What Sang-soo Hong manages here is just, Diabolically delightful! The prolific South Korean filmmaker's ability to construct such rich films around such seemingly simple premises is unparalleled. Yourself and Yours, which finally got a release stateside, features a host of Hong's signature traits - binge drinking, male embarrassment, repetition - and yet it's one of his most pervasive and enjoyable entrants in his ouevre, a film which manages to be cutting and incisive while maintaining an aura of playfulness that is hard not to love. Hong is one of those filmmakers who simply put, makes me ashamed whenever I watch one of his films - His conceits themselves are by-and-large so simple, yet so sharp and funny, often leaving me wondering how I never thought of such a premise. The characters in Yourself and Yours are humanistic and encapsulate a sense of longing, exhibiting the tricky nature of affection and deep-seeded desire for connection and companionship. Perhaps they are singularly focused on themselves, but isn't the pursuit of love intrinsically selfish, at least initially? The notion of "truth" vs. "fiction" is juxtaposed with this intrinsic impulse, with the femme fatale type character whom sits at the fulcrum of the story being the vessel which serves Hong's intentions. Employing a cunning repetitious structure, Hong's film is rich in artifice yet it manages to constantly excavate humanistic sensibilities centered around the embarrassment and myopia intrinsic to the pursuit of companionship
Seedy locales and blue-hued cityscapes exude a pathos of nihilism and sadness throughout this peculiar but memorable neo-noir in which a blues singer, who moonlights as a PI, gets involved in an altercation with a prominent gang. Sexual repression and homosexual undertones implicitly contextualize this film's environment, one in which the fringes of Japanese society live in the shadows of Japan's social conservatism culture. Few films have made Japan look this seedy. The aesthetic and cinematography complement the underlying psyche of its main protagonist, employing a cold hued color palette and off-kilter compositions which are often obstructed or imperfect in a traditonial sense, a jarring visual expression of the state of this character, a man on a mission who represses his pain. His blues ballads provide him a temporary release, and they underlay the knotty, nearly undecipherable plotting, with Yokohama BJ Blues exhibiting a singular spin on the familiar neo noir genre in which the streets of Japan ache with uncertainty and sadness
Spike Lee's oeuvre has never been known for its ascetic sensibilities or subtle thematic intentions and with his latest opus, Da 5 Bloods, he has crafted a dense, messy film which pullulates with ideas centered around the black experience in America from the past to present. Pulsating with purpose despite its narrative and thematic faults, Da 5 Bloods walks.a fine-line between overindulgence and boisterous, essential expression as Spike draws from a rich assortment of non-fiction and fictional influences (The Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Steel Helmet, etc) to craft an all encompassing exploration that centers the African American experience in the old-Hollywood archetype. In many ways, it is a film that is difficult not to appreciate due to the vitriol and vitality it consistently elicits. One thing that jumps out right from the onset of Da 5 Bloods is the celebratory nature of blackness. In the opening sequences it struck me just how rare it is to see five black men in mainstream Hollywood cinema presented in a solely celebratory fashion - the long take on the dance floor employed by Lee places this notion firmly in the spotlight, a reprieve in some respects from what is going to transpire as the narrative progresses and Lee continues to excavate the underlying pain felt by these men. While personally, I wish the film would have more just focused on the first half exploration of brotherhood and blackness centered around the neglect and suppression of the African American experience in Vietnam (and beyond), Lee's film continuously quarries social, cultural, and political discursive strategies in its subtext which doesn't always align with its narrative text, leading to what feels like a lack of focus in some respects, though one could certainly argue it's a display that is necessary given the complexities of racism and the vastness of the condemnation of Blackness in America. The second half of the film divulges to much from its first half for my liking, featuring an action-filled extravaganza which seems primarily aimed at commentary related to greed. French, American, and Vietnamese components make up the film's characters, some seeking forgiveness, some revenge, others wealth - a clever and pointed construction symbolic of the historical record of Indochina. I'd be remissed if I didn't mention that the Netflix sheen is unfortunately very much a part of this film - While Lee's stylistic decisions are sharp, the film's digital aesthetic, digital muzzle flashes and blood squibs lack a certain authenticity, and it took me out of the movie several times. The performances are perhaps my favorite aspect of the film - Delroy Lindo continues to do excellent work and I'm hopeful this will be the film that finally grants him the accolades he has long deserved. Lee seems to wholly recognize this as well, giving him a rich characterization and at times seemingly just getting out of the way of Lindo's maelstrom performance, using his direction to enhance and amplify. In the end, I don't personally think Da 5 Bloods works holistically yet there is something about the film's fervor that his hard to deny. Vietnam films from this perspective are hard to find in cinema, being nearly nonexistent in mainstream Hollywood cinema, and Lee uses his frantic epic to vividly depict the African American experience in Vietnam, one which has added layers of pain given the lack of acceptance and assurance provided to Black veterans in this unjust war
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.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.