Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Save the Green Planet (2003)

Save the Green Planet (2003)

October 1st, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

This award winning Korean black comedy revolves around a seemingly disturbed man by the name of Lee Byeong-gu (Shin Ha-kyun). To almost everyone around him Lee is a unbalanced oddball, driven out of his mind by the death of his mother. But to Lee and his only follower, he is the Earth’s only hope of survival. His private investigations lead him to believe that a powerful corporate executive is really an alien in disguise. Now he must stop him at any cost as he attempts to save the Earth.

The only film as director for Jang Joon-Hwan who also authored the script, this oddity from Korea became a favorite at international film festivals. Beyond its strange premise, the film also is a sly critique of labor practices and an impersonal business culture that has developed over the last few decades.

South Korea, Director Jang Joon-Hwan, Cast Shin Ha-Kyun, Lee Jae-Yong, Hwang Jeong-Min, Gi Ju-Bong and Lee Ju-Hyeon, 113 minutes, in Korean with English subtitles.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sino-Dutch War 1661 (2001)

Sino-Dutch War 1661 (2001)

September 24th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

This historical epic revolves around the events of the collapse of the Ming Dynasty and in its final gasp of glory, the war between the Ming and Dutch forces that occupy Taiwan. The production values are good to great with access to dramatic settings and great care is taken with set design and costuming. Its swordplay elements are played down, as is frequently the case with this kind of period dramas made in the mainland. The story is the central focus beyond any action.

The star of the film is Zhao Wenzhou, who literally plays the last Ming General. He is better known for roles in Tsui Hark’s The Blade (1995) and some of the later Wong Fei Hung films from the mid to late 1990's. The films director Wu Ziniu had only a limited career, but is notible for directing Don't Cry, Nanking (1995), one of the better entries of a rash of Hong Kong films about Japanese actions during World War 2 made from the mid 1980's to 90's.

To understand much of the meaning of the film it is necessary to be familiar with some of the events taking place in China during the 16th and 17th Centuries. This is just a brief description of one set of interpretations of events, of which there is still much historical debate. The Ming Dynasty had ruled a largely prosperous China since the defeat of the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty. By the late 1500's a series of internal and external forces unbalanced the Chinese economy and governmental structure. These included the attempted Japanese invasion of Korea, which became a massive drain on the Chinese government after they came to Korea’s aid. There were also fluctuations in silver and a series of natural disasters including a earthquake that killed nearly a million. The government was further unbalanced by extreme corruption as well as some rebellion within the military and a increasingly paranoid central government best illustrated by the creation an internal intelligence gathering organization run by Eunuchs known as the Eastern Chamber.

Sensing this weakness, newly unified groups of formerly nomadic Manchurians came together under a central leader and attempted to make war on the Ming. The vastly superior Ming forces were involved in infighting relating to internal Ming politics and disputes with regard to Imperial succession. Some of the Ming forces joined the Manchurians, seeking to regain some kind of stable government. As the conflict waged on more and more Ming Troops and Officials joined the Manchu and their new Qing Dynasty. The Ming holdouts retreated to the South as a traditional defense against Northern Barbarians, as they viewed the Manchu. The new subjects of the Qing were required to adopt the Manchu hair style of a shaved front and long ponytail known as a Queue, the punishment for failing to comply was death. In the last years of the conflict the remaining Ming forces held out in the South and managed to retake Taiwan from the Dutch, which had been annexed decades before. The Qing would eventually win and engender many diverse views from the Chinese people of the era. During the early Qing, the standard of living for the average person was arguably the highest in the world. But at the same time they were viewed as foreigners by the majority ethnic Han Chinese and bitter memories of the war between the Ming and Manchu, which had killed around 25,000,000 people, that is more then died of combat during the first world war continued.

The film has a very overt political message, namely the promotion of Nationalistic feeling and the idea of reunifying the Chinese people under common purpose. This gives Sino-Dutch War 1661 an interesting position both as a historical epic and modern take on the reunification propaganda films of the past.
Mainland China, Director Ng Ji Ang, Cast Zhao Wenzhou, Shiu Ling, Yoko Shimada, Du Zhiu Guo and Xu Min, 98 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ronin-Gai (1990)

Ronin-Gai (1990)

September 17th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

***The screenings will now begin at 7:00PM***

As a film, Ronin-Gai (1990) has an amazing degree of historical and critical convergence. Its pedigree reaches back to the early Japanese film industry and beyond. It is also the final film of actor Shintaro Katsu who’s Zatochi character is a legend of world cinema. The basic plot involves a community of Ronin living around a rural inn. Set in Japan during the 1830's, towards the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, a time of great stagnation. The film is deceptive in that it seems to be centered on a series of prostitute murders, but there true significance goes much further then simple crime.

The film was directed by Kazio Kuroki as a reminiscence and homage to his film making family. It was made to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the death of his Grandfather Shozo Makino, nicknamed the Father of Japanese Film, who amongst other areas was a pathfinder in period swordplay films. The film of the same name that this is a loose remake of was made in 1928 and based upon a novel. The original was directed by Masahiro Makino the sun of Shozo Makino and father of the director of the 1990 version. The original was one of the last of a string of period films which challenged traditional views of Japans feudal period and the idea of the Samurai. At times these films were used to provide commentary over the growing militarism and cultural conservatism sweeping Japan. By the late 1920's sweeping censorship was in place and it would increasingly become government policy to deal harshly with any dissenting voices including imprisonment, torture and murder only ending with the Japanese defeat in the Second World War.

Of the four Ronin or Masterless Samurai in the film, the most engaging is without a doubt a man nicknamed Bull played in his last performance by Shintaro Katsu. During a long career Katsu is best known for playing a blind swordsman known as Zatoichi in 25 films and a TV series. Besides this he had numerous other roles in other films. He was also a major film producer probably best known for the Lone Wolf and Cub film series starring his brother. Ronin-Gai remains a triumph of the genre and a celebration of Japanese film.
Japan, Director Kazuo Kuroki, Cast Yoshio Harada, Kanako Higuchi, Renji Ishibashi, Shintaro Katsu and Eisei Amamoto, 121 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959)

The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959)

September 10th, 6:30PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

In 1958 Director Li Han Hsiang created a cinematic hybrid of the traditional Huangmei opera type. The result was the period epic Diau Charn (1958) which began a trend that would make Huangmei opera films one of the most popular cinematic genre of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia for nearly a decade. He would go on to direct many more of these films, but three of them would be singled out as the greatest classics of the type. Diau Charn, The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959) and The Love Eterne (1963). They would respectively win Best Director and then Best Film at the Asian Film Awards and Taiwan’s Golden Horse award for Best Director.

Huangmei Opera originally came from China’s Anhui Provence and is one of dozens of regional opera forms. The name literally mean Yellow Plum Tunes and its unique elements include restrained movements and frequent repetition of action and lyric. Before 1958 the two dominant opera forms in Hong Kong cinema were Cantonese and Beijing Opera, but for a period of roughly eight years they faced major cinematic competition.

The plot of Kingdom is based upon a myth regarding a Ming Dynasty Emperor who journeies into the countryside in disguise and falls in love with a beautiful courtesan. The star of the film is Linda Lin Dai, who plays the courtesan. She was one of the prominent superstars of the era and in 1959 was only gaining in popularity. Her tragic 1964 suicide has left the actress with a mythic and eternal quality in popular memory.

The Huangmei Opera type is closely associated with Hong Kong’s massive Shaw Brothers Studio. These films became their major prestige pictures and were lavished with time and resources. They became a major weapon in their battle against the MP&GI studio, later renamed Cathey for dominance. Some of the major hallmarks of their films are lavish color cinematography, exquisite costumes and grand sets.
Hong Kong, Director Li Han Hsiang, Cast Linda Lin Dai, Li Jen Ho, Bo Hong and King Hu, 95 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles.