that some consider to be the best worst movie.  This can be seen as a comedy as the protagonist has such an eccentric personality, which James Franco portrayed exceedingly well.  It shows that not everybody can make a movie, having money and a crew and cast to support it is necessary but not sufficient.  It interests me enough to consider watching The Room.

Review: Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (Blu-ray release 2018-3-20) is the sequel to the 1995 movie.  Basically, new characters get sucked into the Jumanji game for a new adventure of running away from CG animals and completing a quest.  This is an above average entertaining movie, with no serious flaw, except that the geographic location of character resurrection is not strict.  I like the humor in this movie, such as the really bad kiss in it – I’m sure I’ve never seen another that is worse (for a great effect).

What is surprising is how this movie gets a top box office, while Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005), a related movie, flopped.  Perhaps this has something to do with replacing annoying kids by charismatic adults that encompass different demographics?

Review: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water (Blu-ray release 2018-3-13) looks like an adult version of Free Willy (1983).  A mute woman rescues a creature that looks like the one from the Black Lagoon (1954), and falls in love with him.  There are some aspects that make this movie unique and elevate it above a children / family movie to become a Best Picture.

Several important characters in this movie – the mute protagonist, her gay friend, and her black coworker are all lonely and discriminated.  This level of loneliness justifies the sexuality added to this movie.  The sexuality is done just right – we only see some hugging – instead of the actual intercourse that some may interpret as bestiality (but I do not, with good reasons).  All this happens in the cold war era between America and Russia.  Naturally we see bad guys from both sides, but more than that we see both are systematically evil.

Review: The Miracles of the Namiya General Store

Based on a novel, The Miracles of the Namiya General Store (Blu-ray release 2018-3-23) is a Japanese drama that employs a mailbox that sends and receives letters across time, similar to Il Mare (2000) / The Lake House (2006).  Instead of using it for romance, this plot device is used to bring a positive view of life via a group of characters.  Three thieves go into an old and deserted general store to hide, but suddenly receives letters from decades ago seeking advice in life.

I like this movie for several reasons.  I love time travel.  Unlike other movies, here a bunch of people benefit from it.  Often profiting from a knowledge of future is branded as a bad thing, as in Back to the Future II (1989), but we see a positive result here.  At the end a special letter is involved – I think its role in the story is brilliant.  It even manages to provide a reason for the existence of the time travel mailbox.

Note: There is a Chinese remake of this movie.

Review: Chasing the Dragon (追龍)

追龍 (Chasing the Dragon) (Blu-ray release 2018-2-14) re-imagines an era of Hong Kong before any real anti-corruption effort toke place, and puts two real life historical characters together in a fictional story.  One is a cop that makes corruption systematic, who has already been portrayed in Lee Rock (1991) and played by the same actor again.  The other is a crippled drug lord, who was portrayed in To Be Number One (1991).

Although the faults in the movie are not major by Hong Kong standards, a lot of things happen in the script, leaving little time to develop the characters, events, and emotional core.  It carefully avoids repeating what was done in the 1991 movies, but also making this movie less complete.  A long action scene that happens in a historical setting is really well done.  However, I think I prefer the first part of the 1991 movie more to this one, since it was more focused on developing the protagonist.


Review: Manhunt (追捕) (2017)

追捕 (Manhunt) (Blu-ray release 2018-2-9) is a remake of a 1976 Japanese movie.  In this version, a lawyer is framed for murder.  A cop tries to catch him, but the bad guys try to kill both of them.  So they work together, showing full of signature John Woo style gunfights, brotherhood, and pigeons.  The story starts fine, but to accommodate the action and twists it soon becomes too unrealistic.  This movie reminds of the ones that made John Woo famous in the 80s, but I cannot say it elevates above those classics.  The top international cast found in this movie is from China, Japan, and Korea.

Review: The Promise (2017)

The Promise (Blu-ray release 2018-2-1) – the protagonist asks her best friend to commit suicide with her on her 15th birthday, because both their families are going through financial crisis in 1997.  After the friend died, she gets scared and runs away.  She grows up and have a daughter.  Approaching the 15th birthday, the daughter sleepwalks, behaves abnormally, and talks to an invisible person.

Although there are a few jump scares in the early part of the movie, this is the type of ghost movie that has a complete and sensible story, instead of inserting random scares without pay attention to the plot.  Interestingly, this movie takes the approach of implying the ghost is there, but does not let the audience see her except in a few scenes.  Anyway, this movie is much better than another one I’ve recently reviewed that shows a lot of ghosts, but messes up the story and says there is no ghost.

Note: The building featured in the movie is real, and is also known as the Ghost Tower.  The movie is filmed on location.  A Swedish man went there to commit suicide in 2014.

Review: Reset (逆時營救) (2017)

逆時營救 (Reset) (2017) is a Chinese sci-fi movie.  The Chinese title translates to “rescue by time reversal”.  The protagonist is a single mother, who works in a laboratory that creates a time machine that transports the subject to a parallel world.  Bad guys try to steal the research data by kidnapping the son of her.  In spite of complying to the demands, she witnesses her son getting killed.  So she goes back in time to save him.  However, instead of simply succeeding, the time travel drama becomes more complex that I rather not spoil.

It is always commendable for a mainstream movie to tell a non-trivial time travel parallel universe story, because such stuff is not easily understandable by everyone.  In fact, some of the negative Chinese reviews fail to understand the parallel universe view of time travel, and why conventional time paradox does not apply in this movie.  Although the action and the car chases are average, and at one point the mother suddenly becomes good at shooting and athletic for no reason, this is still an enjoyable movie.  Note that certain aspects of the movie are similar to Triangle (2009), which is a masterpiece, but this correlation is unfortunately ignored by the Western reviews I’ve read.