Since I started this site I've been keeping myself to a bottom line of 4 out of 5 stars in order to review a film. It's a great way to determine whether a film is actually great (reviewing is time-consuming) or just plain old good. Still, there are always edge cases that are worth a look if you've nothing better planned. I'm going to list these films right here, providing a capsule review for each one of them.

ai zuozhan

date
May 01, 2013
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Love Battlefield poster

Pou-Soi Cheang is one of the better genre film directors currently residing in Hong Kong. With highlights like Shamo, Yi Ngoi (Accident) and Gau Ngao Gau (Dog Bite Dog) the man has been establishing himself as a driving force behind the international recognition of Hong Kong cinema. Ai Zuozhan (Love Battlefield) is a slightly older Cheang that bears all the potential, but ever so slightly fails in its execution.

Ai Zuozhan would've made a pretty good Milkyway (Johnnie To's production house) film I think. The desaturated visuals are classy, the story is a bit grittier than usual and holds a few solid surprises and there's enough police work going on to make it a thematic peer to a slew of other Milkyway productions. It's not really an action flick, rather a tense and dark thriller mixed with a dash of romance.

The problem is that Pou-Soi Cheang has a thing for melodrama. In more recent film he's learned to balance it out a bit more, but here he crosses the line of the acceptable a few times too often. The finale for example is an exhilarating 20 minute climax, only to be followed by a mushy and unnecessary scene that takes the bite out of the ending. Cheang always compensates with style and tension, but in the end it makes the film just a tad too uneven. It's definitely worth a watch though, just brace yourself for a few overly emotional scenes that really don't belong.

asura

date
April 27, 2013
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Asura poster

Director Kei'ichi Sato (of Karas fame) returns with Asura. The film is an adaptation of a 70s manga that sparked quite a controversy when it was first released, due to some rather graphic cannibalistic content. Don't expect an average tentacles and gore horror anime though, as the story of Asura is surprisingly timid and humane.

Asura is young kid, part man, part beast. Left behind in the Kyoto wastelands at a very young age, he has learned to survive under barren conditions. He is an outcast of society and doesn't hesitate for a moment when all there is to eat is a passing fellow human being. Until one day he runs into Wakasa, a young girl who is the first to treat him like a real human. Asura has trouble leaving the beast in him behind though.

To be honest, the story is of the yada-yada variation. The film lacks emotional strength and even though it doesn't outstay its welcome with only 72 minutes on the clock, it does drag a little in places. You'll be wanting to see this film because of the awesome art style and the stunning blend of CG and traditional animation though. Sato created another technical marvel, there are a few moments where the CG is just a tad too apparent but otherwise the blend is pretty much perfect and makes for a very moody and grim atmosphere.

It's a shame the film itself isn't as slick as its visuals, but Asura is definitely worth a look if you like your animation a little different.