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