King Hu continues to astonish me with the way he captures interior spaces. The Fate of Lee Khan is another masterclass in dynamism, which through the use of kinetic editing and varied, distinctive camera set-ups transforms a singular space into an environment that is consistently revealing and then reinventing itself. Like Dragon Inn, this is a story rooted in collective action - there is no singular hero here but a consortium of individuals with a common goal. The Fate of Lee Khan is also structurally similar to Dragon Inn, yet it certainly differentiates itself in other ways, particularly its proclivities towards embracing the milieu intrinsic to espionage, as well as its "progressive ideas around gender. The story about a group of rebel spies, who are almost exclusively female, is a story of action. It never panders or condescends around the idea that these women have power. It is completely devoid and detached of gender normative ideas entirely, yet through the exhibition itself, the film provides an empowering display of egalitarian action.
Efficient and effective, Alone is an impeccably well-crafted, minimalist descent into horror that wisely never tries to be something it is not. Traversing familiar motifs of the horror genre such as 'woman in peril' and 'survival horror', Alone doesn't take the easy way out by attempting to expound any theme or message, it instead opts to largely regulate thematical elements to subtext, understanding that the mere exhibition of brutality in the name of survival itself provides ample opportunities for thematic engagement. Taut and immersive, Hyam remains an impressive and underappreciated genre filmmaker whose general cinematic language in Alone beautifully enunciates the understated tension and voyeurism of its premise with simple, yet effective visual constructions. The formal precision, particularly in the film's opening act - a cat-and-mouse game between our female protagonist and our male antagonist - is masterfully constructed, an uneasy display of negotiations and unease between two characters which leads to attempted subjugation, violence, and ultimately the primal nature of survival. While alone struggles to maintain the opening acts immersive atmosphere of unease, the film's back half of survival horror still delivers the goods, providing a lean-and-mean little thriller in which one woman suffering through grief and trauma finds herself forced to fight back, in order to survive
"The U.S. consulate is burning its cash. They're treating their money like garbage. But to us, this green paper money is worth dying for and killing for"
A prequel best understood as one in name only, with Tsui's revisionist framework masterfully grafting his Anarchist perspective onto Woo's Masculine Archetype. A compelling saga that deconstructs and re-contextualizing this character around a traumatic past, one which is personal yet universal - the perpetual state of violence brought by institutional power and the people caught in-between, their lives shifted and shaped by the subjugation brought by statist power. For Tsui, violence, and bloodshed is the perpetual state of man, with injustice plentiful, yet love itself remains the one place of solace from a cruel, unforgiving world.
Henry King's The Gunfighter is a tightly paced exploration of mythmaking and social expectations, illuminating the insidious impact fame places on identity through its tale of a notorious gunfighter who is looking for a way out of his perpetual state of solitude and violence. Stately direction effectively lets the viewer soak in the frontier milieu, elucidating how social hierarchies are established through decentralized communication - gossip, hearsay - in which our chief protagonist has built up a reputation for being the most feared gun in the west. Played to perfection by Gregory Peck, who balances the character's coarse exterior with his understated longing, the lead protagonist is a character caught in a state of introspection, growing tired of his elevated status and the constant confrontations it welcomes, longing for the warmth and steady nature of domesticated life. The film's ability to exhibit how identity is sometimes framed by external forces as much as internal is a fascinating aspect, as Peck's Jimmy Ringo character is seemingly awakened to discover the hostility of his reputation, one which leads him to constantly have a bull's eye on his back, which practically guarantees he will never be at peace. Machismo's intrinsic solitude in opposition to the warm embrace of love is the thematic fulcrum of this story, personal success and the hierarchal weight it carries being ultimately an alienating force that leads to a tragic conclusion. Grade-A western by King, who himself is very underrated filmmaking in the great American genre..
It's simply remarkable how much Michael Hui's films rest in such a carefree, playful space of seemingly spontaneous comedic arrangements and general absurdist hijinks, and yet resting beneath this veneer his films often carry rather pointed commentaries about the social milieu of the average Hong Konger, where life is a constant struggle under the forces of transnationalism and western hegemony. With The Private Eyes, Hui's film takes on a relatively plotless structure, as the film oscillates from comedic set-piece to comedic set-piece, with its thematic framework largely pinned down by a simple conceit - survival. Revolving around a recently fired day laborer who manages to find work for a lowly Private Detective - who largely hires the young man due to his skills in Martial Arts - The Private Eyes deploys the martial arts trope with maximum utility, delivering some highly memorable set-pieces which also serve as a quasi-subtextual commentary on the somewhat insidious expectations of viewers when it comes to what Hong Kong Cinema is, and isn't. Worker exploitation is a subtextual theme throughout, and the notion of competition instead of cooperation being textually relevant - particularly in the film's final few scenes, yet as mentioned above, Hui's films are never polemic, offering a welcoming embrace, yet for those who are looking beneath the surface, his films say a lot more about transnationalism, culture, and political economy than he seems to get credit for. If I had one critique, it would be that the film doesn't have the sense of comedic escalation that his masterpiece 'The Contract' manages to attain. The Private Eyes has tons of memorable moments but it doesn't build in the same way. That said, The Private Eyes remains one of Hui's best films I've seen to-date, being undeniably fun, and pulsating with creativity and an infectious charm from beginning-to-end
I like the part where Gal Gadot points out a giant mural to a bewildered Chris Pine and proclaims, "that's art". In all seriousness, this film feels like a victim of too many people trying to influence and control the film's conception, structure, and thematic elements, leaving it feeling a bit discombobulated, despite it having some legitimate moments of wonder. Didn't mind the prologue as much as some appear to have, as I found that the film started strong, embracing the pastiche of the 1980s and its source material with a sense of joviality which I personally want more out of comic book films. The first half really does have a great sense of limited scope, and it properly allows its characterizations to flourish. There is a sense of adventure to the film's pacing, it intrigues before becoming overstuffed and divulging into something that becomes far too expansive to effectively deliver the emotional weight of its story. Pedro Pascal's antagonist is one of the highlights of the film, at least early on, and I couldn't help but wish for a smaller film in which he is the only antagonist of the story instead of the rushed resolution, in which they frantically build out his characterization largely in the back half. With all this film's flaws, and they are plentiful, the film clearly aims to be a beacon of optimism, and for those who get a sense of temporary relief from Wonder Woman 1984's hopeful disposition - more power to you, in all honesty.
With a title lacking any subtlety, Skyfire is a sincerely made, unintentionally dumb Chinese blockbuster that firmly rests adjacent to 90s era disaster porn, even featuring the same proclivities towards overwrought drama. Wish the film just buckled up the proverbial chin strap and recognized the underlying absurdity of its premise instead of aiming for dramatic resonance. Alas, it's a serviceable entry for one who appreciates the simpler things in life like a Simon West joint in which he conceptually recreates Jurassic Park and the thematic weight of man vs. nature, replacing dinosaurs with volcanos - because, why not.
Taking place almost exclusively in the confines of a training facility in the Philippines, which specializes in preparing women for overseas domestic work, Sung-a Yoon's Overseas is a startlingly effective documentary that manages to be unintrusive and non-judgemental while providing a window into the day-to-day lives of domestic workers in-training, who've chosen this path due to the promise of a better life. Conjuring up the complexities of such an apparatus with clear-eyed focus, Overseas manages to be both intimate yet expansive, thematically assured yet never assertive, operating in an observational module in which nothing is easily conscripted or defined. Instead of attempting to be thematically assertive, Overseas lives in a space of static contemplation, documenting the environment of this training facility and its core instructional tenets to elucidate its theme in an assured but never forceful demeanor. Through this approach, Overseas is far more emotional and intellectual poignant, revealing instead of expounding the more lurid aspects of Western expectations for the migrant domestic worker. The audience experiences how the school's training is instilled with a crude, unhealthy sense of stoicism, one in which subjugation is an expectation and the proper reaction is rooted more in de-escalation than confrontation given the imbalance of power between employer and employee. Their training operates in passive resistance, whether it be through the containment of expressing emotional fragility or through static obedience. What is startling becomes the mere fact that this is a part of their training - emotional and physical abuse is commonplace enough to be part of a curriculum. By focusing first and foremost on the human element of its story, Overseas is more astute about how transnational systems extort inequality than the panoply of domestic worker dramas to come out in recent memory. It erodes the western privileges implicit in the current systems of global politics while simultaneously recognizing that there are no simple solutions to global inequity. Yet, at its core Overseas is an ode to the domestic worker, recognizing how they sacrifice so much, leaving their families and their familiar spatiality for the unknown, all for the sake of monetary gains which in itself, may provide their family with a better life.
Nature juxtaposed against the human condition, the synthesis of two agents in the larger system of existence is explored through formal rigor in The Metamorphosis of Birds. Through familial historiography, the Metamorphosis of Birds aims to connect the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms of existence through its exploration of love. Nature vs. Nurture is a part of this exploration, yet the film's root aspiration aims to transcend social constructions of culture, finding an ethereal sense of existentialism defined largely by memory and affect. While the film's formal rigor can at times leave it feeling cold or detached - which largely goes against the film's core intentions rooted in elegy - The Metamorphosis of Birds remains an astute and intriguing evocation which attempts to excavate the interiority of the soul. In its best moments, this is a film that simultaneously emboldens and transcends personal intimacy, purveying existence through systems of memory and affect. At its worse, the film can feel detached, or contrived, reluctant, perhaps rightfully so, to remove the specificity of independent experience from memory. In this sense, it can be a bit challenging and opaque, yet in this decision, The Metamorphosis of Birds accurately accesses and acknowledges that memory itself is intrinsically reductive when it comes to crafting objective historiography.
A rapturous debut, the visual acumen on display in Carlos Lenin's The Dove and the Wolf is simply striking. Lenin's cinematic grammar aims to invoke the congeniality and conflict associated with any meaningful relationship between two disparate souls - the sensual and contentious elements intrinsic to a symbiotic relationship expressed with vivid detail as two young individuals attempt to forge a life together out of the rubble of their traumatic past. Conceptually speaking, the film is relatively straight-forward but extremely mature in approach. It never feels contrived due to it being more interested in evoking affect than crafting a narrative, being, in the end, a stirring film about the corrosive effects the past can lay on the present. Through its central relationship, it exhibits how the interiority of pain and our insular nature - whether withheld consciously to protect or unconsciously due to one's inability to express their pain externally - can be debilitating, even despite another's love and dedication. Featuring some of the most striking cinematography I've seen this year, The Dove and the Wolf aims to subject the viewer to the emotions of its two principal characters through immersion, with one of the film's best attributes being its masterful deployment of shot-reverse-shot to invoke this dichotomy between its central relationship, one of shared love but also insular trauma, The Dove and the Wolf reaches ethereal highs and pain-infused lows, detailing through a largely ambiguous structure the innumerable ways in which bottled up trauma from the past can infect and restrict the present and any meaningful way of moving forward. The textures of the material environment they inhabit as well as their organic profiles are used with striking effect, as the cinematography visually exhibits the oscillating relationship at the fulcrum of its story, one of shared love but also internal conflict which threatens the very foundations of a meaningful relationship in the future. A poignant, stirring debut feature that may lack focus to some but it remains a memorable debut that largely exists on a plane of its own creation
Love of all things cinema brought me here.