Tag Archives: animation

VIFF 2019 Review: The White Snake (白蛇:缘起)

WHITE-SNAKE

The White Snake is the story of a young woman who is destined to be a snake spirit, but is torn between her destiny and the man she loves.

“Your fate may be in stone, but you choose how you live.”

I ended my VIFF 2019 experience by seeing The White Snake at the Playhouse theatre. I wanted to treat myself to something imaginative. It was excellent and breathtaking to watch.

Blanca is a young assassin in white clothes. She is a snake spirit as the ‘White Snake’ and is able to assume human form, but she can’t achieve her goal of immortality. The answer to her goal of immortality lies in a memory of centuries ago, which she cannot recall. Her sister Verta, who is a ‘green snake’ spirit, gives her a magical hairpin that allows her to go back in time to the Tang Dynasty to get her answer.

Back in time, Blanca finds herself waking up in a village. She is surprised to learn she’s in what’s called ‘Snake Catcher Village.’ She comes across a handsome villager names Sean and his dog DuDou. Sean rescued her from a rock by the waterfalls. She falls for Sean, but is unaware that Sean is a snake-hunter. He has been ordered to hunt snakes for the Dark General and the Little General as they believe the snakes hold the key to supreme power.

Soon Sean faces an attack from a snake demon. Blanca stops the demon, only to learn it’s Verta. Sean is surprised and Dudou is convinced she’s a demon. Sean is convinced Blanca is not a demon, despite all he knows about her. Nevertheless Verta reminds Blanca that her true nature will come out when there will be a battle between the snakes and the Dark General’s army. Soon Sean learns who Blanca is as she assumes snake form. Foxy Boss tells Blanca a terrible secret about being a ‘demon:’ gods, people, and even other demons want to kill you.

Will Sean still love Blanca? There will be a battle between the snake catchers and the snake spirits very soon. The Snake General wants Blanca to be extinguished since she wants to defy her snake spirit. Blanca is heartbroken and feels she’s doomed to her demon spirit forever, but Sean sees it in his heart to love Blanca and see her for who she really is. The film ends with a battle in thrilling fashion and in a romantic mood.

This film is a 3D animation big-screen adaptation of the traditional four-chapter Legends Of The White Snake. What I liked best about the film is that the film doesn’t just present a good eye-catching drama, but it also possesses a lot of elements of Chinese culture and Chinese mythology. The imagery of animal spirits within a person is very common in Chinese storytelling and Chinese folklore. I’m not familiar with all of Chinese folklore but I can see a lot of familiar traits of it in the film. Especially the animal spirits that exist in the humans. The film does it in a very entertaining and a very mesmerizing way. The 3D animation doesn’t hurt it at all. In fact it makes it very eye-catching and even brings the audience into the story.

The film appears like a common Chinese fable meant to tell the story of bad and good. However the story is also about rejecting a destiny all for the love of a man. She was a snake spirit; he was a snake hunter. It shows how the heart can win over a person even if they are destined to be something else. The film is mostly a drama and the film succeeds in being a dramatic story. However there are some humorous moments. Most of the humor comes from Dudou, especially after he’s able to speak. It does seem like a must to have some humor in an animated film. Kids will be watching. The film doesn’t seem to get as suggestive as parts of Children Of The Sea does, but there are some suggestive scenes. The story tries more to capture the essence of love between the two. Nevertheless the suggestiveness and the violence in the film leaves me thinking this will get a PG rating.

This is an excellent film done by Light Chaser Animation. Excellent job by directors Amp Wong (credited as Huang Jiakang) and Ji Zhao. Amp has animation credits with doing the Green Lantern series. Zhao has more credits in doing editorial work in film and this is his first direction of animation. Here the directors and the Animation studio deliver a great, colorful eye-catching story that’s a delight to watch and will capture your imagination. The story by first-time scriptwriter DaMao is also excellent. It captures the story and the essence of Chinese mythology well while giving an ideal story for big-screen animation.

The vocal talent is also there. Zhang Zhe did a very good job at making Blanca sound mystical. Yang Tianxuang was also good at making Xu Xuan sound as romantic as he looked. He Zhang was great in adding the humor to the film with DuDou and Zheng Xiaopu was great at bringing out the deviousness of Foxy Boss. The music from Guo Haowei and the songs sung by Sean are also a delight to hear and add to the film’s mystique.

It’s interesting to note that the White Snake cost 80 million Chinese Yuan (roughly $11.4 million US) to make but made 447 million Yuan (about $63.9 million US) in China alone. It will be released in North America starting only with Los Angeles on November 15th and in limited release starting November 29th. English dubs will be in the release as Stephanie Sheh will be the English-language voice for Blanca and Paul Yen will voice Ah Xuan or Sean. Having seen the film in Mandarin with subtitles, I would see the English-language one, but I would try to see which one in more magical. Also those who watch the film when it comes out, I highly recommend you stay to watch the credits. Yes, there is a scene in between the credits featuring Foxy Boss that leaves you convinced there will be a sequel coming out. In fact the Mandarin title of the film means ‘White Snake: The Origin.’

The White Snake is a film with a lot of beauty and intense thrills, but it also has some humor and passion. It succeeds in doing what an animated film should do and make you escape into another world.

And that does it! There wraps up the last of the films I saw at the Vancouver International Film Festival. I will be posting my wrap-up blog very soon.

Movie Review: Frozen

Frozen

I’ll admit it’s rather late for me to be reviewing Frozen. I wasn’t interested in it at first. However its success at the box office coupled with its Oscar buzz helped me change my mind.

Normally I’d give a description of the film in my reviews but I won’t here since most of you have already seen Frozen by now. I’ll just go in to what I have to say. There are a lot of unique and great aspects of this movie. First is its unexpected twists. You’d first think it would be Kristoff that would save Elsa, Anna and the kingdom but it turns out to be Elsa. Already there are a lot of writers and bloggers comparing Elsa to Merida in Brave in terms of heroine status. I’ll bet you never thought Kristoff would be one of the bad guys. Second is its animation that truly mesmerizes. I was dazzled when I saw Elsa’s snow-spell and even the ‘ Castle Of Ice’ created on screen. Watching Frozen was like being taken to a world of ice at times.

Thirdly is the musical aspect of the movie. For many decades, even as close to about twenty years ago, animated movies were commonly musicals and excelled in telling the stories with catchy songs. From Someday My Prince Will Come in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Hakuna Matata in The Lion King, you could always rely on an animated feature to deliver charming music. When 3D became the staple of animated features, the features were predominantly non-musicals and the movies were more focused on the story and the animation. When was the last animated feature done as a musical that dazzled you? Yeah, that far back. Frozen is the first 3D animated musical that has won the movie-going public by storm. It’s refreshing to see the musical aspect come back in animated movies and even added to 3D animated movies successfully for the first time. I think the success of Frozen will churn out more musical-styled 3D animation features.

Frozen is a welcome relief in terms of animated movies for 2013. This year was a rather quiet year in terms of animated movies. Sure this summer featured the excitement of the comeback of the monsters of Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 took ‘minion mania’ to new heights but there was nothing new to create new buzz. Nor was there anything with writing that stood out. I’m sure that became apparent to a lot of my subscribers when I published my blog about Pixar appearing to have lost its spark. Frozen may have come late in 2013 but it sure came to the rescue. Its excellence is not just in having a thrilling story but also in having excellent animation.

Also Frozen has a bonus aspect: catchy songs. It’s not just something that’s been missing from animated movies but movies in general since the new century. You may remember before the 2000’s came there were many catchy songs that came from movies. Since 2000, the presence of a catchy song or even a hit song from a movie is something that has been very rare. I think the last hit song from a movie before Frozen was Slumdog Millionaire’s Jai Ho. I was especially surprised during 2006 when Dreamgirls was in theatres, none of the songs were released as singles despite Beyonce’s chart-topping prowess at the time. I know most of North America was in a hip-hop coma at the time but still… Frozen helped bring back the catchiness of movie music. Already two versions of Let It Go are on the charts right now: Idina Menzel’s version is currently #18 on the Hot 100 and Demi Lovato’s version is at #56 having peaked at 38. Recently Do You Want To Build A Snowman? started hitting the charts and is now at #57. I guess it’s no wonder that the movie has been re-released in a sing-along version.

It’s hard to pick who first to compliment. First off, I’ll say the animation was top notch. The Walt Disney Animation Studios did an excellent job in creating a charming trip to the past and a mesmerizing world of ice. Secondly, kudos should go to Christophe Beck and Kristin Anderson-Lopez for providing music that was not only entertaining but the catchiest movie music in years. Thirdly a great job in the acting and singling by both Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel. They’re already established actors and they’ve also had musical experience but this has to be the best combined singing/acting efforts from both of them. The supporting actors were also great in their roles too including Jonathan Groff and Santino Fontana. However it’s Josh Gad that steals the show as the goofy Olaf. Finally great acting/writing efforts from Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Shane Morris. It was something to take Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen and turn it into an animated musical. They really delivered a winner. In fact you remember how Disney movies would give animated adaptations of children’s stories like Snow White, Cinderella, Pinocchio and The Lion King and turn them into beloved classics? I think Frozen is destined to go that same route over time.

Funny thing about Frozen is not just simply its current total success with its box office run but its lack of success when it first started. I’ve noticed on Box Office Mojo that it was only on one single theatre when it opened because it didn’t want to compete with the opening of the latest Hunger Games movie. It got better the following week when it was spread across North America and grossed $67.4 million that weekend but it was still in second to the Hunger Games by $7 million. The funny thing is while most movies came and went during the six weekends since, Frozen stuck around in the Top 3 and was even #1 on two different weekends. It was even #2 the weekend of January 31-February2nd: its eleventh weekend. Okay, the sing-along version release may have something to do with it but it just goes to show its lasting power. In fact it wasn’t until this weekend, its thirteenth, that it finally left the Top 5 and currently sits at #8 with a total gross of over $375 million.

Frozen has been the animated movie both moviegoers and fans of film alike have been waiting for all of 2013. It was definitely worth the wait because it delivers in terms of quality and entertainment value. Maybe I should go back for the sing-along version.

Movie Review: Frankenweenie

DISCLAIMER: Okay I know this is a delayed review but I have lacked ambition in the last while with so much happening. Now I’m glad to be back and posting.

You’ve heard of Frankenstein? How about Frankenweenie? Tim Burton goes animated but can it charm like his other movies?

Victor Frankenstein is a creative boy growing up in New Holland. An only child who spends a lot of time with his dog Sparky making films and doing science experiments, his parents wonder if he’s able to make friends. His father encourages him to play baseball. it turns out to be a bad decision as Sparky chases the ball and gets hit by a car. Victor is heartbroken but not down. He still remembers the science class where his teacher Mr. Rzykruski showed the power of electricity on a dead frog. He digs up Sparky one day in hopes of bringing him back to life via electricity. It works!

However secrets don’t stay secret for long. Victor’s classmate Edgar wants to learn from Victor how to bring the dead back and even promising to keep it as a secret, albeit with fingers crossed. The two perform the experiment and the goldfish are revived but invisible due to doing something wrong. Edgar shows the other students and that sparks interest in reanimation of their own.

The children get the chance to learn about reanimation as Sparky goes missing around town. They discover Victor’s reanimation technique in the science room and attempt reanimating of their own on dead animals: Nassor on his mummified hamster, Edgar on a dead rat he found, Toshiaki’s turtle Shelley, Bob’s sea monkeys, and a dead bat Weird Girl’s cat found. The experiments go badly wrong. Edgar’s dead rat becomes a were-rat, Bob’s sea monkeys become amphibious monsters, Shelley is covered in a huge growth formula and becomes like a huge monster turtle, Colossus becomes a giant monster and Weird Girl’s cat bites the dead bat while electrocuted becoming a vampire cat.  This is especially hellish as New Holland is preparing to have its town festival.

Victor finds Sparky but notices the monsters causing havoc around the town fair. In the meantime the parents are angry at what the children have learned and Mr. Rzykruski is fired. The townspeople blame Sparky for all this madness and chase him to the town windmill. It’s all up to Victor to make things right. He does succeed in the end with results both surprising and thrilling.

One thing people will like about this animated movie is that it has the familiar charm of Tim Burton’s movies. Right at the beginning when you think ‘not another story about a creative boy who has trouble making friends’, you’ll know why. The main reason why Victor can’t make friend is because he’s one of the few normal kids while almost every other kid acts like they belong in a haunted house. This is very much a trademark of Burton and nothing new. Sure he’s done animated movies before and Halloween-style characters seem to be his specialty but he succeeds in keeping it enjoyable and entertaining. The story of Frankenweenie succeeds in being charming, haunting and entertaining.

Frankenweenie is something of Burton’s own but this animated version is not something fresh. Frankenweenie was originally a live-action 30-minute film Burton did back for Disney way back in 1984. It was intended to be both a spoof and a homage to the monster movies of the 1930’s. However this did not sit that well with Disney as they originally fired him because the movie was considered too disturbing for kids. Funny how 28 years have passed and Disney actually welcomed him back to remake Frankenweenie.

Mind you it’s not just about Tim Burton’s style of filmmaking and storytelling that makes it so appealing. It’s the way that it will oddly remind you of many of the monster movies of the past. As has been stated before, this is both a satire and a homage to the 1931 movie of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. There are additional tributes in the movie too: Elsa’s pet poodle has a hairstyle similar to the Bride Of Frankenstein; Nassor has a voice and face resembling Boris Karloff; Mr. Rzykruski is inspired by Vincent Price. Even with its stop-motion animated style all in black-and-white, it has its charm with it being entertaining to today’s kids. Adults will also find it enjoyable too.

Frankenweenie is not just another animated movie. It’s a movie from Tim Burton that offers a lot more. Fans of monster movies will like it and admire it.

VIFF 2011 Review: Shorts Segment – Air

This is another shorts segment that I saw at the VIFF. It was not the original movie I planned to attend but when someone at the info desk was giving away free tickets, I told them I already had a ticket for a show that was happening. She offered a trade, which I accepted. I’m glad I did. Like Water, the shorts of Air also had styles and varieties of their own:

 Spirit Of The Bluebird – This is mostly animation that’s very colorful and meant to tell a story. A story about a Native woman killed one night by two strangers. The bluebird is to represent her. At the end, we see her relatives standing by the building near where she died painted permanently with a mural in her memory. This was as much of a reminder that no one and nothing is forgotten as it was a picturesque short of animation.

Parkdale – This is a very thought-provoking short to do about two sisters living in a rough area with a father who’s constantly in trouble with the law. As they try and draw up money for a bus trip to Kingston, this paints an unhappy but truthful statement about street youth and their attempts to try and stay afloat.

Hope – As a war general lies on his deathbed, he confronts images of violence. It’s hard to make sense of it all. I’m sure that through some of the bizarre images the director is trying to make some statement. It didn’t come across too clear or maybe he tried too hard to be graphic.

CMYK – This is another animated movie focusing on the primary picture colors: cyan, magenta, yellow and key. The filmmaker tries to be creative but the short ends up coming off as mind dizzying and drawn out.

Oliver Bump’s Birthday – Oliver’ three older siblings died on their 13th birthday, and he’s doomed for the same fate. While all three made achievements during their lives, Oliver dreamed of the stars and space travel. On his birthday, he leaves his family party, which is quite like a pre-funeral, for his homemade space ship. You’ll enjoy seeing him chase his dream and enjoy a surprisingly enlightening and happy ending.

Theatrics – Two flirty thirtysomethings go for a night out in a movie theatre with surprises left, right and center. Starts off with drinking a drink with horse tranquilizers and then leads to one misfortune after another. Humorous and amusing. Just hope I never have to go through what she went through.

The Provider – Just when we see mention of the droppings of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we think we would get something serious. However we’d be surprised to get a darkly comical story about coming home. Very bizarre indeed.

Cold Blood – I don’t know if it was because I saw a lot of originality of the previous shorts or because I was expecting something else instead, but this short came up less than what I expected. Perhaps it was just meant to represent an aspect of life. Perhaps it was as much about the mother of the two children as it was of the son giving blood for his sister.

The Balcony Affair – This is one comedic short that is completely unpredictable. A lonely Russian man who’s always out on a balcony falls in love with a woman in the apartment across. Will they meet? Will they fall in love? The ending will surprise you, more than you expected.

So there you have it. The shorts that made up Air. All were Canadian. All were unique. Some I liked, some I didn’t. Some were thought provoking. Some were meant just to entertain. Some may go on to bigger and better things. Some may continue to do just shorts. All were worth seeing. It’s good that a film festival like the VIFF showcases shorts from up-and-coming directors as well as from established film companies. It’s what makes the VIFF different from Toronto.

Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

Yes, I’m playing catch-up with my movie reviews of the summer. Hope you like this late review.

I’m sure you remember the first Kung Fu Panda. Po was the lumpy clumsy Panda who came from nowhere to become the Dragon Warrior. It charmed audiences, made people laugh and even rivaled Disney/Pixar in making 3D animated movies. Now Po’s back in Kung Fu Panda 2. But does this new version of Kung Fu Panda still have its kick?

We begin the movie learning of the clash between the peacock clan and their son Lord Shen stealing the power of the fireworks and using them as weapons. When Shen learned from a soothsayer that a warrior in black and white would defeat him, Shen exiled the pandas from the village. Shen’s parents exiled him soon after to which Shen swore revenge.

Flash forward 20 years, we see Po as the Dragon Warrior protecting the Valley Of Peace with the Furious Five who are now his friends and allies. Master Shifu senses Po lacks inner peace. At first Po doesn’t know what he meant until the five attack a band of wolf bandits. During the fight, Po is distracted by a symbol on the head wolf’s armor which causes a flashback to memories of his birthmother. He then learns from his father, the goose Mr. Ping, that he found him as a baby in a radish basket and adopted him since. Learning that truth leaves Po frustrated and upset.

Later Master Shifu learns that Master Thundering Rhino has been killed by Lord Shen with a cannon he build and plans to use to destroy kung fu tradition and conquer China. Po and the five go to Gongmen City to end Shen’s control. They come across two imprisoned council members and try to chase down Shen’s wofl pack, only to be captured. Upon being brought before Shen, Po and the Five break free and destroy Shen’s cannon. However Po is again distracted by the symbol that caused flashbacks of his mother which allows Shen to escape and destroy the tower with an arsenal of cannons. After escaping, a concerned Tigress confronts Po of his distraction. Po knows of Shen’s presence on the day he was separated from his parents and has to ask him about his past

Despite Tigress fearing for him, Po breaks into Shen’s cannon factory and confronts him. Shen tells Po his parents abandoned him before blasting him out of the factory and capturing the Five. Po finds himself rescued by an exiled Soothsayer in the city he was born in. The Soothsayer guides him to embrace his past where Po learns his village was raided at the time he was born as Shen’s forces killed every panda and burned the village. Po’s father was fighting the war and told Po’s mother to run and escape with their baby. Po’s mother ran throughout the snow and left him in a radish box at a place she knew he’d be safe, Mr. Ping’s place. It’s upon returning to his old home and finding his childhood toy that he learns he was given up out of love and raised out of love. Finally he attains inner peace.

Po then returns to Gongmen City to save the Five and stop Shen from conquering China. Po and the Five along with Ox and Croc block the gates to shop Shen but Shen’s cannon clears the way and lands them all in the ocean. While Shen attacks Po with his cannon, Po is able to use his inner peace to redirect Shen’s cannon fires to Shen’s cannon, destroying it. He then urges Shen to let go of his past, but Shen refuses and attacks Po. In the fight, Shen accidentally cuts the ropes to his own cannon and is crushed to death. Po achieves victory and freedom for Gongmen City. He returns to Mr. Ping and lovingly declares him as his father. The very end may hint to many that there may be a Kung Fu Panda 3.

While I’m not a big fan of most Holywood sequels, I have to say that I was impressed with Kung Fu Panda 2. It managed to have a story different from the first movie. Its fights and special effects were just as dazzling as the first. The characters still had their charm from the original and especially kept the appeal of Po. The movie had an excellent range of voice-over talent with renowned actors like Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh and many others. The animation graphics were excellent and top notch to the slightest detail.

For the most part, I believe the movie would be fine for parents of children but not for most adults. It is a movie that doesn’t have the same level of adult appeal as a Disney/Pixar animated movie would. Some things that may appeal to parents is the actors doing the voiceovers. Overall, the movie, storyline and humor are more tailor made for families of young children.

 Overall Kung Fu Panda 2 makes for an enjoyable night out at the movies for families of young children. Even some older children or teenage fans of the first movie will enjoy it.