Resting at the fulcrum of torrid adolescent love and elegiac middle-aged excavation of past, Sylvia Chang's Tempting Heart is an incisive examination of the human condition as it pertains to love and connection, exploring the confluence of moments, misconceptions, and mistakes which define our present. Oscillating between various temporal spaces of a middle-aged director's life - as our central protagonist sets off to tell her autobiographical story - Tempting Heart manages a rich formalist schematic, exhibiting how seemingly disparate moments in the present coalesce over time into a larger framework of identity. Life moves fast - The temporal spaces we inhabit are finite, the interdependence intrinsic to relationships of connection often leave us looking back with a sense of longing, wondering how we even arrived where we find ourselves. Autonomy in a sense feels like a deception or a mirage in Sylvia Chang's magnificent Tempting Heart, a film which soulfully and tactically exhibits the codependent nature of love and loss and the vicissitudes over-time which inform and construct our identity.
Krzysztof Zanussi's oeuvre seems to consistently rest at the fulcrum between individual pursuits and communal obligation, grappling with existential questions about the meaning of life. With The Structure of Crystals, his feature debut, intellectualism as it pertains to the pursuit of knowledge is juxtaposed with that of affect, as the narrative revolves two academics who've grown to define what is meaningful very differently. Through a simple narrative construction, in which two old academic friends reconnect after many years, Zanussi manages the perfect balance between drama and philosophy, in a sense deconstructing epistemology itself, as these two characters contemplate, contrast, and debate the pursuit of knowledge, whether it be through experience and observation or through active construction. The barren winter landscapes provide a perfect setting for this film's spirited discursive display of the existential, with the film in the end reckoning with the fact that while these friends may see things differently, they've both grown themselves through the exchanging of ideals and principles related to living a good life.
An immersive experience which uses the construct of family to explore the human condition itself. Exposes the facade of control we place on adulthood vs. our formative years, revealing in many ways the circular nature of experience, one in which the anarchy of day-to-day provides ample opportunity for growth, pain, tragedy, and triumph. In many ways the film is an affront to the notion of "growing up", exhibiting this socially constructed deception of control we place in our consciousness as a way to cope with the oscillations of life. The trials and tribulations of a middle class family in Taiwan is a tool employed by Yang to examine the rapid globalization caused by neoliberalism, touching on the despondence enacted by a world in which growth on a macro level supplants all else, including dignity or sincerity which is so important to the individual on a micro level. Formally, Yang has never been better, with the city itself being a reflective device for our character's internal ruminations - both figuratively and literally. The cityscapes of Taipei - its reflective window panes and enclaves of office buildings and residential units - evoke this sense of melancholy felt through three generations. A film of tonal multitudes - hope and despair both seem constantly at arms reach much like life itself - Yi Yi manages to never feel dreary or cynical despite its consistent strand of melancholy. Simply put, a masterpiece of cinema
A perfect sequel which builds off and inverts its predecessor, re-contextualizing its principal characters in a way that feels fresh and vibrant, validating its existence early and often. Cleverly constructed, the film uses its prior installment to inform and reinforce its principal characterizations in a way that never feels layered with unnecessary or unwanted exposition, arguably placing these characters in a more appropriate context than its predecessor - one in which the film doesn't mask their elite status. Tinged with melancholy despite the film's playful romantic comedy artifice, there is an embedded nihilism in its narrative rhythms in which love is presented as something rooted in proximity and recency, yet it still maintains a sense of charm despite its cutting nature. In Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2, the notion of love and connection by-and-large doesn't supersede the spatial environment, and in its denouement the film is arguably an affront to the mythos of the first film, one which is far more cynical about the hyper-romanticized notion of love so common in the genre.
One the best coming of age films ever made but even calling it such feels like a slight to the film's larger social and cultural constructions. The coming of age motif is traversed in a truly singular and deeply personal way, with Hou's use of precise framing and calculated formalism crafting a deeply poetic tale in which the crude binary between the individual and the collective is exposed and the inter-connectivity revealed. Autobiographical, Hou's film masterfully evolves over its running time, the aesthetic informing his underlying cognitive experience. His avatar begins very much at the center of this story early on, yet through larger cultural forces and tragedy, the film's aesthetic and even formal presentation in some ways shifts, placing him not at the fulcrum of events but on the peripheral of the story, an agent not disparate but interconnected to the larger cog of the social and political forces.
The urban vistas and luminous neon aesthetics of Hong Kong do the heavy lifting in this film, a magical, romantic environment which helps obfuscate the film's rather typical narrative trajectory which is far too prescriptive in its narrative schematics. Traversing the familiar brief encounter in a foreign place popularized and mainstreamed by Linklater's Before Sunrise trilogy, Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong doesn't bring much new to the table, though I've become convinced that Hong Kong is now the most romantic city in the world. As someone who is a bit of a hopeless romantic but has struggled to find this form of connection, Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong did affect me more than it probably had any right to, though I think its lead protagonist, opposite of Jaime Chung needed more sculpting, with his characterization teetering on the edge of unlikeable.
Seeking closure in the present through excavating the past, Iwai's oeuvre exhibits the ephemeral nature of life itself. Last Letter sees Iwai cross the ocean and head to China, where he employs what appears to be a far more expansive budget - the use of drones being almost too abrasive given the quiet, empathetic reverberations of Iwai's typical formal construction. Featuring a sprawling and elliptical narrative structure in which the past and present are intertwined, Last Letter subjugates the viewer to experience more than understand from the onset, with a multi-generational cast of characters disrupted and sent adrift emotionally due to trauma and in some cases, grief, related to the loss of a loved one. More of the same in many ways for Iwai, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, with Last Letter traversing a rather familiar archetype in cinema, yet doing so in a way that exhibits how memory and affect are employed by individuals as a coping mechanism, agents which help obfuscate and navigate the cold, hard objective world in which much of what we know will never be fully understood.
Formally more sophisticated than the typical Hollywood romcom, Don't Go Breaking My Heart is one of the quintessential contemporary films in the genre, a film which is heavy on artifice yet still manages to cut up and serve emotional truths about longing, companionship, and love. Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai's film shows such affection for its characters and it becomes infectious to the audience, managing a rather contained romantic comedy - in terms of the spaces it occupies - that feels nothing but in the way it erupts with vitality intrinsic to the potential of love. The love triangle archetype is traversed in a truly wonderful ways, as the film embraces its genre and creates something magical that is hard not to love.
To be blessed with one iota of Obayashi's creative spirit; Like a great driver's instinctual nature behind the wheel, Obayashi's His Motorbike, Her Island feels spontaneous and free flowing, never schematic in execution despite the intrinsic preparation involved. Reality is consistently obfuscated through a formalism in which shifting color palette oscillates to its own rhythms. Not informed by narrative but affect, a story in which dreams, memories, and reality blur, a story conceptually about freedom, passion, and love that is another singular work from one of the great filmmakers in Nobuhiko Ōbayashi, who consistently pushed the boundaries of the medium throughout his oeuvre.
A rather ambitious romantic comedy which conceptually and schematically shouldn't work, and yet the film lives on its own wavelength and manages to be somewhat radical in its formalism as it delivers emotional poignancy and a singular charm to the romantic comedy genre. A testament in part to Jun Ji-Hyun's insatiable performance, My Sassy Girl is imbued with such a sense of vitality which is rarely achieved by similar films of its ilk, showing a willingness to step outside of the comfortable framework of this familial boy meets girl archetype to delivery a singular vision of the complicated nature of companionship and love. Not surprising this film was a colossal hit - a heightened love story that is charming, outrageous at times, yet infused with emotional truths and an earnest deposition when it comes to the complex pathways intrinsic to love
Love of all things cinema brought me here.