Saturday, October 29, 2011

You are the Apple of My Eye | 那些年, 我们一起追的女孩 [ Movie Review ] ★★★★1/2

The Pitch

Touted as Biggest Ever Opening Day and Weekend Box Office for a Taiwanese film (remained as Taiwan Box Office champion for three weeks), You are the Apple of My Eye ( 那些年,我们一起追的女孩 literally means The girl that we wooed during those years ) marks a revival of Taiwanese films that getting commercial release here in Singapore. This coming-of-age movie is based on a popular autobiography book by Giddens (九把刀 or Nine Knives) and it's selling like hot cakes in Hong Kong (No.1 at Hong Kong box office and out selling it's nearest competitor Life without Principle by about 2.65 times). 

What makes this school days romance movie so popular in Taiwan and Hong Kong? The trailer gave the impression that it's going to be another routine romantic comedy with good looking actor and actress. The director. Giddens is primarily known for his novels and this movie somewhat marks his first directorial debut. To have such a result for his first main feature is pretty impressive. 

Perhaps there's something special about this box office champ that getting a commercial screening like it's predecessors, Monga and Cape. No 7. Let's find out what the X-factor in this movie.

The Plot

The movie started with the introduction of the protagonist, Ko-Teng (Ko Chen-tung 柯震東) and his close friends. They are distinctively different with their own special quirks However all his friends had something in common and that's having a crush with the class monitress, Shen Jiayi (Michelle Chen 陳妍希). For the longest time, Ko-Teng could not understand why his friends got the hot for her as he felt that she was only slightly prettier than the rest of the female classmates and there's nothing special about her.

After getting into trouble with their homeroom teacher, Ko-Teng was made to sit in front of Shen Jiayi. Being one of the top students in school, Shen Jiayi was tasked to keep close tabs on him and supervise his school works. The two of them resented the arrangement initially and started bickering until an incident in class changed the dynamic between them.

Shen Jiayi started to prepare extra homework for Ko-Teng and forced him to stay back after class for revisions. Romance blossom between the both of them but the usually outspoken Ko-Teng couldn't find the courage to propose to Shen Jiayi. With graduation looming, could their puppy love withstand the long distance test as they head towards different universities?

The Perspective 

You are the Apple of My Eye turned out to be surprisingly good. I didn't have much expectation for this coming-of-age romcom but it came out of nowhere and stole my heart. Without any surprises for this coming two months, You are the Apply of My Eye is likely to emerged as the best movie of 2011 for me. If I would to narrow down why this movie worked for me, it would because this movie got heart and soul. It wonderfully captures the wooing process and school days romance. Folks who had "similar" experience at school, they would find this movie easily relatable and heart wrenching in many ways.

Before lapping it with more praises, this movie isn't without it's faults. Some jokes and gags missed the spot entirely. At times, the movie can get rather crude, long winded and even tedious to follow at times.

But the payout at the end made all the wait worthwhile and the flaws forgettable. Especially the last ten minutes of this movie when all the build ups came into a satisfying wrap up. It was said that the director had decided to make this movie when the idea for the closing moments came to his mind. It was an excellent decision as the ending was one of the most beautiful yet poignant endings to coming-of-age school days rom com.

One of the biggest discovery for this movie would be Giddens, the director cum writer for this story. I have not read any of his Chinese novels and this first encounter with his work had impressed me much. He is pretty talented in telling a story and has an inventive touch in approaching materials that had been done to death. If imagination is intelligence having fun, it's not hard to see that Giddens is having a hell of time with this movie.

He had also made a good casting choice for this movie. You are the Apple of My Eye worked due to the casting for the two leads. Michelle Chen is lovely to watch and possess a certain special on screen flair that makes it easy to believe that so many guys would fall for her. Without her to breathe life into the objection of affection in this movie, You are the Apple of My Eye would not have work this well.

Likewise, the hunky newcomer Ko Chen-tung turned in a pretty good performance. As the protagonist, he had to carry the bulk of this movie and he did it in an effortlessly charismatic fashion. Whether the scenes  requires him to be comedic, suave or downright emotional, he managed to aced most of those scenes. Without a doubt, I will keeping tabs on these two actors future works.

After recommending this movie to a fellow movie lover, I was told that this type of movies come every five or ten years. The movie does have it's flaws but the heart of this move could easily hide those flaws. Highly recommended for those who wants to reminisce about their school days romance or currently going through some form of dilemma in romance.

Rating: ****1/2


During the credits roll, there are some scenes of the boys heading to play baseball and talk about their future and writing a book that this movie is based on. The real fun would be at the end of the credit roll when the director played a prank on Michelle Chen. Definitely worth staying back for.

Beyond the Movie

Sadly, this popular movie had cause much distress to the real Shen Jiayi. She had to take a year off from work and left for China to escape the Taiwanese press and the "overly resourceful" online fans. It seemed that the director / writer Giddens Ko was equally affected by the success of his movie and the trouble that it's causing for the apple of his eye that he is avoiding any talk about her to the press.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Time [ Movie Review ]

The Pitch

Andrew Niccol movies always have an interesting premises. Ranging from gene discrimination (Gattaca) to the gun trading (Lord of War), he had always weaved unforgettable stories from those premises. This time round, he is tackling a future where the aging gene stops at 25 and time is the new currency with Justin Timberlake.

Justin Timberlake, primary known as a pop star, has been making quite a few movies these days. His rendition as Sean Parker was quite outstanding and his latest leading performance in the romcom Friends with Benefit was pleasantly entertaining. I am aware that he has his fair share of detractors but I for one is interested to see where he is heading with his movie career.

Let's see how this collaboration turns out.

The Plot

In the futuristic world, the aging gene had been stopped and people stop aging when they reached 25 years old. In order to control the population, time has became the new currency.

The poor works from day to day to ensure their mortality. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is one of those poor who worked hard to earn minutes and seconds to sustain his life. When trying to prevent a robbery in a bar, he rescued a man with too much time on his hand and was looking for a way to end his life. 

While they were hiding out from their pursers, the "wealthy" man gave the secret behind the rich upper class and why the poor are doomed to be poor. While they were resting, he committed suicide by giving Will Salas the bulk of his lifespan .

Will Salas soon discovered that inheriting a "fortune" might not be that good after all. He was too late to save his mother from running out of time and the time keepers (the police force of this future) are hot on his heels. Will Salas then decided to do the unthinkable and take on the rich to try to right the wrong for the poor.

The Perspective (In Time movie review)

After Gattaca and Lord of War, In Time was a disappointing flick from Andrew Niccol. It has that novel approach of blending currency with time but it didn't come together well to build up an unforgettable story like what Gattaca and Lord of War achieved.

In fact, the characters felt lost and didn't know what to do after Will Salas gained the unexpected long life span. After the protagonist discovered how the poor had been exploited, there wasn't really any solid idea or plan in bringing a balance in the inequity in this futuristic society. Instead it spent the bulk in the protagonists played a cat and mouse game with the rather inefficient time keeper (their equivalent of police force). Things just automatically fall in place for the protagonist and it's hard to feel anxious for them even when their "bio-clock" was going to run out. There's also the additional subplot with a group of gangsters that gave the movie excuses to choreograph some action sequences which didn't really add to much to the story.

The upside of this movie would be that the novel concept of blending currency with time. It brought up a couple of interesting perspective on how we live our lives. The time we spend on and what we choose to do with the resources we have in hand. It also gave an interesting perspective on the lifestyle of the rich and the poor. On the bigger scale, it touched on how currency works in our society and why the gap between the rich and poor could not be closed. But of course, the manner which it tried to solved the inequity between classes was lazy and ludicrous.

Acting wise, I felt that Justin Timberlake did a decent job to carry out the protagonist role. But it felt like the movie didn't have much material for him to expand on his character. Like how the story falter for this movie, his performance went from engaging to boring as the plot plodded on. It's specially disappointing for someone who is hopping for another Ethan Hawke / Andrew Niccol turn out in Gattaca.

Bottom line In Time felt like a good concept that wasn't well executed. It pale in comparison with Gattaca and Lord of War. It was even less enjoyable than Andrew Niccol's second movie S1m0ne. It felt like a big drop in standard for the director. But even still, it's still a passable film with it's formulaic plot and it's still entertaining in it's own way. Perhaps if one didn't approach In Time with such high expectation, it might even be more enjoyable.

Rating: ***


Exclusive Comic Con Footage Trailer from In Time Official Youtube Channel

Monday, October 24, 2011

Life Without Principle [ Movie Review ]

Life Without Principle Movie Review

With the financial gloom looming in near future, director Johnnie To's cinematic take on the financial crisis came at the right time. Divided into three stories, Life without Principle examine how the common folks are affected by the financial market.

Teresa (Denise Ho), an investment banker was forced to push high risk investment to her greedy but ignorant customer in order to meet the business quota. Panther (Sean Lau Ching Wan), a loyal but somewhat dim witted triad member who gets enrolled into futures market stocks when he tried to bailout a fellow triad member. A dedicated police inspector Cheung (Ritchie Jen) gets drawn into financial burden when his fiancee Connie (Myolie Wu) decided to place a down payment without coming to an agreement with him. Three unrelated individuals and their respective problems somehow intertwine when they cross path with loan shark Yuen (Lo Hoi Pang).

The problem with Life Without Principle would be the split into three stories. The stories were riveting on it's own and showed potential to be more than what it was presented in this movie. There's no time to go in-depth with each character's dilemma and the problems that they faced varies so differently from each other that it does not complement each other well.

But then again, there are gems in these stories. In particular, my favorite segment would be that of Teresa, the bank teller segment. We get placed in her shoes and gets a better understanding why some bank tellers would sell high risk investments to their customers. The unpleasantness of a competitive field and the fear of getting left behind could be overwhelming at times. The depiction of how some elderly people loses their life savings through greed and ignorant were also a painful reminder of real stories in financial investments. Life without Principle marks the first time that I took note of Denise Ho's performance. I felt that she got on screen charisma and the camera seems to love her. I am interested to see what this Hong Kong Cantopop singer will take on for her next movie.

On the flip side, Lau Ching Wan's take on the righteous but bumbling gangster was the most amusing segment of these three. It invokes memories of his performance in the TVB series The Greed of Man in which that an amateur started to dabble on stocks speculation. It's entertaining in most part but it took quite some time before it started to have anything to do with the stock markets and it could be quite a drag if one is anxious to know what's the linkage to the financial aspect of the story.

The less satisfying segment would be the one with Cheung (Ritchie Jen) and Connie (Myolie Wu) investment in a pricy Hong Kong apartment. A lot more could have been done for this aspect of financial woes but it meanders with Cheung getting new police cases and a half sister that he is apparently not aware of. This segment ties with loan shark Yuen and the other two segment were also the last satisfying one.

In closing, this movie didn't exactly live up to both it's English and Chinese title. The Chinese title for this movie is 夺命金 (duo ming jin or the gold that seize or deprive one's life) but the movie didn't exactly go to that extreme to illustrate that effect. Neither did the main characters in this movie did anything that radical that would be deem as without principle. But overall, it's a interesting peek at how money affect the common folks and how the financial world operates.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Colombiana [ Movie Review ]

The Pitch

After the recent Star Trek, Zoe Saldana career is on the roll. Appearing in popular movies like Avatar and etc. But however, there isn't a movie that rest solely on her shoulder yet.

Enter Luc Besson, Olivier Megaton and rest of the folks from EuropaCorp. Crafting a movie about a female assassin who is seeking revenge for her parents' death for her, Colombiana might just be that movie that showcase whether Zoe Saldana got the ability to carry a movie all by her own.

The Plot

After witnesses her parents death at a drug lord's hands and escaping the drug lord's clutches, Cataleya seek vengeance by deflecting to the American Ambassador with an important computer chip that her father left her. In exchange for the information on the chip, the Ambassador arranged her to be moved to America. Half way through, she escaped once again and made her way to Chicago to look for her Uncle Emilio.

Her Uncle Emilio took her in and wanted to give her a normal life but Cataleya asked her uncle to train her as an assassin. Conveniently her Uncle Emilio had ties with the underworld and years later, Cataleya became a top notch assassin for her Uncle. She started leaving trademarks of cataleya (orchid) on her victims to attract her parents' killer. What she didn't expect was that she was putting her love ones as risk as she seeks vengeance.

The Perspective - Colombiana Movie Review

Colombiana is filled with over the top action sequences and scenarios that were aesthetically nice to look at but emotionally hollow and a little too convenient plotting. This movie utilize Zoe Saladana's body and looks well but didn't give her much room to showcase her acting nor did it give her character more substance so that the viewers could better remember her and this movie after the credits rolled. It's a wasted chance as female actress seldom gets the chance to headline a movie on her own and this blotch up might just had screw her chance of getting another headlining gig in the future.

Let's head back to the movie review and dissect what went wrong for Colombiana. The whole leaving her calling card at the assassinated victims to get to her intended targets was rather pointless as it didn't achieve what it was intended. Conveniently, she got the information by threatening some top management at the FBI and CIA. She could have done without the numerous assassinations to get the information she needed in the first place. It's also baffling that someone with links to the underground groups had no way of getting the information in a safer manner.

Colombiana was not the Nikita and Léon that I hoped for. In fact, it was more akin to the soulless and forgettable action flick Transporter 3 that Olivier Megaton had also directed. There's lots of bing bam boom and Zoe Saladana looked pretty hot but it's a pity that the plot was so flimsily connected together. Instead of wowing with the over the top setups, it made me lookout for plotholes and what could have gone wrong in the elaborate schemes. Colombiana wilted with poor handling and excessive enrichment. It's a pity because it had the potential to blossom into a beautiful work of art.