Tag Archives: asia

The Great Wall – Review

3 Mar

I recently did a review for Zhang Yimou’s 2011 war drama, The Flowers of War. In that review, I mention that Yimou is a very respectable film maker who has an especially strong talent for filming what I believe to be some of the most beautiful looking movies I’ve ever seen. His latest film is The Great Wall, a monster movie that involves protecting the Imperial City from creatures hell bent on destroying civilization as we know it. That combined with Yimou’s colorful and sweeping directorial style kind of made this a must see for me. Well, all I can say is that this film definitely looks great. That’s pretty much where the compliments end.

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William (Matt Damon) and Pero (Pedro Pascal) are two mercenaries scouring the East looking for “black powder,” which we now know as gunpowder. During their search, they end up at the Great Wall of China and are questioned about their intentions immediately upon their arrival. The two partners soon learn why the soldiers at the wall are so concerned about their motives. During a seemingly quiet afternoon, the wall is raided by alien monsters called the Tao Tie, whose goal is to penetrate the wall and continue on to the Imperial City. It doesn’t take long for William to come to a decision as to wether he wants to escape with Pero and another Englishman, Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe), or if he would rather stay and defend the Great Wall with the newly appointed general, Lin Mae (Jing Tian).

I was excited for this movie for multiple reasons. First off, I was pumped to see Zhang Yimou tackle a big budget monster movie and have his style painted all over the movie. I was also just pumped to see another monster movie from Legendary, which has pretty much become the monster movie company for America. In these ways, the movie does succeed. When battles start happening, I got really into it. The special effects look kind of cartoony, but for some reason, that didn’t really bother me. I was taken aback by Yimou’s use of color and framing scenes to make them look as epic as possible. One of these shots in particular happened in the very first battle where you can see most of the battle in one super wide shot. Another really cool thing are the different regiments of the soldiers and the uniforms they wear to identify themselves. Honestly, in terms of style and scope, this movie stands tall.

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Like I said before, that’s pretty much where all of the good stuff ends. The Great Wall really isn’t all that good of a movie despite having a really cool premise. My biggest problem was the characters. I haven’t seen such poor development and writing in a really long time. Any scene that didn’t involve a battle or special effect of some kind fell flat. Like completely, utterly flat. It’s incredible how an epic period piece featuring alien monsters attacking the Great Wall of China could be so boring. There are a few characters worth something, but that’s not saying to much. William’s partner Pero has a good amount of one liners and a story that at least attempts to go somewhere before that’s shut down by some idiotic decisions from the writers. Lin Mae is also a pretty cool character who feels the most human out of anyone else. The worst offender of characters not worth anything is Sir Ballard. If you were to take Willem Dafoe out of this movie, nothing would be different. He’s completely wasted here.

I was also really bothered by the acting in this movie, but part of this also has to fall on the writers. There was so much clunky and awkward dialogue in this movie which only made me more distracted during the down time that I’ve already complained was boring enough. Like I said before, the only exceptions from this are Pero and Lin Mae. They weren’t perfect, but they were better than the rest. Honestly though, I was mostly shocked at how flat and uninspired Matt Damon was. I didn’t know until the end of the movie that he was supposed to be European, and I still don’t know exactly where he’s supposed to be from. His accent is on and off throughout the whole movie, and the way he delivers his lines is cringeworthy. Aside from his weird accent, he uses this over the top tough guy voice that wore thin on me after the second line of dialogue he had.

The Great Wall is a very disappointing movie. Throughout its run time, I saw a lot of hope for potential, but nothing really came of it. I will say that this is a fantastic looking movie with cool creature design and some excellent use of lighting and costume design. Everything else from the characters and their development to the structure of the narrative is flat, recycled, or just plain boring. As a monster movie, it works at the most basic of levels. As a movie to be appreciated and viewed for something more than that, it’s a failure.

Final Grade: C-

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Three… Extremes – Review

10 Oct

Asian horror is one of my personal favorite genres and has been creeping more and more into American culture by remakes and just by curious film enthusiasts out to see something new and exciting. Exciting is just what I would call really good Asian horror films. Exciting, and…well, extreme. Three different directors from three different countries band together for Three… Extremes, a collection of horror films that attempt to take the genre to a whole new level.

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The first film in this group of three is Dumplings from the Chinese director Fruit Chan.

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An aging woman (Miriam Yeung Chin Wah) is obsessed with finding a way to bring back her youthful look. She finds help with Mei (Bai Ling) and her home made dumplings, which have been known to have a physical rejuvenating quality. What this woman doesn’t know is the secret ingredient that Mei uses for her dumplings, and the means that she goes through in order to please her customers.

Dumplings is one of those movies that actually got to me, and even worse made me lightheaded. This is, without a doubt, one of the most uncomfortable films that I have ever sat through. Fruit Chan isn’t as much of a horror director as the other film makers in this anthology, but he succeeds in such a way that I was actually very surprised. What really helps this segment along is Christopher Doyle’s work as cinematographer. Doyle combines gritty and sophisticated lighting to really show a contrast in the different locations. This is a disturbing trip into a hell that I’m not too excited to go to again any time soon. Unfortunately for me, Dumplings was also released as a feature separate from this anthology and I’m curious enough to check it out.

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The next film in the anthology is by Korean director Park Chan-wook titled Cut.

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A famous director (Byung-hun Lee) is known not only for his talent when it comes to film making, but also for being a very nice and accommodating man. After a day of filming, he comes home to find his house completely empty, save for an intruder who knocks the director unconscious. Waking up on the set, the director finds himself face to face with the intruder (Won-Hie Lim) and his two hostages: the director’s wife (Hye-jeong Kang), whose fingers are glued to the piano, and a small child. He is then forced to play this stranger’s sick game to determine who is walking out of this in one piece.

Out of the three short films, this one if my favorite for a lot of reasons. Park Chan-wook’s use of camera movement and editing really makes this unique. Along with the nice camera and editing work, the set design is really awesome. It’s this off kilter gothic kind of set that just doesn’t seem quite right, and I mean that as a compliment. Finally, despite it being a horror film with a strong element of torture, it is also darkly comedic. This has a lot to do with the editing, but also Won-Hie Lim is also a great vocal and physical actor that we are frightened by his madness, but can’t help laughing at him. Cut stands above the other two and will not be forgotten.

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Finally, from Japan, we have Takashi Miike and his segment, Box.

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Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa) has been having a horrifying dream of being buried alive. As if her subconscious torment wasn’t enough, she has been haunted by the ghost of a little girl, thought to be her long lost sister, Shoko, who shows up in her apartment complex. In order to understand these dreams, Kyoko must search deep within her memories to those that have been locked away. The cerebral quest takes her to an all too familiar place where she has to face the demons of her past head on, all the while learning that her night mares aren’t too far from the truth.

Out of all of these short films, I’m really disappointed to say, that this one didn’t really do much for me. I’m upset about this because I really enjoy Takashi Miike as a film maker, and I know that he is capable of horror on a much grander scale than this. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a beautiful movie to look at with really nice contrasts when it comes to the lights and the darks. Unfortunately, the story is told in such a way that it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the shorts. It plays out as sort of a head trip, with very little that is extreme about it. One scene played out like some of Miike’s best work, but I had a hard time not only following this one, but staying interested.

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Three… Extremes is almost a perfect anthology film, with only the final segment really dragging it down. In that way, it really feels uneven because of the high intensity of the first two, and than the slow, cerebral pace of the final one. I almost wish that it was ordered in reverse order. Maybe than the movie wouldn’t feel so sloshy. Still, to any extreme horror fan, Three… Extremes is a must see.