An ode to cinema which concurrently manages to contextualize the art form as an essential document of cultural historiography and tool for eliciting change while also wrestling with the mythmaking intrinsic to any medium of artistic expression. This film is really a gift in many regards, Nobuhiko Obayashi's final film is bittersweet but poignant, a grand anti-war film with the technical vibrancy and creative exhibition one would expect from the great filmmaker. Synthesizing its cynicism about humankind's repetitious penchant for violence and oppression with a formal construction that is embedded in jubilation, Labyrinth of Cinema is a deeply personal reflection that is elegiac to those before him while also looking towards the future and the dream for peace and harmony through the symbiotic bond between cultural-historical education and youthful idealism.
Kim Bo-ra's House of Hummingbird is a coming-of-age story with a lot to admire, particularly how it traverses the commonality of its archetype to enunciate the fissures in the social fabric of society caused by South Korea's rapid industrialization and push towards modernity in the 1980s. The impressionable and transient temporal space of adolescence works well with the film's understated grammar, exhibiting through its narrative rhythms how the grand implications of modernization often distort and strain the familial unit and the social arrangements of society under the push for economic progress. Despite the film's narrative falling victim to over-dramatic moments, which are wildly unnecessary and somewhat out of place given its understated formalism, House of Hummingbird is a quietly affectionate story which touches on a litany of social issues while remaining steadfast in its over-arching message of self-love and self-worth for its young protagonist caught in a sea of change she cannot comprehend. The social transference of emotional and physical violence is displayed throughout House of Hummingbird, detailing how larger societal transformations subjugate and strain the social and familial cohesiveness, incubating violence within the communal spaces. While the film remains relatively empathetic to the acts of violence carried out by members of the family, fully recognizing these characters themselves are struggling to make sense of the world around them, the impressionably young woman at the center of our story becomes increasingly despondent given the conditions of her upbringing, bottling up her emotions and becoming passive towards any sense of injustice. It's through an encounter with a teacher at her school, who herself never quite fit into larger societal expectations, that this young child learns notion of self-worth, a notion which is fundamental to mental and physical health not only in a time of larger cultural transformation but to anyone who themselves may see the world differently.
Prescient in its depiction of post-war trauma, Bob Clark's Deathdream remains one of the greatest explorations of the effects of post-traumatic stress on the homestead long after the last bullet is fired. Traversing the horror genre in its biting commentary of the familial scars caused by Vietnam, Deathdream enunciates the coercive effects war-induced trauma has not only on the individual suffering but on the familial collective psyche, filtering it through a raw b-movie aesthetic in which Clark's use of blocking and framing is a under-appreciated highlight. Through a steadfast interplay between intimate close-up compositions and more voyeuristic aesthetic constructions that linger on a moment, Bob Clark's film grammar synthesis these two elements into a formalism that is poignant and penetrating, demonstrating an intimacy in its imagery while exposing the psychological and physical violence distributed across the collective spaces of family and locality. Through a horror film facade, Deathdream distributes a biting critique of the psychological casualties of war, deeply humanizing its characterizations despite the near finality of their trajectory towards inevitable doom. The family members who slowly succumb to their son's violent, heightened supernatural persona do so through largely through actions which are highly recognizable to anyone who has loved another, making their inevitable deaths all the more heart-wrenching and empathetic. From the father who struggles to find a sense of closure - feeling somewhat responsible for his Son's fate in Vietnam, to the deeply maternal mother characterization who refuses to see her son in any pejorative light, Deathdream traverses its horror genre construction emphatically to become of the best and most prescient films about War and the externalities it distributes on those in the periphery who never once fired a shot.
Messy and contemplative, much like any meaningful act of societal-based introspection, Edmund Yeo's River of Exploding Durians employs the malleable nature of late adolescent psyches to examine the milieu of the native Malaysian community, one which feels stuck in a perpetual state of stasis despite the abundance of transnationalism all around them. Yeo's formalist designs and stylistic sensibilities encapsulate this sense of stagnation through use of static composition and minimal camera movements, evoking the loss of identity and cultural diaspora felt by a small rural community in the era in which the monolith of transnational exchange moves forward unimpeded, encroaching on their way of life through crude notions of progress tied to industrialization. Resting at the fulcrum between historical native text and modernity's assurances related to material progress, River of Exploding Durians details the discovery of injustice and uncertainty purveyed through the impressionable eyes of youth. The historical record often obfuscates facile notions of progress brought by modernity, and the central characters of this story find themselves awakened through education yet struggling with their identity due to the cultural homogeneity brought by transnationalism. Melancholic and contemplative yet tinged with polemic outbursts - mainly driven by the spiraling and increasingly unhinged psyche of a history teacher whose been in this fight for far longer - River of Exploding Durians is messy narratively but piercing in the atmosphere and mood it evokes. The lower classes of society -disjointed and displaced by the cultural and economic homogeneity forces of neoliberalism - are static or despondent, their own polity offering no reprieve, as it too has been firmly assimilated into modernity's crude notions of progress in which often the lower-class and under-privileged are pushed to the periphery for the gains of the ruling class and those privileged to be a part of it.
David Chung's Royal Warriors is a memorable 1986s Hong Kong action film largely due to its more grim tonal treatment than much of the output of the time-period in which a heavy dose of levity supplemented the dangerous action and acrobatics of the cop-criminal dichotomy. The film's central heroine played by Michelle Yeo effectively rubes the insecurities of masculinity, signaling a female ethos which is entirely independent and largely an affront to the masculine-embedded notions of efficiency often associated in tales of crime and punishment. While this treatment of the female ethos was becoming more commonplace at this point in HK cinema, Royal Warriors' moments of levity remained scarce, and when these moments do arise, they are largely circumvented by the films grim tone, one in which the cold finality of death is presented as absolute and a real danger to the three main characterizations of the film - Yeoh's aforementioned Hong Kong Cop, Hiroyuki Sanada's displaced Tokyo Cop, and Michael Wong's happy-go-lucky Air Marshall. The car bomb sequence early on in the film in which the Sanada's wife and child are eviscerated sets the stage for the film's more grim treatment, but it's the death of Michael Wong's character - who sub-textually was an avatar for positivity and goodness- where the film really signals its intentions, effectively eradicating any notion of a strict binary between good triumphing over evil. The stakes of this film are heightened by this presented fragility of the body, leading Michelle Yeoh's soft-spoken but world-weary characterization down a path of reparatory justice.
Conceptually and stylistically, Love For All Seasons has got to be one of the most manic film in all of Johnnie To's prolific oeuvre. Incorporating wuxia into the romantic comedy narrative structure, Love For All Seasons a high-concept comedy with a moderately perverse premise in which Playboy Louis Koo agrees to help a virginal martial arts guru master a technique that can only be learned by having one's heart broken. Injected with an energy that rivals even To's most dynamic action film, Love For All Seasons is in nearly in constant motion, matching its conceit with an infectious dynamism. Funny and charming, the conceptual absurdity is employed to reinforce the film's thematic intentions, exhibiting the elusivity of attempting to deconstruct affect. In Love For All Seasons, Love is portrayed as cognitively indiscernible, emotionally irrational, yet essential despite it remaining largely an emotion that exists outside of strict quantification or classification. A wild movie that moves with such vitality that it's hard not to appreciate its fervor
Often associated with being the entry point to Asia, given its geographical locale and robust business sector, Singapore's image is excoriated and inverted in Eric Khoo's Mee Pok Man, a film which provides an empathetic lens to the day-to-day struggles of common working class people seeking a better life. Subversive and uncomfortable, Khoo's film details the underbelly of Singapore for many natives, an affront to the notion of meritocracy-based class movement defined in the age of global capital. The narrative hints at an uncommon love story between a painstakingly shy Mee Pok cook and a despondent sex worker yet it subverts the common archetype of love being liberation, enunciating through its somewhat cynical social-political worldview an environment which in itself suppresses this notion of peace and happiness which connection can obtain. This subversive and unlikely connection that unfolds is driven in large party by cruel, hard environment they inhabit, these disparate souls forming a sense of connection through transference of communal pain rather than personal affection. Stunning debut feature that is raw in its formalism yet focused in its underlying thematic conception, Eric Khoo eschews the often utopian type notions placed on economic growth and development, delivering a powerful, unorthodox portrait of the lower class struggle for a better life amongst the dynamic seas of transnationalism
Comparisons to Hong are apt, with Jeong Ga Young's formalism feeling like it was grafted from Hong, yet her particularly slice of meta-fiction is pointed in its self-reflexivity- cinema used a therapeutic device to excavate one's cognitive experience. A cunning and clever conception, Heart displays a filmmaker undaunted by laying themselves bare for the viewer. The dichotomy often associated between selfishness and self-love is traversed, as Jeong Ga-Young deconstructs her own ethos, juxtaposing the meta sensibilities of her narrative with those outside of it, slowly revealing the disparity of her persona which exists between individual and communal acts of creation. A film which could frustrate some as much as it entices others, Jeong Ga-Young's Heart is undoubtably a singular work in many respects, one which is piercing yet playful in its intimate and auto-biographical observations about an artist in the process of creation
Action movie sensibilities are employed to examine the corrosive effects of late capitalism in Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Headshot, a film which features a consistent and incendiary cynicism about the state of the world in this current epoch. The high concept conceit of the story - a cop turned hitman who sees upside down after a near death experience - isn't particular important to the film's narrative or stylistic sensibilities, yet it is paramount as a symbolic device to question the state of humanity in which the powerful subjugates the weak on a transnational level. Through the main protagonists ability to quite literally see the world from another point of view, Headshot enunciates the tenuous entanglements between the state and global capital, revealing through its action schematics a world of corruption which offers little recourse for the many being subjugated by the few. While it is all a bit heavy handed at times, Pen-Ek Ratanaraung's elliptical narrative intrigues and engages from start-to-finish, embedded with a meditative Buddhist-inspired mythos which questions the nature of justice and morality in a corrupt system where the ruling class represses descent both implicitly and explicitly. Contemplative about the nature of justice - a largely human construct - Headshot exudes a cynical perspective in the end while detailing the injustices which are common place in the modern epoch. The visceral action is sure enough to entertain those looking for mere escapism, but what lurks in Headshot's rather blunt thematic construction is a polemic display of injustice and a nihilism towards any optimism towards progress under this political-economic system.
A raw and unflinching portrait of the Republic of Congo and the fight for equity among those who've been subjugated by a corrupt polity, Dieudo Hamadi's Kinshasa Makambo rests at the fulcrum of reform and revolution. Empowering yet never intrusive to those whom which it profiles, the film provides an organic look at the movement, one which struggles to be heard due to consistent suppression. Detailing intrinsic difficulties attached to any meaningful longitudinal social movement, Kinshasa Makambo defines the struggle for liberation, the fight for freedom as anything but simple or straightforward, exhibiting the many tentacles of thought intrinsic to larger social formations. Violence of the body and the mind are exhibited in vivid detail, as the film lives in a space between hope and despair, fully recognizing that in the end it's the people themselves that must save themselves from the tyranny of corruption and oppression. The underlying anger of this film is palatable yet never polemic, offering a rallying cry for a better world that transcends its specific subjects and speaks to a global state of affairs
Love of all things cinema brought me here.