Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Break

After a successful semester of showcasing a range of Asian films, the series is going on its annual winter break. It will return in late January and then run until mid May. I am always taking requests for films to be screened, so if you have a particular film or type of film in mind, please comment here and let me know. Otherwise I will wish everyone happy holidays.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Ballad of Narayama (1983)

The Ballad of Narayama (1983)

December 16th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

It is the tradition of a particular small Japanese village that if someone lives until their seventieth year, they are taken to a remote mountain and left to die. In this village, and old woman named Orin is one year away from her date with destiny. Instead of fighting against her future journey, she decides to set her affairs in order and prepare for her journey.
Based upon the 1956 novel of the same name, it was the forth Japanese film to win the Palme d'Or. Its director Shohei Imamura was famous for taking on topics relating to recent Japanese history and society and providing a somewhat subversively satirical interpretation. This was actually a remake of an earlier 1958 film of the same name, bur the director has clearly put his own personal stamp on the material, especially in the almost oppressive realism of rural conditions in the early Nineteenth Century.
Japan, Director Shohei Imamura, Cast Ken Ogata, Sumiko Sakamoto and Mitsuko Baisho, 130 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Taiwan Cinema College Showcase at UWM

Taiwan Cinema College Showcase at UWM

The Asian Film Series will be suspending its normal activities for the next two Thursdays in support of the Taiwan Cinema College Showcase at UWM.

This is an open invitation to the Taiwan Cinema College Showcase at UWM. This showcase will present five contemporary Taiwanese films over the course of two weeks.

The first screening of the film festival Cape No. 7 will take place in Curtin 175 at 7:00pm on Thursday December 2nd.

-Cape No. 7 is a 2008 Taiwanese romance comedic music-drama film written and directed. The film is in Taiwanese and Mandarin Chinese and with significant lines in Japanese. Before its commercial release, the film was world premiered on June 20, 2008 at the 2008 Taipei Film Festival as the opening film. The film later won 3 awards in this festival.

Information regarding the other screenings all of which are screened in Curtin 175:

-Somewhere Over The Dreamland (2002) 7PM Friday December 3rd

The tale of an intense love that is both unrequited and irrepressible, involving
the lives of Watan, an aboriginal from Formosa island; Xiao Mo-a lonely young
sushi chef; and Xuen Xuen a young merry-go-round attendant.

Orz Boyz (2008) 7PM Saturday December 4th

More than just naughty, these boys play tricks on classmates, tease
girls at school, fight with other boys, and lie to everyone until their
teacher breaks down.

Parking (2008) 7PM Thursday December 9th

When a car unexpectedly double parks next to Chen Mo's car,
preventing his exit, he spends the evening searching the floors of a
nearby apartment building for the owner of the illegally parked car.

Yang Yang (2009) 7PM Friday December 10th

Depicting the life of Yang-Yang, a girl of French-Chinese decent,
this film deals with her life, her relationships with men, with her
mother and friends.

This showcase is sponsored by the following:

The Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in
Chicago, UWM's Department of Foreign
Languages and Literature, Chinese
Language Program, Asian Studies Certificate,
the Film Studies Program, and Center for
International Education

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The True Story of Wong Fei Hung (1949)

The True Story of Wong Fei Hung (1949)

November 18th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Before this film, the Hong Kong martial arts action genre did not truly exist in a recognizable framework to what it would later become. They were fantastical swordplay films, and opera adaptations that were more often then not owing more to their stage roots then cinematic sensibilities. But with the start of the now legendary Wong Fei Hung series starring Kwan Tak Hing, everything would begin to change. These films began to include real martial arts forms and a style of fight choreography that had a realist sensibility. The philological traditions of Chinese martial arts became a central theme of the story, these and other innovations stem from a range of martial artists who worked upon the film.
The success of the Kwan Tak Hing, Wong Fei Hung film, which would eventually go on to number more then seventy films making it the largest film series in the history of world cinema, can be best explained by a look at the historical figure of Teacher Wong. Born in 1847 in Foshan located in Guangdong Province, the place that he would continue to be centrally associated with during his life, he was the son of a prominent martial artist and traditional Chinese doctor. He followed in his fathers footsteps on both counts, eventually opening a clinic called Po-chi-lam. Living to the age of 76, he became famous throughout the region for his medical and martial prowess, and producing many famous disciples. It was one of these by the name of Lam Sai-Wing who was responsible for spreading his legend on a national scale. Lam relocated to Hong Kong sometime after the mid 1920's, taking on a large number of students. As the acknowledged grand master of the school, Wong Fei Hung became a venerated figure. Exaggerated tales of Wong’s life were eventually published as serialized newspaper tales, with Lam providing the content. This was initially how this regional figure began to gain wider renown.
After the end of the Japanese occupation, the prolific Cantonese dialect cinema in Hong Kong began to recover. So that a film version of the life of this popular figure became an obvious choice. Lam had died during the occupation, but his students lived on. Many of them would become involved in Hong Kong cinema as actors, stuntmen and choreographers. Because of this and the multi generation tradition of Hong Kong action performers, virtually every major individual working in Hong Kong action could trace their line of teachers back to grandmaster Wong or to the individuals who worked upon the early films about his life.
For this film, Cantonese actor Kwan Tak Hing plays the tittle role. He had been an actor before the war, working on some of the first Cantonese talkies which were filmed in the United States and later working in a patriotic acting troupe during the war against the Japanese. Legend has it that he was told by the last wife of Wong, who was a consultant on this first entry in the series, that he strongly resembled her late husband. He was also an accomplished martial artist which made him ideal for the series. What he helped create is the legend of Master Wong. Many of the facts concerning the real figure had by this time been lost either through death or the fire that burned down Po-chi-lam and with it all surviving possessions and family records. The cinematic Wong is portrayed as a gentleman and Confucian scholar who fought only as a last resort and always attempted to redeem his enemy instead of destroy them. A range of trademarks were also invented such as the use of the umbrella as his weapon of choice, other areas such as his mastery of the lion dance were taken from the historical figure. At present more then 100 films have been made depicting Wong Fei Hung, everything from Jackie Chan in Drunken Master (1978) to Jet Li in Once Upon A Time in China (1991,) making Wong Fei Hung the most cinematically depicted
Hong Kong, Director Wu Pang, Cast Kwan Tak Hing, Tso Tat Wah and Yuen Siu Tin, 72 minutes, in Cantonese with English subtitles

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Khalnayak (1993)

Khalnayak (1993)

November 11th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Ballu (Sanjay Dutt) is a young man who goes on to become a master criminal, the film centers upon his relationship to a police inspector (Jackie Shroff) and the inspectors love interest in the form of Ganga (Madhuri Dixit) who is herself an undercover police officer who must enter Ballu’s world.
A series of controversies flowed around the film including the perceived transgressive sexual tone of on the films nine musical number. Also the arrest of the films star Sanjay Dutt on weapons possession charges and supposed links to terrorists which took place around the time of the films release.
Directed by Subhash Ghai, who is well known for his use of spectacle, typically working on films of epic dimensions. This 1993 film was a major blockbuster of its era.

India, Director Subhash Ghai, Cast Sanjay Dutt, Jackie Shroff, Madhuri Dixit and Anupam Kher, 191 minutes, in Hindi with English subtitles

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Monkey Goes West (1966)

The Monkey Goes West (1966)

November 4th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

The Monkey Goes West is an adaptation of the classic 16th century novel A Journey To the West, which is generally regarded as one of the four greatest Chinese novels. It is based upon the 7th century journey of Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk who illegally traveled from China to India in order to bring back early Buddhist texts. This accomplishment was instrumental in reversing the anti Buddhist stance of the then ruling Tang Dynasty.
In this fictionalized account of the journey, human involvement is largely curtailed in favor of a wide range of magical beings. It seems that the flesh of the monk will grant great power to whatever creature eats it. To protect the monk, his phantasmal allies capture the Monkey King, a mischievous being possessing great power. Later other allies join the group and together they journey through one danger after the other.
This particular adaptation of the story was created by the Shaw Brothers studio, which dominated Hong Kong film production of the era. It recounts early events in the novel, including the capture of the Monkey King. It was latter follower by two sequels, Cave of the Silken Web (1967) The Land of Many Perfumes (1968) based around other major events in the novel. In tone they are primarily children’s films, although the outlandish sets and costumes make it appealing to those of any age.

Hong Kong, Director Hoh Mung Wa, Cast Diana Chang Chung-Wen, Ho Fan, Yueh Hua, Paang Paang and Fan Mei Sheng, 111 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Untold Story (1993)

The Untold Story (1993)

Special Time and Location for this week only of October 28th, 8:00PM in Bolton B52
location information please see this link http://www4.uwm.edu/map/vt-cent.cfm Bolton is the building behind Lubar Hall on N. Maryland ave. The room is located in the basement and includes a theater style set up with a DVD projector.

In the late 1980's changes were made to the domestic Hong Kong film ratings system. This opened up the possibility of films dealing with more adult subject matter, under the highest content ratting, Category 3, generally abbreviated as CAT III. Film of this rating including those dealing with controversial subject matter, either sexual or political such as Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together (1997.)
But the majority of CAT III films focused upon either sex or violence, so much so that this began to generate its own subgenre or movement. During the heyday of CAT III films almost half of all Hong Kong productions fit into this type. As a genre, they revolve around two impulses, spectacle and novelty. With each new film attempting to outdo the last, this was a genre of ever increasing range of subject.
The Untold Story is one of the famous of these films, helping to affirm the stardom of Anthony Wong, who plays a sadistic madman. The story is supposedly based upon events in Macao in the late 1960's. It deals with a murderer who flees from Hong Kong and then becomes involved in grisly events in a Macao restaurant. For his role Anthony Wong received the Hong Kong Film Award for best actor, a major accomplishment in the story of CAT III. A wave of copycat films and loose sequels followed.
Hong Kong, Director Herman Yau, Cast Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Danny Lee Sau-Yin, Emily Kwan (Bo Wai), Lau Siu-Ming and Shing Fui-On, 95 minutes, in Cantonese with English subtitles

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Trek (2002)

The Trek (2002)

October 21st, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

A group of students and naturalists journey into the dense Thai jungle in an attempt to locate a mythical new species of elephant. But things begin to go badly when they discover that everything in the jungle seems to want them dead in the most painful ways possible.
The Trek has a relatively strait forward pattern of seek and destroy, the students seek and everything else destroys. But it in the spectacle of the attacks ranging from insects, spiders, giant snakes and gunmen. The counterpoint to this is the subplots involving the students and their personal relationships including several westerners that have become mixed up in the expatiation leading to predictably absurd results.
Thailand, Directors Chanchai Pantasi, Cast Danai Smuthkochorn, Paul Visut Carey, Eilidh MacQueen, Manaswee Krittanookul and Supaksorn Chaimongkol, 103 minutes, in Thai with English subtitles

Monday, October 11, 2010

Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985)

Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985)

October 14th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

The range of style and subject matter of Japanese animation is far greater then the fraction of it that has become well known in the United States, and this film is a striking example of that fact. Night on the Galactic Railroad is an examination of ideas of existence, life and death seen through the eyes of a child. The central character is Giovanni, a young boy who lives a quiet life caring for his mother in what seems to be a small Western European town at the turn of the nineteenth century. One night a phantasmal train arrives to take him and his best friend on a metaphorical journey through space and time.
Stylistically, the film is slow moving and surrealistic in tone. These factors are what fuel its champions and detractors. The subject matter is also rather heavy, but it would be unfair to say that it is not a film accessible in tone to a great many children. It also deals with a range of philosophical beliefs including both the Christian and Buddhist conceptions of death, as well as a range of episodes that have a distinctly metaphorical bent.

The film is based upon the 1927 novel Night on the Milky Way Railroad by Miyazawa Kenji. For those that are not familiar with his work, he is a man who is widely considered to be the greatest Japanese poet of the early twentieth century. The film is a faithful adaptation of one of his most popular works. During his short life he lived in rural Japan and had a deep interest in varying philosophical disciplines including Buddhism. The majority of his work including the novel in question was only discovered after his death. But a major chan in the adaption from the novel to the film comes from noted avant-garde playwright Minoru Betsuyaku who pinned the script. He transformed all of the characters into cats. Before seeing the film many tend to find this discouraging, but in reality it actually greatly complements the material by giving the characters an unreal, slightly abstract quality. There is also a nod in the film to Miyazawa Kenji’s love and fervor towards Esperanto, many of the signs in the film are posted in both it and the fictional language of the cats.
This isn’t the only work of animation that was based around Miyazawa Kenji’s life and works, in honor of the centennial anniversary of his birth the 1996 animated film Spring and Chaos was produced. It was a loosely biographical film detailing events in the poets frequently tragic life and depicts the writing of the novel that Night on the Galactic Railroad was based upon. Other works that have an acknowledged debt to this source material include Leiji Matsumoto’s well loved Galaxy Express 999 manga, which spawned a range of feature films and a TV series.
Japan, Director Gisaburo Sugii, Cast Mayumi Tanaka and Chika Sakamoto, 108 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lady Terminator (1986)

Lady Terminator (1986)

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

It is true that you can learn a lot about a culture from its popular forms of entertainment, and without a doubt this applies as much to the absurd as to the series.
While other cinematic forms exist in Indonesia, the only area that has received any kind of world wide exposure are the Exploitation, Super Hero and Horror films produced primarily from the mid 1980's to mid 90's. The aforementioned films are legendary for their otherworldly strangeness, mixing the serious with the camp.
In Lady Terminator a long dead witch possesses the body of a young lady, who it seems is not a lady but an anthropologist. Now she hunts the descendant of the man who originally killed her, now the only person who has the power to stop her return. Instead of taking a few elements from The Terminator, the film brazenly copies entire sequences and frequently one-ups them. This can be said to be the spirit of this kind of remarkably unhinged romp, which for the right audience is a genuine treat.

Indonesia, Director Jalil Jackson, Cast Barbara Anne Constable, Claudia Rademaker and Christopher J. Hart, 82 minutes, in English

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Marrying the Mafia (2002)

Marrying the Mafia (2002)

September 30th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

The last ten years have been a tremendous boom time for South Korean film in terms of the size and scope of films as well as international recognition. One of the genre that has been consistently popular throughout this period is the Romantic Comedy. This weeks film helped to create a sub-genre of romantic comedies revolving around gangsters. Examples of this are the two My Wife is a Gangster sequels, Marrying the Mafia and its sequels, My Boss My Hero and Family: Action Vs. Love.
This example follows a young up and coming businessman as he finds himself ordered by a notorious mob boss to marry the man’s daughter.
South Korea, Director Jung Hong-Sun, Cast Jung Joon-Ho, Kim Jung-Eun and Yoo Dong-Gun, 98 minutes, in Korean with English subtitles

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Last Emperor: Pu Yi's Latter Life (1986)

The Last Emperor: Pu Yi's Latter Life (1986)

September 23rd, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

The figure of Puyi has always been a derisive one, a seemingly odd man out who finds himself at many of the crucial moments of modern Chinese history. For this film, writer, director Li Han Hsiang presents a more subdued portrait of the man. The figure of Puyi (Tony Leung Ka Fai), last Qing Emperor of China and later the figurehead of Japanese occupied Manchuria, looks back at his life in a kind of bewilderment. As an old man living in the shadows of his youth, he is truly haunted.
The story of Puyi is also a story of sweeping transition, and the film itself exists in a small way as part of such a wave of change. The films director, Li Han Hsiang, began as a university student in his native Beijing, studying the art and architecture of forbidden city first hand. By the end of the civil war he had immigrated to Hong Kong, finding work in the Mandarin dialect film industry. During the next decade he would invent or popularize a series of genre including the Hongmei Opera film and a wide range of sweeping historical epics. Later during the mid 1960's he established the first modern studio in Taiwan before returning to Hong Kong in the early 1970's. At this point he created a string of episodic sex comedies that were many of the most popular films of that decade. This allowed him the clout to direct a string of high concept Qing palace films, leading to the conditions under which he would return to work in the Mainland.
The reality that Hong Kong would indeed be returned to China really hit its political high note in the early 1980's. Negotiations between Great Brittan and China proved troublesome, and the delegations of prominent local Chinese figures sent to the Mainland were frequently treated with contempt and mistrust with a few notable exceptions such as the author Jin Yong. But on one count relations were healthy to say the least, and that is through cinema. It was decided that a prominent Hong Kong director would be invited to make films in China. Among Chinese film makers of this era, Li’s Qing court dramas had become well known and respected and in many ways he became the logical choice. To this end he agreed to direct a series of film on the condition that he had complete creative control.
His first two efforts were a two part film dealing with the destruction of the Summer Palace and rise of the Empress Dowager, The Burning of the Imperial Palace and Reign Behind the Curtain (1983). These proved successful and so he set his sights on more contemporary issues in an examination of Puyi. These three films also helped to launch the career of Tony Leung Ka Fai, a discovery of Li’s. For a Hong Kong director to make films on the mainland was no small leap of faith, he was the first to do so in contemporary times. The reason for this is that any such director would have their film banned in Taiwan, which amounts to commercial suicide. But someone of Li’s stature doing so had such an effect as to begin to open Taiwan cinematically to the mainland.
It would be impossible to talk about this film without noting Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1987 epic film of a similar English title. Li’s film predates the later effort by a year, representing the first time a Hong Kong director had shot in the Forbidden City. But on other levels the two films are worlds apart. As a Western perspective Bertolucci’s film tends to have a fetishistic relationship with the foreign trappings of China. Li’s film is arguably more centered upon a character study of the man, and of course it is set much later in his life. Some of those involved in Li’s film, including his own son claim that the later film was directly influenced by Li’s work, to the point of attempting to cast several of the same actors. This is debatable, but one thing is for sure, Li’s work stands on its own merits and continues to be a historically important film in its own right.

Mainland China, Directors Li Han Hsiang, Cast Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Poon Hung, Margaret Lee Din-Long and Lee Din Hing, 88 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Contract (1978)

The Contract (1976)

September 16th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Michael Hui plays a bumbling, rarely used actor/extra working under the yoke of an abusive long term contract that he has signed with a fictitious Hong Kong television network. Now he has been offered a more lucrative position with another network, but the catch is he hast to nullify his current contract before he can take the job. But in the dehumanized world of network politics a contract is a contract.
The Hui Brothers were the undisputed kings of Hong Kong comedy throughout the 1970's, and The Contract has all the elements that make for a great Hui film. A script penned by Michael Hui and loaded with bitting satire, a great opening comedy theme composed and preformed by Sam Hui and enjoyable performances all around. Like many Michel Hui scripted films, much of the comedic subject matter springs from real life social or economic problems that existed in Hong Kong at the time. In this case examining the network wars that were continually going on between TVB and ATV among others.
The brothers were and still are closely linked to television. They first came to prominence in the late 1960's with their Hui Brothers variety show. The show was similar in tone to American series such as The Smothers Brothers or Laugh In, in that it dealt with hot button issues of the day with an eye towards the common people.
Each of the brothers went on to make a considerable name for themselves. Michael Hui as a comic actor and director of bitting satire, Sam Hui as the eternally popular originator of modern Cantopop (Cantonese pop songs) and Ricky Hui as a solid character actor with a comic bent. But it is together that they reached the greatest of heights. This series has previously shown The Private Eyes (1976), which is frequently regarded as their most iconic work. This slightly later film is a comedic masterpiece in its own right and it sure to delight the tastes of many.
Hong Kong, Director Michael Hui Koon-Man, Cast Michael Hui Koon-Man, Samuel Hui Koon-Kit, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Tiffany Bao, Ellen Lau, Yeung Wai, Cheng Fu Hung, 96 minutes, in Cantonese with English subtitles

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Leave it to the Nurses (2002)

Leave it to the Nurses (2002)

September 9th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Over the past three decades Japan has proven to be one of the premiere exporters of pop culture. But just as there are elements of American pop culture that do not lend themselves easily for export, Japan has a wide range of strictly domestic product. Leave it to the Nurses is a particularly good example of this.
The film is based upon a popular Japanese television series created by Fuji TV and featuring all of the same actors. The series focuses upon a group of young nurses at Wakabakai Hospital. In it, the nurses live their lives and are entangled in generous portions of comedy and melodrama. These factors have been greatly exaggerated for the film, which features both entangling romance and an eventual hostage crisis.
Many similar Japanese television series and films exist, although as previously stated they tend to remain invisible to the outside world. While their artistic quality is debatable, they do help to bring to light aspects of Japanese culture that are an education in and of themselves.

Japan, Director Kazuyuki Morosawa, Cast Arisa Mizuki, Yuki Matsushita, Uno Kanda, Naohito Fujiki and Yoshizumi Ishihara, 114 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Nowhere To Hide (1999)

Nowhere To Hide (1999)

September 2nd, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

The film opens with a black and white shot of Detective Woo (Park Joong-Hoon) walking along what looks like a desolate industrial area only to come upon a series of gang members abusing an old man. At this point it flashes to a similar scene of his partner Detective Kim (Jang Dong-Kun) encountering a armed man on a train, from this point onward the scene keeps going back and forth between the two as they are each involved in there own respective fights using odd camera angles and slow motion. This opening really sets the mood and style for the rest of the film.

The plot revolves around the two detectives investigation into the murder of a crime boss by a mysterious man played by Ahn Sung-kee. They do this by setting out on a series of stakeouts which leads them eventually to a woman named Juyon (Choi Ji-Woo) who they believe has some connection to the murderer.
Few Korean films have generated as many mixed comments as this one. Its detractors claim gratuitous violence, style over substance and a week and pointless plot. Its supporters contend that it is filled with beautifully striking cinematography and has the style of a modern day film noire. The film itself has some degree of similarity with other South Korean black-comedies like Guns and Talks (2001) and Public Enemy (2002). But in other ways it is much closer to the Italian Poliziotteschi genre which also centers around cops who use fascist means to achieve there goal, the American film Dirty Harry (1971) is a good example of a non Italian film that falls into this genre. But again it only has some basic similarities, the film itself has a strange mix of these and many other elements.
Its main strength resides in its daring cinematography which is going a mile a minute throughout. Also the films soundtrack is equally as jarring, with the Bee Gees song Holiday used to great effect and a rock version of the classic Korean song Hae Ddeul Nal preformed by Cherry Filter.

The charge of style over substance is something that the film may in a way be guilty of but in a positive way. While many find there is much more substance here then some give it credit for, its style is so fresh, fast paced and enjoyable that even if that is all there was it could just about carry the film on that alone. There are also a series of scenes which some believe are subtle homages to a range of other films. They include elements from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) and The Third Man (1949).

South Korea, Director Lee Myung-Sae, Cast Park Joong-Hoon, Ahn Sung-Ki, Chang Dong-Gun and Park Sang-Myeon, 112 minutes, in Korean with English subtitles