Sunday, 28 February 2021

A Beloved Wife Review 2019 喜劇 愛妻物語

A Beloved Wife 喜劇 愛妻物語
Year: 2019
Director: Shin Adachi

Writer: Shin Adachi

Cast: Gaku Hamada, Asami Mizukawa, Chise Niitsu

Running Time: 115 minutes

Country: Japan

Shin Adachi adapts his own semi-autobiographical novel focusing on the love/hate relationship of a married couple. Winner of the Best Screenplay Awards at the 32nd Tokyo International Film Festival.

Gota (HAMADA Gaku) is an unsuccessful screenwriter struggling to catch his big break and is seemingly set upon in all areas of his life; teetering on the brink of financial ruin, unable to push through a relentless writer’s block, and besieged by a wife that openly despises him while refusing all of his sexual advances. One day, despite strong resistance from his wife (MIZUKAWA Asami), Gota drags his family on an impromptu and ill-funded research trip in the hope that it will kick start his career and improve his ailing marriage. (The Japan Foundation)

Gaku Hamada is one of the most likeable and sympathetic actors in recent memory. For fans of Third Window Films, you will recognize him from a string of great movies, including Fish Story, Sake Bomb and See You Tomorrow Everyone. Gaku almost has a childlike immature quality and innocence, that always makes you feel compassion for him, even in A Beloved Wife when he is acting like a pervert. This simple story relies on both leads to be terrific, and thankfully they are.

Asami Mizukawa plays the role of the wife, and she is not a very easy person. I have to admit, while Asami was excellent in the role, and I know she was not supposed to be a completely likeable character. There were moments when her character became grating and I wondered why her husband would put up with it. Her constant abuse and put-downs become tiresome, even for the viewer. And it makes you wonder, why would this couple continue rather than break up? It could be in part, due to their daughter, who is completely adorable and offers some warming moments between the family. But, it appears there is more to the couple's relationship. Almost like they are playing a game. A game where Gota is abused but he either oddly enjoys it, or he puts up with it because he really wants sex. They both appear disappointed in their own life, and that is what is causing the friction.

Most viewers will know people in a relationship like this one. Some viewers might even be in a similar relationship themselves. And that is one of the strongest elements of the film; realism. The portrayal of the characters, the way they talk and interact with one another, and their relationship habits are incredibly honest and realistic. Although they are played up to the extreme for comedic affect.

The humour is awkward, at times very awkward. If you don't enjoy cringe, then it might not be for you. However, there are some great laughs to be had. The moments usually come from Gota when he is in full-on horny mode. Some of the situations he gets himself into, and the way he tries to use them as his ticket to sex, are genuinely eye-covering funny. On the other side of the spectrum, there are some very sweet comical moments between Gota and his daughter which should enact more of a playful chuckle. 
To stop the film from becoming too dark and depressing, most of it is set in Kagawa Prefecture. Featuring beautiful beach backdrops, it's a sharp juxtaposition of how toxic their marriage has become. There's also a lighthearted, bordering on comical score, which often lifts the mood and makes you forget about how unhappy the marriage has become... Until the fighting starts again.

There are moments when A Beloved Wife shows more heart, usually during the flashback scenes, and it honestly starts to make you care for them both. I only wish there was more of this. Sometimes watching this film felt like a chore, and other times I wanted to reach through the screen and give them both a slap. When we view glimpses into their past, I felt more of a connection with their relationship, but these were few and far between. More of these moments would have done wonders for the pacing. It starts to become a bit of a burden at nearly two hours and would have benefited from a little trim around the edges.


Thursday, 11 February 2021

Till We Meet Again Review 2019 Hong Kong 生前約死後

Till We Meet Again 生前約死後

Year: 2019

Director: Steven Ma

Writer: Steven Ma

Cast: Steven Ma, Josephine Ku, Jennifer Yu, Himmy Wong

Running Time: 97 minutes

Country: Hong Kong

Steven Ma directs this extremely personal story dealing with mental illness, which might be almost too dark and realistic.

Mui leaves her family after an irreversible mistake made by her son Ka-wai. Years have passed, and Ka-wai is living a solitary life, now working as a salesman, still trying to look for an explanation for it all and desperately hoping to see his mother again. As the truth is gradually unveiled, Ka-wai’s own world begins to crumble.

It's clear from the start, this is a story based on real experiences. Steven Ma, who wrote, directs and stars in this film, based it on his own battles with mental health and how he dealt with his mother's death. He literally wears his heart on his sleeve for this film and doesn't shy away from showing how scary it can be to live with a mental illness, especially if the help you are getting is not working. Steven Ma does a decent job acting throughout, he shines more in the mental breakdown scenes rather than the emotional moments with his family.

The film doesn't focus on a plot, it's more about showing how dark the world can seem when you are dealing with grief and depression. And this is something the film is extremely successful at. There are moments throughout that are so troublesome and realistic, that it was tough to watch. The way they depict panic attacks is downright scary. This is eye-opening for someone that hasn't experienced this themselves. The sheer realism and not shying away from these elements, no matter how dark it gets, is something that needs to be applauded.

While the story is a little bumpy, between the psychosis and the flashbacks, the film never becomes too confusing. In part this is due to the flashbacks being colour-graded differently from the rest of the film. If it wasn't for this subtle touch, it could become confusing as some of the flashbacks so long that you might forget as you slowly adjust to the visual style.

Oddly, there is something else going on which leads to a twist later on in the film. This feels like it was added to give the film more of a cinematic feel. It's not clear if they thought the writing was more clever than it actually is, because everyone can see this coming. It's not bad, just very predictable. However, after the twist, they spend too much time explaining what happened, but it's already crystal clear to viewers. They could have cut out most of the explanation and the film work have flowed better overall. Although the film is only 97 minutes, it could have used a bit of a trim to fix some pacing issues.

Problems aside, this feels like an important film and story. It's one of the most realistic portrayals of mental health issues problems that we have had on screen. And while it might feel dark and depressing at times to watch, that is how it keeps up its accuracy. Till We Meet Again might not be for everyone, but if this is a topic of interest for you, then there is plenty in here to digest.


Till We Meet Again is streaming as part of the Focus Hong Kong Film Festival from the 9th of February at 10:00 GMT until the 15th of February at 23:59 GMT.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down Review 2019 Hong Kong 夜香・鴛鴦・深水埗

Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down 夜香・鴛鴦・深水埗

Year: 2019
Director: Leung Ming-kai, Kate Rilley
Writer: Leung Ming-kai, Kate Rilley
Leong Cheok-mei, Mia Mungli, Zeno Koo, Lam Yiu-sing, Gregory Wong, Kate Reilly
Running Time: 78 minutes
Country: Hong Kong

Four stories (three fictional, one documentary) show how fiction and fact, humour and drama, the personal and the political are contemporary facets of the same ever-fascinating, complex, challenging realties that constitute Hong Kong. Leung Ming-kai and Kate Reilly’s delightful anthology captures the rich mix of cultures that defines Hong Kong in lively and gently provocative fashion, following a diverse set of characters from different backgrounds as they reminisce on the past while looking to the challenges of the future. (Focus Hong Kong)

Memories to Choke On is an anthology film from two directors Leung Ming-kai and Kate Rilley. They work together to tell four different contemporary stories about life in modern Hong Kong. What is impressive about this film is how each story is completely different but they all feel incredibly real. It's basically a slice of life anthology.  Each story focuses on a different aspect of Hong Kong life, ranging from immigrants, family, food and politics.

The first film depicts the story of an Indonesian caretaker looking after an elderly Hong Konger. The story could use a little more urgency, but by the end, it all comes together. The relationship between the characters is simple but charming. They have good chemistry and begin to form a bond over the fact they both came to Hong Kong as immigrants. This story might be the weakest of the bunch, but that does not mean it was bad per se.

The second segment is arguably the best of them all. It's a simple story of two brothers hanging out in their mother's toy shop before she sells it to a new owner. The brothers browse through old toys and reminisce on memories of growing up and their mother's expectations of them. The style of this film stands out massively compared to the first. It's shot incredibly well, and they manage to capture the iconic urban city life. There are some stunning images of the characters walking by stalls and independent shops that looks like high-class night photography.

The third segment features the director Kate Reilly acting as an American living in Hong Kong as an English teacher. She meets another teacher on her first day, and they form a will-they-wont-they relationship. This story focuses on the differences between different races making Hong Kong their home, and it does this through a series of realistic and natural conversations. It's no secret to anyone that Hong Kong has some of the best food in the world. And if you are a foodie, this film will be a treat, as we get to see the characters going to eateries and sampling some of the best local dishes while their relationship blossoms. The structure of this film being non-linear can throw you off if you don't pay attention to the inserts explaining when it is taking place, and if you aren't familiar with when some of the Hong Kong holidays and events occur.

Surprisingly the fourth film is a documentary, which was a little jarring at first, but quickly becomes apparent on why it was chosen. The final film follows Jessica Lam as she runs for a job on the district council. This documentary works incredibly well because Jessica is such a charming and likeable person. She seems almost out of her depth running for a political office job, as she feels like a regular everyday person. But there is something fun and interesting about the way that she speaks and carries herself, that you can't help but cheer her on. It was a bit of a gamble finishing on a documentary, but it feels like the rightful ending.

Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down works effectively as depicting Hong Kong today, for locals and for outsiders. While the film in total only runs for 78 minutes, the plot of some of the films, especially the first one, might be a little too breezy for some viewers. The stories can be a little challenging with their subtlety and require some thinking about what the true meaning behind them is. But for a film like this, that is part of the fun. Now, where can I find some Hong Kong style French toast?

Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down is streaming as part of the Focus Hong Kong Film Festival from the 9th of February at 10:00 GMT until the 15th of February at 23:59 GMT.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

A Witness Out of the Blue Review 2019 Hong Kong 犯罪現場

A Witness Out of the Blue 犯罪現場
Year: 2019
Director: Andrew Fung
Writer: Andrew Fung
Cast: Louis Koo, Louis Cheung, Jessica Hsuan, Cherry Ngan, Philip Keung
Running Time: 104 minutes
Country: Hong Kong

Louis and Louis deliver great performances in this sleek crime thriller.

An offbeat award-winning Hong Kong murder mystery that’s part police thriller and part Freudian psychodrama. After a criminal is found dead, police suspect that the murder is linked to an earlier violent jewellery store robbery, with the only witness being a talking parrot. Also known as a screenwriter for Stephen Chow and Johnnie To, Fung Chih-chiang has previously tackled the western, musical and media satire genres, and continues to surprise with his highly entertaining fourth directorial outing, which offers a fresh, fun perspective on the detective noir, and boasts a fantastic ensemble cast.

Writer/Director Andrew Fung is back, and this time he dips his toes into the crime genre. While the script might seem a little convoluted, the mystery and performances are strong enough to keep the film entertaining throughout.

The ever-reliable Louis Koo shines once again and proves to the haters why he seems to be in nearly every commercial Hong Kong film released in the past two years. Koo plays the character Sean Wong, a criminal with some heart. He's bad, but he's not all bad. Right? Wong is an intriguing character that has his faults but is still likeable. There is a side story with him living in an apartment with elderly people and a partially sighted woman that seems tonally different from the majority of the film. The main story is often pretty dark but they managed to provide some laughs and heartwarming moments with the introduction of these characters. The change in tones might be jarring for some people, for others it might be a welcome break.

The rest of the main cast are all great in their roles. While Louis Cheung plays Larry Lam as a a good-guy cop, he's also not exactly good at his job. And this is something that works in the film's favour. Lam is constantly getting into bother or getting one-upped by criminals. But because they have established him as a nice guy, you end up anxious and fearing the worst for him. Philip Keung is another extremely reliable actor and he keeps viewers on their toes in his role as the Police Inspector. And last but not least, the parrot. The parrot is an interesting plot device that really starts to have more purpose later on, but it definitely has charm and made me laugh more than once.

The cinematography is good, but also plain. The film looks polished, but also kind of flat. Some of the shots look great, but then some look repetitious. This might seem like nitpicking, but from a thriller like this, you would expect more style. The look is very similar to a bunch of recent Hong Kong films such as The White Storm 2 or Integrity. They look fine overall, maybe even good at times, but it feels like they could do more stylistically.

While the plot might be a little convoluted, it's also intriguing and full of twists to keep you engaged. Some viewers might be able to guess what is going on, but they throw enough at you to make you question yourself. There are some fun set pieces throughout to keep the action fans happy, and the conclusion of the film is very memorable. They manage to go out with a bang rather than a whimper.


A Witness Out of the Blue is streaming as part of the Focus Hong Kong Film Festival from the 9th of February at 10:00 GMT until the 15th of February at 23:59 GMT.

The Empty Hands Review 2017 Hong Kong 空手道

The Empty Hands 空手道
Year: 2017
Director: Chapman To
Writer: Chapman To, Erica Li
Cast: Stephy Tang, Chapman To, Yasuaki Kurata, Dada Chan, Juju Chan
Running Time: 87 minutes
Country: Hong Kong

Mari is a Hong Kong girl with a Japanese father, a karate instructor who turned their home into a dojo to train his pupils, forcing her to practice as a child. Despite demonstrating great skill, Mari quits after being pushed too hard, growing up to be a directionless and angry young woman drifting through life. After her father dies, Mari decides to sell the dojo, though her plans are ruined when it turns out that he has left a controlling 51% share to former pupil Chan Kent, recently released from prison. At odds with Mari over the fate of the dojo, Chan Kent offers her a deal – if she returns to training and can survive three rounds in an upcoming match, he promises to sign his share over to her. (Focus Hong Kong)

The Empty Hands is a difficult film to explain and truly do it justice. This is not a standard martial arts film. It's not even really a karate film. On one hand, it's an atmospheric arthouse character study that only uses karate as a way to connect and explore the characters. But on the other hand, the entire film works because it hinges on the meaning and discipline of karate. Similar to The Karate Kid and the popular Cobra Kai series, karate can be used as a form of motivation to improve your entire wellbeing. This is one of many ideas that this film explores.

Chapman To has always been a great comedic actor. His roles in films such as Vulgaria and Men Suddenly In Black are hilarious and that's what he has become known for. I don't think anyone was expecting him to write, direct and act in a film as complex and sophisticated as The Empty Hands. Chapman is a blackbelt in karate and has always wanted to make a film featuring this martial art. You can sense this is a passion project from him in every aspect.  

The main star Stephy Tang is outstanding in her role as Mari, she delivers a critically acclaimed, award-winning performance. Stephy trained in karate for six months and boxed 2 to 3 times a week to prepare for the role and it shows with her physicality and screen presence during the action. She is completely believable in the training and karate fights. But, Stephy also carries the emotional weight of the film. Her character has many layers and a lot of baggage. The relationship with her father is made heartbreaking at times by her excellent performance. For an actress that is known for starring in rom-com roles, she knocked this one out of the park.

There are some moments and tropes that you've come to expect from martial art films such as the training scenes. They feel extremely effective and realistic here, and they never quite verge into a full-blown Rocky montage. The fight scenes are not the main focus of the film, and they are not as flashy as Hong Kong's kung fu films, but they deliver something real. The fights are shot up-close and personal, but often the composition is artsy and unusual. It's an exciting mix of techniques. The sound design is also superb throughout and they succeed in making you feel every single hit.

The film is shot beautifully. There are stunning cinematography and subtle camera movements used to constantly keep the film moving and equally be visually pleasing. Some shots really stand out, such as gorgeous scenes of the actors performing karate katas in empty fields. The lighting style for some scenes might seem pretentious in another film, but it does not seem out of place here at all. 

The dramatic themes but down to earth storytelling, championed by Stephy's performance are executed so well, that by the time it gets to the finale, you are emotionally involved for every single beat. At a neat 87 minutes, the film is incredibly brisk and appealing. Chapman To does a fantastic job controlling the structure and pacing of the film, it's remarkable to think this is only his second time directing. Hopefully, we can see more films like this from director Chapman To, and more performance like this from Stephy Tang. Superb.


The Empty Hands is streaming as part of the Focus Hong Kong Film Festival from the 9th of February at 10:00 GMT until the 15th of February at 23:59 GMT.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Third Murder Review 2017 Japan 三度目の殺人

The Third Murder 三度目の殺人
Year: 2017
Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Writer: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Cast: Masaharu Fukuyama, Suzu Hirose, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Mikako Ichikawa, Izumi Matsuoka, Yuki Saito, Kōtarō Yoshida, Isao Hashizume, Kōji Yakusho
Running time: 124 minutes
Country: Japan

Japanese auteur Kirokazu Kore-eda's latest film is a break away from his usual gentle family-centric dramas instead opting for a complex murder mystery legal thriller.

Misumi (Kôji Yakusho) has beaten and killed an industrialist. He turns himself in and confesses to the crime. The case could not be more straightforward until defence attorney Shigemori (Fukuyama Masaharu) arrives, determined to do all he can help his client avoid the death penalty. Challenging assertions, seeking out inconsistencies and refusing to take anything at face value, he seeks to obscure the truth in order to save his client. (Glasgow Film Festival)

Kore-eda is undoubtedly one of the finest Japanese directors working today. His films have been consistent and received praise at film festivals from critics and fans alike. However, in spite of this, he has never managed to become one of the well-known Asian directors whose name is known worldwide to more of a mainstream audience like Miike or Kitano.

The Third Murder has performed very well in Japan; it did well at the box office and recently went on to win six awards at the 41st Japan Academy Prize. Including three big awards for Kore-eda himself for Director of the Year, Screenplay of the Year and Best Editing of the Year. It also took home the main award for Picture of the Year, as well as Best Supporting Actor (Koji Yakusho) and Best Supporting Actress (Suzu Hirose).

But is it any good? Short answer, yes. Is it as good as Kore-eda Hirokazu's other work? Short answer, no.

The film opens with Misumi played by veteran actor Koji Yakusho gruesomely murdering a man at night with a hammer. It's a startling introduction, and it informs the viewers they aren't in for a typical whodunit type of film. Instead, Kore-eda uses his slow-paced meditative style to unwrap a complex narrative of why he committed murder. There are many different theories and ideas placed throughout the film which will leave most viewers with different beliefs as they try to piece it together for themselves.

The script is expertly handled with the courtroom scenes and the scenes with lawyers interviewing witnesses really bringing the film to life with its sheer honesty and brutal reality. In preparation for making The Third Murder, Kore-eda brought together seven lawyers over several months and had them do mock interviews with a criminal and stage mock trials while he observed and studied their thought process and language. This idea paid off extremely well as it all feels incredibly accurate.

Some of the greatest scenes of the film involved the lawyer Shigemori interviewing Misumi behind security-glass. These would involve long takes with little to no camera movement with everything focusing on the characters facial expressions. Sometimes he would frame the scene where you could only see one of the faces and the other was just a reflection in the glass. This all adds the emphasis to how important these discussions are for the lawyer and just how frustrating it is for him to try to get to the bottom of this mystery as Misumi constantly changes his version of what happened.

Suzu Hirose actually shot to fame back in 2015 with her starring role in another Hirokazu Kore-eda film Our Little Sister. She was only 16 at the time of release but managed to deliver a stunning performance. Now, at the still young age of 19, she has somehow managed to improve leaps-and-bounds. If there is one actor or actress in Japan that I was to tell you to keep your eye on, it would be Suzu Hirose. I believe she is going to have an exciting future in the film business.

The only downside to the story is a subplot with Shigemori's daughter slows down the pacing of the film and can get a little muddy as the story overlaps with some similarities to Misumi's own story. The film might also be a little too 'talky' for mainstream viewers, which could turn them off before we get to the exciting climax. For those who are familiar with Kore-eda's filmography then this shouldn't be an issue at all.

The Third Murder tackles some interesting points and asks compelling questions about the legal justice system and the death penalty, which is still legal in Japan. Kore-eda may have written this as some social commentary towards these issues, as the ideas and themes will definitely linger in your mind long after you have finished watching.


Written and reviewed as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2018

Monday, 5 March 2018

When The Promised Flower Blooms Review 2018 Japan さよならの朝に約束の花をかざろう

When The Promised Flower Blooms aka Let's Decorate the Promised Flowers in the Farewell Morning さよならの朝に約束の花をかざろう
Year: 2018
Director: Mari Okada
Writer: Mari Okada

Cast: Manaka Iwami, Miyu Irino, Ai Kayano, Yuuki Kaji
Music: Kenji Kawai
Running Time: 115 minutes
Country: Japan

Acclaimed screenwriter Mari Okada makes her directorial debut with a breathtaking animated fantasy feature.

The people of Iolph have a lifespan of hundreds of years and maintain their teenage appearances for life. When an army invades their peaceful town, seeking Iolph blood and the secret of their longevity, a young girl named Maquia is forced to escape. Wandering the land alone, she encounters an orphaned baby in the forest. Maquia chooses to raise him, but as the boy grows older, her looks remain the same, throwing the difference in their lifespans into ever-sharper focus. (Glasgow Film Festival)

Although this is Mari Okada's directorial debut, she is no stranger to the Japanese animation world. She has worked as a screenwriter for hits such as Basilisk and Fate/Stay Night and worked on many other successful shows such as CANAAN, Black Butler and Vampire Knight. I believe working on a variety of different genres has helped her first attempt as a director because When The Promised Flower is something of a genre-bender itself. Combining elements of fantasy, action, drama and coming-of-age, Mari managed to create something truly epic.

The film features some beautiful animation with the backdrops being the main stand out! They have created a beautiful fictional world which takes place on locations such as an island that looks similar to Themyscira from Wonder Woman to a city that is reminiscent of a location from Game of Thrones. These are simply breathtaking to just sit back and admire as the characters explore them. While the main characters themselves might not be as aesthetically pleasing and are more minimalist than what you would see in a Ghibli film, they still seem to work very well with this style and genre.

The meat of the story focuses on the main character Maquia and her relationship with her adopted son Erial. Their relationship starts off cute and cuddly with Erial being a baby right through to boyhood, featuring some hilarious and often touching moments between them. However, things get more complicated as he gets older, grows taller and goes through his teenage years on his way to manhood, yet his mum still appears to look like a teenage girl. This is when the story gets deep and ventures into some heart-wrenching scenes. While not everyone can relate to being immortal, everyone can relate to the changing relationships between parents and children as they grow up.

There are also a couple of wonderfully crafted action scenes spread throughout the film which keeps the flow of the film going at a steady pace while also keeping you interested and alert. They could have benefited from another big action scene, but the film already has a near 2-hour run-time and I don't think they wanted to go overboard.

Because the Iolph people are immortal, the story will often leap forward years ahead which can sometimes be a little jarring. Some of the characters don't stand-out as well as others which can leave you confused trying to figure out who is who. However, because of this plot aspect, they manage to create some compelling, powerful and intriguing storytelling which wouldn't be feasible otherwise.

Kenji Kawai took control as the musical composer and really lifted the film to give it the feel of a huge blockbuster film. Kenji Kawai has lent his hand to many massive anime films including Ghost In The Shell and The Sky Crawlers. However, he has also ventured into live-action, composing for films such as Ringu and the massive Ip Man series starring Donnie Yen. Kenji has created a score that fits the film's emotion perfectly while also suiting the medieval setting, and although there are only a few big action scenes, the music really brings them to life. The main title song Viator by Rionos is enchanting and when it plays at the end I overheard more than a few people bubbling away in the theatre.

The film has a few issues for the climax with many false-endings and some over-clarification. I believe the viewers will have already figured it out without them rehashing points and explaining it again. The film manages to redeem itself with their real ending though, which is what viewers will have been waiting patiently for.

When The Promised Flower Blooms is truly magnificent! It's an incredible story of a relationship between mother and son which just so happens to be set in a stunning Game of Thrones-esque fantasy world! Highly ambitious, extremely moving, at times hilarious and completely beautiful from start to finish.


All The Anime are releasing When The Promised Flower Blooms in select UK and Ireland cinemas on 27th June.

Screened and reviewed as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2018.