FANTASIA19 REVIEW: 白蛇:緣起 [Baishe: Yuanqi] [White Snake] [2019]

Do you ever have to do what you don’t want to do? Filmmakers Amp Wong, Ji Zhao (directors), and Damao (screenwriter) have taken the Chinese fable Legend of the White Snake and reformatted it into a prequel/remake with sequel possibilities (if a mid-credits sequence is any indication). The concept of reincarnation keeps the characters the same despite letting them meet five hundred years in the past. That’s how long snake spirit Blanca (Zhang Zhe‘s Xiao Bai) has practiced Taoist magic while waiting to achieve Immortal status alongside her sister Verta…

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REVIEW: The Farewell [2019]

It’s a good lie. Billi (Awkwafina) heads to her parents’ home to clean laundry after discovering she’s now two months behind on her rent only to hear her father (Tzi Ma‘s Haiyan) is “asleep” … at 6pm. Her mother (Diana Lin‘s Jian) dismisses the time as a byproduct of them being very busy, but she goes to his room to see for herself anyway. Haiyan sits despondent on the bedside, something obviously wrong. When neither can bear her questions anymore (“Did you have a fight? Were you drinking again?”), Jian…

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REVIEW: 大鱼海棠 [Dayu haitang] [Big Fish & Begonia] [2016]

Without happiness, what’s the meaning of longevity? In 2004, directors Xuan Liang and Chun Zhang created a Flash animation for an online contest. From there they would expand it into a feature length film steeped in Chinese supernatural legend. And despite some funding snags over its twelve-year production schedule, 大鱼海棠 [Dayu haitang] [Big Fish & Begonia] would ultimately turn its approximately five million-dollar budget (in today’s US dollars) into just shy of one hundred million at the Chinese box office. It’s no surprise then that it would make its way…

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REVIEW: 路边野餐 [Lù biān yě Cān] [Kaili Blues] [2016]

“You took a photo and stole my soul” While the calling card for Gan Bi‘s feature debut 路边野餐 [Lù biān yě Cān] [Kaili Blues] is its magnificent 41-minute long take, that scene is but a movie within a movie. Its brilliance is in the way it takes his main character Chen Sheng (played by the writer/director’s uncle Yongzhong Chen) and us away from the tragic reality of death, disappointment, and frustration. For the first thirty minutes (before the title card even arrives), we’re simply getting to know this ex-con doctor…

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REVIEW: Hooligan Sparrow [2016]

“Hey Principal: get a room with me and leave the kids alone!” First-time director Nanfu Wang‘s documentary Hooligan Sparrow proves how a single piece of paper explaining a child’s rights can cause a ripple within a sea of oppression and catalyze justice. That document came from the hand of Wang Yu, a lawyer who followed and supported the titular “Sparrow” (Ye Haiyan) on a journey to expose the heinous acts of the Chinese government. Yu is now in prison and has been for two years without trial. Haiyan and her…

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REVIEW: 龍門客棧 [Long men kezhan] [Dragon Inn] [1967]

“You still want noodles?” When I told a friend I was going to be watching King Hu‘s 龍門客棧 [Long men kezhan] [Dragon Inn], she surprisingly told me she’d already seen it. I wondered where considering the Janus Films restoration had just released this year and her response was, “El Rey.” Yes, Robert Rodriguez‘s television channel known for grindhouse content. I was taken aback. I had seen A Touch of Zen last month and found myself mesmerized by the artistry and scope, it’s epic tale the type of austere cinema for…

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REVIEW: 俠女 [Xia nü] [A Touch of Zen] [1971]

“One should rather believe in ghosts than not” It’s enlightening to read writer/director King Hu‘s press notes that accompanied the Cannes premiere of his then newly-cut 俠女 [Xia nü] [A Touch of Zen]. 1975 was four years removed from the film’s original release—as two parts, a format his producers demanded to try recouping some of its ballooning budget—and six years after he began constructing the elaborate sets utilized during a long, piecemeal shooting schedule to combat changing seasons from ruining continuity. He finally received the ability to restore his three-hour…

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REVIEW: 捉妖記 [Zhuō yāo jì] [Monster Hunt] [2015]

“You gave birth to a white radish” Even if 捉妖記 [Zhuō Yāo Jì] [Monster Hunt] were billed in America with “from Raman Hui, the supervising animator of everyone’s favorite Dreamworks player the Gingerbread Man and co-director of Shrek the Third, comes a magical adventure of man and beast” on the posters, it wouldn’t be enough. But that’s okay because Hui didn’t make it for American audiences. Instead it stemmed from a desire back in 2005 to make an animated film in China after spending so much time with Steven Spielberg‘s…

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REVIEW: 刺客聶隱娘 [Nie yin niang] [The Assassin] [2015]

“She wanted me to see her before she took my life” Without a doubt one of the most gorgeous films of 2015, Hsiao-Hsien Hou‘s 刺客聶隱娘 [Nie yin niang] [The Assassin] is also high on the list for most convoluted. I still have little clue about what happened throughout the story—based on a late ninth century short text by Xing Pei—besides the fact that the titular assassin (Qi Shu‘s Nie Yinniang) was tasked with killing her cousin Tian Ji’an (Chen Chang). Everything else on the periphery of that central plot deals…

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FANTASIA15 REVIEW: 奇人密碼: 古羅布之謎 [The Arti: The Adventure Begins] [2015]

“Where the heart is lies eternity” You can’t watch 奇人密碼: 古羅布之謎 [The Arti: The Adventure Begins] without finding yourself in awe of the amazing puppet work on display. While told it was only “enhanced” by CGI, it looks as though a lot more was computer-generated than such a verb would infer. For one the smoothness at which the characters move seems impossible and two there appears to be too many instances of fake backgrounds and green-screen effects to believe there weren’t other shortcuts taken. So it definitely behooves you to…

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TIFF14 REVIEW: 归来 [Gui lai] [Coming Home] [2014]

“So you do have a heart” I kept trying to think about what films Zhang Yimou‘s 归来 [Gui lai] [Coming Home] reminded me of while watching. Obvious ones came to mind like Away From Her and Amour where Gong Li‘s Yu was concerned and even Atonement for Huiwan Zhang‘s Dandan. But it was a fellow audience member as we walked out who said it best: 50 First Dates. The selection resonated with me because until three-quarters of the way through I thought people laughing were crazy. This is a sensitive…

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