Succumbing to some of the tropes associated with sequels, Train to Busan 2: Peninsula suffers from moments of empty bombast and an incessant need to go bigger which becomes detrimental to the film's storytelling and the sturdy, steadfast acceleration which made its predecessor so gripping. Taking place several years after the events of the first film, Peninsula exists in a time where the entire Korean Peninsula has been cut-off from the rest of the world - abandoned and secluded in the wake of the first film's events. The film's narrative is centered around Korean migrants who out of desperation agree to journey back to Korea in search of a rumored fortune abandoned in there, and even in this inciting incident of the story, the film's subtext elucidates the exploitation of migrants intrinsic to any strict immigration system - legality is meaningless in the fast of desperation, I for one, love to see it. The film's best moments are not in its action sequences which feature too much CGI artifice, but in the film's quieter character moments that explore the underlying pain and empathy such catastrophe inflicts on the human condition. Peninsula in its best moments has more in common with the original Mad Max and its sequels in this regard, exhibiting the primal behavior humanity is capable of when faced with absolute desperation, resting at the fulcrum of what separates man from beast. Peninsula still works far more than it doesn't, delivering solid thrills and bombast which should fulfill expectations and yet its strength lies not in its desire to mimic Hollywood modes of bombast, blockbuster filmmaking but in its quieter moments in which its more human elements are allowed to shine
Perhaps Hung's greatest achievement in the way it balances tone, oscillating between drama, tragedy, action, and comedy in such a seamless manner one is kinda left in awe that the film resoundingly works on every level. The bruises which manifest all over Hung's body are almost a symbolic device - the improvised communities which are born out of the economic conditions imposed on the social fabric via diaspora are where toxic ideologies can manifest but through class unity community rebirth is possible despite the pain and damage inflicted, with those who subjugate the weak being held accountable through community action. The text itself of Pedicab Driver moves with breakneck speed, from one engaging set-piece to another, displaying somewhat implicitly how these well-intentioned working-class individuals struggle, often thrown into conflict with one and other in one way or another, as they attempt to make a life for themselves. Many of the main characters of this film are males who display their misogyny explicitly, yet through the narrative arch, the film's subtext elucidates how the commodification of the body itself can be eventually obfuscated through mutual collective action, unbridled empathy, and compassion for others who themselves are just trying to make it in this cold, hard world which rewards those aggressive enough to take what they want despite the subjugation of others it entails - perhaps there is an allegory here related to female liberation. Incisive socio-political commentary rests beneath the surface of Hung's dynamic and vibrant action comedy, with the film being a highly entertaining and subtextual pointed about life for the working class which is endearing but doesn't lack the necessary punch when needed.
An essential work of post-colonial cinema, Kidlat Tahimik's The Perfumed Nightmare formally exists in a space between methodical and anarchic construction, employing an innocence-laden lens which evinces the perversity of neo-colonialism through cultural imperialism which has been the West's most powerful, and arguably toxic commodity for some time. The Perfumed Nightmare is challenging and confrontational intellectually while maintaining a sincerity to its observations which are sculpted out of equal parts idealism and naivety towards the promises of Western Civilization. The destabilizing effects on the social fabric which economic/industrial progress can create is purveyed through a filmmaker who idolizes Western principles and promises yet he intrinsically recognizes the need for communal attachment in larger society - a confrontation of ideas which plays out subliminally throughout much of this film's ingenious formal construction. Featuring film grammar which elucidates the commonality of labor in production that traverses disparate cultures while simultaneously exposing the often insidious nature lofty notions of progress tied to untenable growth and progressive consumption can have on the social, The Perfumed Nightmare exhibits how exploitation is created through ideological conscription.
At times an idiosyncratic mess but one with some merits - the opening 10 minutes provides an extraordinary formal assembly of phantasmagoria which establishes the film's underlying subtext related to transnational neocolonialism and the notion and ideal of private property being an abstract and false construction when stood up against the natural world. Narratively the film is unwieldy, much like the film's thematic intention which feels scattershot, yet the film remains interesting due to its underlying commentary about wealth in the new world and its juxtaposition between the natural world and the utopian ideals of neoliberalism. Roeg's manic direction is both a blessing and a curse to the film's precision. For Roeg, he seems to seems to be signaling a changing of the guard, with Pesci's character symbolizing a slicker, more corrupt version of wealth in the time of Reagonomics, one whose wealth accumulation is driven by conquest not personal labor, a strong juxtaposition with Hackman's flawed yet manic character.. In a world so corrupt, innocence itself is perceived as a sick perversion..
Minimalist in approach yet poignant in what it constructs through its observational lens in which inference from the audience is expected, Ghost Tropic is an immersive visual experience, one which masterfully uses space, lighting, and composition to invoke, largely subtextually, the alienation and uncertainty which is intrinsically connected to the diaspora. Featuring a simple narrative - a late-50's aged woman falls asleep on the train after a long shift and has no other choice but to traverse the city via foot in order to get home - Ghost Tropic could be a beguiling experience for some due to it showing little interest in explicitly expounding any message related to the immigrant experience, yet through its expressive yet understated formal and visual constructions the film rapturously exudes a sense of empathy for its central protagonist, one which builds beautifully towards the film's denouement. Through the film's impressionist aesthetics Ghost Tropic creates an experience in which the urban cityscape is transformed into an isolating tomb of grand material and manufactured design, loneliness, and alienation are enunciated visually, as the film slowly reveals details about its principal characterization through her interactions with the few individuals she comes across over her long journey home. The loneliness and longing of our protagonist are felt without nearly any exposition, as the aesthetic construction draws parallels between her connection with familial spaces and her homeland - spatiality which is familiar, a device of restitution. Loneliness and solitude represented in an environment that is often associated with dynamism and connection - the big city - Edward Hopper would be proud.
Lam Nai-Choi's Her Vengeance is HK Sleaze at its finest in many respects, a rape-revenge fantasy flick that wholly embraces its masochistic impulse for vengeance at all costs. Brusque and forceful direction coalesces with the film's straightforward narrative conception eliciting primal reactionary energy in which the thirst for vengeance obfuscates all else. The narrative itself finds a woman who is sexually assaulted transformed into a single-focused entity, and throughout the course of her path to vengeance she sees a wide swath of those who are close to her caught in the cross-fire. While many films of this ilk would aim to deconstruct the short-sided nature of vengeance, Her Vengeance is a CAT III film that is far more interested in the cultural indictment, shrugging off such concerns to deliver a pointed commentary on a society in which a woman who is sexually assaulted ultimately have to take manners into their own hands. In the film's climactic finale - one featuring the most compelling use of a wheelchair I've seen in cinema - operating subtextually as a rejection of ableism on a pure, visceral level - Her Vengeance does provide a moment for its young protagonist to expound her emotional trauma after the bloodshed is ceased and those she loves have been extinguished in the cross-fire, and yet the final shot involves a sense of accomplishment and clairvoyance, drawing inspiration from the long ranger motif in Western films with the endless horizon of the desert being replaced by the rain-soaked streets of Hong Kong
Tsui Hark's Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain is one of those films that reaffirms why I fell in love with this medium. A truly manic fantasy epic of good vs. evil which is bursting at the seams with creativity, ingenuity-infused visual constructions, and frantic editing that makes the whole experience feel anarchic in a sense that anything feels possible. Through the film's fantastical journey, one which takes place in the periphery of a Chinese Civil war, Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain establishes an ontological lens in which the necessity of collective action and the obfuscation of individual pride are essential for the betterment of all of mankind.
"Remember, A black man with a mop, tray, or broom in his hand can go damn near anywhere in this country. A smiling black man is invisible". Ivan Dixon's The Spook Who Sat By The Door is an incendiary experience which synthesizes black liberation radical politics with the lofty and often unattainable non-violence decree of MLK. The main protagonist resting at the fulcrum of this story is devoid of reactionary aggression, rooted instead in substantive claims of freedom from tyranny and repression of the state apparatus which operates to serve the white majority. The tools and tactics employed by the CIA overseas are brought home and used against it, drawing obvious parallels to American imperialism and the guerrilla resistance abroad. Despite the elongated set-up, the film is richly layered, salient, and unfortunately prescient, detailing the seemingly intangible promise of freedom and liberation through the lens of the oppressed minority.
Having a significantly lighter tone than most of Ann Hui's oeuvre I've seen, Summer Snow is an exquisitely balanced family drama that manages to traverse a story about mortality with a genuine pathos that is consistently imbued with moments of levity. Centered around the tireless matriarch whose underseen and underappreciated in society, Summer Snow features a beautifully balanced performance of fragility and vigor by Josephine Siao, who struggles to hold her family together when tragedy strikes. The chaotic nature of living is exhibited with such clarity - the loss of control one feels over life when tragedy strikes is a steadfast reminder of this illusion and yet the strain it places on our lives is not completely devoid of learnings, as often through such conflict and strife there is certain clairvoyance that is displayed about what is truly important in life. Mortality, family, fragility, and strength - tonally comedic yet piercing in the truths it escalates, Summer Snow is a tender, beautiful little film bout the importance of family and the trials and tribulations of the day-to-day struggle which can eschew one's perceptions about what is truly important.
A beautiful story of family, one in which the representation of a black middle-class family in South Central feels almost glaring given the usual treatment ascribed by Hollywood, Charles Burnett's To Sleep With Anger infuses the 'corrosive stranger' archetype ala Teorema with African American folklore, to delivery a powerful evocation of rebirth in the face of abject adversity. The fissures in this family's relationships are slightly exposed even from the onset of this story, long before Danny Glover's insidious characterization arrives, his insertion into their lives doesn't create division it merely exacerbates the underlying problems of this familiar unit. Danny Glover has never been better here, he is an agent of chaos, who invokes the great migration, in that he is an avenging angel from the past, representative of a force that wreaks havoc on this family, and even by extension the community itself in South Central Los Angeles. At its core, To Sleep with Anger is a story of re-birth, as the film is astute in its ability to exhibit the power of progress through chaos, recognizing that through tough times, bad relationships, and internal strife, there is always an opportunity for redemption, cohesion, and the strengthening of the familial unity.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.