Tag Archives: drama

VIFF 2019 Review: The Wild Goose Lake (南方车站的聚会)

Wild Goose Lake

The Wild Goose Lake is a story of a Chinese crime boss on the hunt, played by Hu Ge (right), and the woman who loves him, played by Gwei Lun-mei (left).

I was volunteering when they were showing The Wild Goose Lake. I found it intriguing to see a crime drama coming from China.

Zhao Zenong is part of a crime ring in a district of Wuhan. One night, he goes to a dingy amphitheater in the basement of a hotel. There the men are talking about the latest techniques in motorcycle theft. One man tries to direct men to certain areas of the district to conduct their crime. Two men squabble over a lucrative area and then an all-out fight ensues. The fight is brutal and bloody with no one dying. However as some of the men go riding off in their motorcycles chasing each other down, one is beheaded by a rail at a fast speed. Meanwhile a policeman who arrives is accidentally shot by Zhao in a tourist garden.

In the city, a young woman named Liu Aiai works as a prostitute. She catches Zhao’s eye. Zhao propositions her and even gives her one of his cigarettes. Turns out Liu is a ‘bathing beauty’ who’s pimp is a mob boss named Huahua. Huahua tells Liu to deliver a message to Zhao’s wife. He has placed a hefty dead-or-alive price on Zhao because the decapitated man in one of Hua’s men. Also after the shooting of the cop, the police now have a dead-or-alive reward of 300,000 Yuan for the capture of Zhao and is made public on television. Captain Liu alert a team of police dressed for undercover work that he may be in the Wild Goose Lake area: an area known for its lawlessness.

Sometime later, Aiai is at a night market participating in line dancing with glow shoes. Just as she’s dancing to ‘Rasputin,’ she notices Zhao’s wife. She meets her to tell the news. Then right in the middle of dancing, another shootout occurs through a raid of the bikers for Zhao. Zhao escapes but the bikers shoot one man.

Zhao knows all the details. He knows it when he sees all the surveillance cameras and what’s up. Men inside the crime ring want to claim the reward, with Zhao dead. One night, he meets with Aiai by the Lake.  Zhao tells her that if she turns him in, the reward money goes to his wife. Despite this, Aiai wants the reward to start a better life. Zhao has been in hiding since he’s been aware he’s a wanted man by more than one source. He does not his wife or young son to be a victim of this mess. However his own mob boss doesn’t like Zhao hiding himself. His boss still needs him to do things. The police confront Zhao’s wife and hope to use her to get Zhao in. Hua wants to use Zhao’s wife as bait for his own reward, but she breaks down over all this. A heist by the police turns up nothing. Zhao is shot, but is able to remove the bullet and bandage himself up.

One day, Zhao meets with Aiai at the lake in a boat. They share what could be one last cigarette. They caress and Zhao confesses everything to her. That night one of Hua’s men grabs Aiai and rapes her. The man is then shot by Zhao. But right in Wuhan’s market area, the police are on the chase for him. Zhao knows he has to make a run for it. He tries to make a run for the Lake, but is shot and killed. The police arrive led by Captain Liu and the news media comes as well. In the aftermath, Aiai and Zhao’s widow are seen together, and smiling.

There have been crime stories before. Most of them have been the common cat-and-mouse story that we see again in this film. Zhao has a ransom on his head and almost everybody surrounding him from law authorities to rivals to people even of his own crime syndicate want the big-money reward. It’s not just about a big crime boss trying to avoid being killed. It’s also how through Aiai we see another side of him. The outside sees a heartless criminal who’s hard to catch and hard to kill. When he’s with Liu, we see a man with feelings of love and sensitivity. A man who does have frailty and knows that he’s not that invincible. A man who shared with her more than just cigarettes. A man who wants to keep his wife and child out of his doings. Also unlike most of the other men in the crime world, he knew how to treat a lady right. Very rarely do we see a film that shows a sensitive side to a crime boss. The film does have the ability to be labeled a romance as it can be labeled a crime thriller.

The film is not just about the boss Zhao. It’s also about Aiai Liu: the woman in between. Aiai Liu is the woman who has Zhao’s heart. Zhao may be married to another woman, but it’s Aiai who Zhao drops his feelings of egotistical invincibility and shows he has a heart. However Aiai knows being involved with Zhao will make her a target. She knows men will want to target her and even violate her. She appears to know of the risk and is willing to make that risk. The smile between her and Zhao’s wife at the end does make one wonder. Are they smiling because they’re finally free? Or are they smiling in remembrance of Zhao?

The film succeeds not only as a drama, but also from its many cinema angles. The bike chases add to the excitement. The times between Zhao and Aiai add a calmness to the film at the right time and done in top notch film noir style. The addition of many of the shootings happening near a tourist section of the Lake and with surrounding animals add to the storytelling. The use of the Lake being where Zhao shows his frailty and fearfulness around Aiai also adds. The use of lights and colors in various shots, the sights of the worn buildings of the market town, and images of trains passing which has been done numerous times in crime stories also add to the film and its quality. It’s almost as if film noir has a Chinese quality added to it.

This is an accomplishment for writer/director Diao Yinan. He’s had two decades of renowned success with Black Coal, Thin Ice winning the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Here he takes on a crime story and does it with remarkable style. The story may be confusing and overdrawn in some areas, like Aiai’s rape, but he presents it in excellent fashion. Diao may have a lot of common elements of film noir in the past in this film, but it’s adding these elements to this film that shows a Chinese filmmaker can create film noir and make it look like his own.

One thing that’s rare in action films is deep acting, there was a lot here. Ge Hu was excellent as Zhao Zenong. He did a great job in making him go from this fearless invincible criminal a troubled man haunted by his impending death whenever he’s around Aiai. Lun-Wei Kwei was also very good as the woman caught in the middle who has feelings for Zhao, but also knows she has her own job to do. Also kudos to the cinematography of Dong Jingsong and the art direction of Qiang Liu.

This film was a nominee for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and was also a nominee for a major prize at the San Sebastian Film fest. There have been times during the film or even after the film I wondered how would a story about organized crime in China make it to the big screen? Would the Chinese government be concerned and want the film to be censored? This film is planned for release in China on December 6th of this year.

The Wild Goose Lake is a crime drama of the pursuit of chasing down a big crime boss for the sake of a reward. However the story is a lot more as it’s about the woman he loves and her feelings towards him, and living in the same criminal world he lives in.

Oscars 2011 Best Picture Nominee: The Descendants

“My friends think that just because we live in Hawaii, we live in paradise. We’re all just out here sipping Mai Tai’s, shaking our hips and catching waves. Are they insane? Do they think we’re immune to life? How can they possibly think our families are less screwed up? Our heartaches, less painful?”

The Descendants is a movie starring George Clooney which is set in Hawaii. But if you’re expecting this movie to be an escapist holiday getaway, you’re wrong. It’s about real-life pain and heartache happening in an island paradise.

Matt King is a Honolulu-based lawyer who has to deal with the fact that his wife Elizabeth is in a hospital comatose from a boat racing accident. On top of that he has the issue of dealing with being the sole family member in charge of 25,000 acres of land on Kauai owned by his family for generations which will expire in seven years. The King family decided to sell the land to a developer, something Matt supports. Matt was never really close with his two daughters and always considers himself to be the ‘back-up parent’. With Elizabeth in a coma, he now has to be the main parent and deal with things like youngest daughter Scottie’s inappropriate behavior with other children and teenage daughter Alex’s drinking. As if his ailing wife and the future of his family’s land isn’t enough to deal with.

Matt had always considered himself a lousy husband and make a mental promise to Elizabeth that he will be a better husband to her once she’s better. Then the news drops. She will never recover. She also has it in her will that she be disconnected shortly from her life support. Matt will no longer be the back-up parents. He decides to tell Alex before Scottie. Alex gives the shocking news that Elizabeth was in an affair just before the accident. He later learns the ‘other man’ is Brian Speer. Matt makes a surprising decision: to find Brian and give him the news the Elizabeth is dying and a chance to say goodbye. He learns that Matt is a real estate agent vacationing in Kauai.

After telling the family of Elizabeth’s eventual death, he goes to Kauai with his daughters and Alex’s slacker guy friend Sid to find Brian. He soon finds Brian jogging on a beach and entering into his family’s vacation resort. Matt also learns from Cousin Hugh that Brian has connections to the developer who they’re about to sell their land to. If sold, Brian Speer will gain a lot of money from commission once it’s developed.

Before confronting Brian, Matt introduces himself to Brian’s wife Judy. Soon Matt is able to meet alone with Brian. He drops him the news he’s Elizabeth’s husband and she will die soon. Brian is shocked of the whole thing. He apologizes for the grief it’s caused the family but that the affair was only a fling and he loves his wife and sons. The fate of the land is finally determined.. The cousins meet to vote on the land mostly in favor of the developer but Matt decides to keep the land for other reasons. He doesn’t regret it even if it means potential lawsuits from Hugh or other cousins.

With the issue of the land over, Matt can now focus solely on the last days of Elizabeth as she’s taken off life support. Scottie hears the news from a nurse. Sid, who first appeared like an idiot, is now a figure of moral support for the family. Elizabeth’s father tells Matt he should have been a more devoted husband and father and describes Elizabeth as ‘good and faithful’. Matt expects Brian Speer to show up but it’s wife Judy instead. Matt is shocked but Judy is now aware of the divorce. She gives Elizabeth flowers and says she forgives her even though she should hate her for destroying her happy home. Finally after Alex and Scottie say their last goodbyes to Elizabeth, Matt comes to terms with all that’s happened and all Elizabeth has done and gives her a goodbye kiss. The movie ends with a scene showing that Matt is now no longer the back-up parent.

The best quality of the movie is that it deals with a family problem very likely to happen, if not common enough already. A wife from a marriage that’s already failing is about to die. The husband finds out his wife cheated on her while she’s in a coma with only days remaining. A lot of times, Alexander Payne has focused on stories of people that were either failures or felt like failures. This is a story of a husband and father who is a success as a realtor but paid the price of his success with a failing marriage. Now with his wife dying, he has to confront the fact that she failed him as much as he failed her. He’s forced to confront the fact that he would have to be the full-time parents now that his wife will die. It’s also on the verge of what could be the biggest break of his Real Estate career and the biggest break for a family business. The impending tragedy mixed with lucrative opportunity mix well in creating a story that succeeds in telling a lot about ourselves and our own feelings. Maybe this situation could be happening to an audient who sees this movie.

It also has an important element about forgiveness. For so long Matt thought he was the bad guy and he failed Elizabeth. Then he learns that Elizabeth was the dishonest one. Confronting the sudden fact that one’s dying wife was cheating is not an easy thing to sort out. She’s dying but she was unfaithful. Matt makes a lot of surprising decisions in that factor both on the future of his family’s land and to do with Brian. It’s surprising to see the husband of the cheating wife confront the ‘other man’, tell him she’s dying and offer a chance to say goodbye. It’s also surprising to see Brian’s wife, the wife caught in the mess, confront the dying ‘other woman’ and say that she forgives her despite the pain she caused. Forgiveness is not easy. Necessary but not easy.

George Clooney again shines. This is the best effort I’ve seen him do that involved a multitude of emotions and feelings. This could be his best performance yet. Even though none of the supporting performances were at the same performance level as George, the two best supporting performances came from Shailene Woodley as the oldest daughter Alex and Judy Greer as the wife of Brian Speer. Alexander Payne did an excellent job of directing and co-writing the script with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Payne has always specialized in including the story’s region and its charms in stories of people’s failures and difficulties. About Schmidt captured the charm of the American prairies. Sideways captured the charm of California’s wine country. Now The Descendants captures the charm of Hawaii while dealing with the impending death of a cheating wife and mother. Again Payne directs it to perfection. That scene around the beginning which shows homelessness in Hawaii sure says something about a place we all call and ‘island paradise’. The script’s plot and atmosphere combine perfectly to make the story of family problems in an island paradise work.  The script’s mix with dramatic and comedic elements as well as some genuinely touching moments makes a situation like this easier to watch on the big screen. The addition of Hawaiian music to the movie also added to its charm. Those lucky enough to see it will be glad they did.

The Descendants is excellently well-acted, well-directed, well-adapted drama. It features a situation that could be more common than we think and it shines. Definitely worth seeing.

VIFF 2011 Review: Policeman (Ha-Shoter)

Policeman is an Israeli film released this year. What’s unique about this film is not just to tell two different stories about two different characters but also to present a theme and an ending that will provide a lot of heated discussion amongst many Israelis and some thoughtful discussion elsewhere around the world.

 The film is actually two stories in one. The first half of the film is dedicated to following the life of Yaron: a member of an Israeli anti-terrorism unit. Yaron is a likeable character: dedicated serviceman, family man and supportive husband to an expecting wife. However he has to deal with an operation gone wrong whom is group is being investigated for. They’re planning to make a terminally-ill colleague their scapegoat in order to avoid suspension. He’s seen as a tough and rugged man on the job and with his colleague but a tender man outside of his work.

The second half focuses on Shira, a poetic radical. She too leads a group of radicals who want to protest the division of rich and poor in Israel. As noble as her group sounds, sexual tensions between the members including Shira cause friction. Shira and her group want to give their ‘justice’ to the rich, which means killing them. They plan to organize a hostage-taking mission over at a wedding of a rich businessman’s relative. Shira is seen as passionate towards her cause but very snake-like in terms of conducting her methods.

Then the heist. The group come to the wedding posing as guests. Right at the time, the hostage taking happens. The CEO, his father, mother and the married couple are now hostages. Yaron now has to be part of the group to stop the heist. They devise a plan in the back room with careful planning. Before they start, Shira shouts out to them a chant: “Policemen, you are not our enemies. Policemen, you are also oppressed.” Right at the end, the tense standoff brings the two groups together abruptly.

One thing about this film is that it shows a unique twist that would shock a lot of people in Israel. Their country has mostly experienced Israeli vs. Palestinian conflict. This is a case of Israeli vs. Israeli. It would surprise many who would think that all Israelis are allies when one Israeli attempts to attack another. This topic is bound to make a lot of viewers in Israel uncomfortable or even angry. Those that know Israel well would best know about the poverty Shira is speaking of. Even those of us outside of Israel could identify with some of the incidents happening in the film. Here in Vancouver, our city is full of young radicals looking to make their statement, even though they often make ‘attention whores’ of themselves. Despite it, there are a lot of people angry with the city’s divide of rich and poor. Even though Policeman takes place in Israel, I’m sure there are some people that feel the same way Shira does.

This film is actually the debut feature ever directed by Nadav Lapid. This is a very courageous effort for a beginning director to tackle such a hot button in his country. Outside of the topic itself, the film is also good in its way of presenting two different characters and their surrounding lives before the attack. Yaron lives day to day while Shira dreams up to that day. Both outlooks are intimate as they are personal. You learn of both their strengths and their flaws before the attack.

Already this film has received buzz. This film has already received praising reviews at the Locarno Film Festival and even won its Special Jury Prize. It is a multiple award winner at the Jerusalem Film Festival. It would also be shown a week after the VIFF at the New York Film Festival. As of now, it doesn’t have a distributor but I believe this film is loaded with promise.

Policeman is an excellent daring debut from a director who’s not afraid to tackle hot topics. If you’re looking for a film that makes you think or even challenges your thoughts, this is a good one to see. Even if you don’t live in Israel, you will leave the theatre thinking.

VIFF 2011 Review: BumRush

The gangsta film BumRush played at the Vancouver Film Festival. I know what you’re going to say: “I’ve seen gangsta movies before.” BumRush is different. Firstly, it’s Canadian and set in Montreal. Secondly, it’s based off a sting and of events that really happened. Whether it can compare to other hood movies or gangsta movies of the past is one big question mark.

The film is set in Montreal in a strip club. In the past, the neighborhood of the club has had its dealings with rivalry from biker gangs and the Montreal mafia. Now comes a new messy chapter for the club as the neighborhood sees a crossfire between two rivaling street gangs. Soon they want to seize power over the club. This leads to a huge mess on all sides and the condition of the club in jeopardy. Soon the IB11 gang declares the club their property.

To end it all, the leader of the sting, Le Kid, finds an opportunity in five tough men who have had a brotherhood for many years. They also see it in Catherine, a girl who was imprisoned for her activity in relation for one of the gangs. She wants out of gang life but is having trouble with her criminal record being checked. Le Kid sees her and the brotherhood as an opportunity to get the gangs out of the club. It starts with a sting where Catherine gives the leader and his girlfriend spiked shooters. Later one of the gang members takes the drugged up girlfriend out to make out, only to have a cop videotape it with a phone and send it to the gang members. The video leads to more heated friction between the gangs. Then the brotherhood kidnap the two leading gang members to a mortuary to force them to tell the whereabouts of two men they’re after. This leads to an ending that has a small amount of action and some amount of cheeseball moments.

If there’s one strength about the movie, it’s that it shows a lot of forgotten truths that most gangsta movies or hood movies leave out or neglect. One often overlooked truth is girls involved with gangs like Catherine. Catherine’s role shows an angle of girls who want out of the gang system and start a better life. It also shows the ill misogynistic treatment girls get from gang members like the vulgar treatment of the strippers and the girl that was ‘gangbanged.’ That’s it with gangs. They think that because they have all the gun power they can treat women as mysogynistically as they want. That part happens to be the movie’s biggest strength.

Another thing is that it doesn’t show a completely happy ending. It shows the ugly reality that gangs have taken their street activities online and expanded their territory greatly. It’s a new truth that gangs have gone from just their own hood to anywhere online. There’s even talk on the news in Vancouver about gangs going online. That’s one thing that we often forget is that even after a sting is made, there’s still a lot of things left behind or things that don’t go away.

Another thing about the movie is that it features the final acting performance of Montreal musician Bad News Brown. He was famous in Quebec for being a harmonica-playing hip hop blues musician and was a opening act for many big name hip hop stars in Montreal, even accompanying some on stage. Brown was murdered in Montreal on February 11th or this year at the age of 33. This movie could possibly be English Canada’s first introduction to him and Quebec’s last time they’d see him on the screen.

Director Michel Jette did an excellent job in researching the story and creating a good script that was as smart as it was thrilling. He doesn’t rely completely on too much action or too much shootouts but rather focuses on the scenes leading up to the big moment and the people surrounding it. Nevertheless for all of the script’s intelligence, there were a few flat points and noticeable glitches. There were also some corny moments with the harmonica playing of Loosecannon. I often wondered if having a harmonica playing gangsta was such a good idea. The acting was imperfect and often overdone from some. Also the timing of this movie being out at a time when the popularity of gangsta movies have faded over time makes me question whether this would make for a good commercial release.

BumRush’s best quality is its truthfulness about gang activity and those around it. Its weakness is its lack of professionalism from many of the actors and a script that gets confusing over time. This one left me questioning its potential in the end, especially for English Canada.

From Summer Movie Sizzle To September Slump

We’ve already seen the latest summer movie season come and go. The excitement, the hits, the blockbusters, the special effects, the stars, the flops, the sleeper surprises. It all shaped the summer movie season of 2011, which I will elaborate on in a future article. The Labor Day always opens the movie month of September up on a bright note.

What happens in the next three or four weeks should be known as the September Slump. Now that all the big movies had the summer to reap in the money, it’s now quieter fare during September. That usually makes for a low box office month. In fact September has the lowest box office gross of any month of the year. For the record, the highest grossing September was back in 2007 with $554.7 million. Also for the record, the highest opening weekend for a September release is Sweet Home Alabama way back in 2002 with $35.6 million. Pretty paltry compared to other months, eh?

So you think that the month of September should have some drab fare, right? Wrong. There are lots of reasons to go see a movie in September even though you’re no longer on vacation and back at work or back to school. Look what the month has:

THIS WEEKEND:

Contagion: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law. Medical drama about trying to stop an airborne virus from spreading into an epidemic.

Warrior: Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Joel Edgerton. Could this be the first hit movie about Mixed Martial Arts?

Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star: Nick Swardson, Don Johnson, Christina Ricci. An over-the-top comedy with an over-the-top scenario.

The Black Power Mixtape 1968-1975 Excellent for those who are into documentaries.

Main Street (limited): Colin Firth, Ellen Burstyn, Patricia Clarkson. Colin Firth plays an American! A Southern one!

September 16:

Drive: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston. A Hollywood stuntman who moonlights with the underworld is on the run.

I Don’t Know How She Does It: Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Kelsey Grammer. A businesswoman who can juggle her career, family and marriage until she meets her business associate.

Straw Dogs: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth. When an L.A. Screenwriter relocates to his wife’s Southern hometown, it leads to some Southern discomfort.

Restless (limited): Mia Wasikowska stars in a dark ropmantic drama directed by Gus Van Sant.

September 23:

Moneyball: Brad Pitt, Robin Wright, Jonah Hill. Can a computer design a winning baseball team on a budget? You be the judge.

Abduction: Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina. Can Taylor Lautner be bankable with something other than Jacob? And with his shirt still on? Stay tuned.

Machine Gun Preacher: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon. A true story of a reformed bad boy becoming a crusader for Sudanese children.

Killer Elite: Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert de Niro. A kidnapping drama that will capture the action movie crowd.

Puncture (limited): A legal drama starring Chris Evans.

Dolphin Tale: A family movie starring Morgan Freeman.

You may have noticed I left out September 30, right? And for good reason. That weekend has more days in October than September. So there you go. Some good movie choices for the month of September. Even movies already out like The Help and The Debt make for good choices about this time. I’m sure even in your hectic schedule or workload, overtime, or homework or family business, you can find time for a movie.

SOURCES CITED:

Box Office Mojo

IMDB