personal blog - onderhond.com http://www.onderhond.com/blog/personal This part of my blog is dedicated to articles about my personal life. What moves me, what interests me, where I'm going and what I'm doing. en-us underdog@operamail.com (Niels Matthijs) <![CDATA[Zhi Qu Weihu Shan/Hark Tsui]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/movie-filler/tiger-mountain-review-hark
The Taking of Tiger Mountain poster

Old man Hark Tsui (Ching Se) seems to have finally settled down. Gone are the days of lively martial arts films, snappy comedies and risky (at least for Hong Kong standards) projects. Nowadays Tsui invests his time in epic blockbusters. Not too surprisingly, he's actually quite skilled at making them.

Like his two previous films, Zhi Qu Weihu Shan (The Taking of Tiger Mountain) was shot in sprawling 3D. Reportedly Tsui is quite capable of handling 3D imagery in his films, it's just that I'm not a very big fan of the whole 3D/live action thing. Instead I settled for the boring yet pleasantly comfortable 2D version, which I believe was the right decision. Even while watching the 2D version it was pretty easy to spot the 3D effects, something that would've bothered me no end if I'd seen the film in 3D. To each his own though, I'm just glad the choice was there.

Zhi Qu Weihu Shan feels like Tsui's answer to Wen Jiang's Rang Zi Dan Fei. Both films are extremely light-hearted action flicks with an unmistakeable tongue in cheek approach. Tsui's film may not be as balanced and accomplished compared to Jiang's and it's clearly geared at a more forgiving audience, but the link between the two is definitely there.

The plot is pretty convoluted, but the film's premise is actually quite simple. A gang of criminals has its stronghold on top of a snowy mountain, a small but dedicated police force is tasked with breaching the stronghold and capturing the leader. Start with some espionage and people double-crossing each other, add a couple of long-running, high octane action scenes, finish of with a touch of drama and there you go: two hours of shameless entertainment.

Two things stand out. First of all there's Tony Leung Ka-Fai as the lead criminal. His character may be a silly caricature, but Ka-Fai has so much fun playing him that he quickly became one of the funniest villains I've come across the past few years. Then there are the crazy, over the top action sequences that take up a pretty big part of the film. Tsui clearly didn't aim for realism here, leaning heavily on CG (just check the crazy antics of that plane during the finale) to support some outrageous action scenes. If that's not your kind of thing, it's probably best to stay away from this film.

Sadly the parts in between are a little less entertaining. The drama and the espionage bits are decent enough, but they still needlessly slow the film down. Tsui also misses the raw talent to rise above the commercial foundation of the film, failing to bring that little extra which is needed to give a film like this a more lasting impression. Still the action is fun and exciting and while it lasts, it's a wildly entertaining experience. If you're okay with that it's hard to go wrong with this one.

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Thu, 26 Feb 2015 11:17:03 +0100
<![CDATA[Terumae Romae II/Hideki Takeuchi]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/thermae-romae-2-review-takeuchi

Two years after Hideki Takeuchi surprised unsuspecting film fans with his rather faithful live action adaptation of Terumae Romae, he is back with a sequel. Double the fun, double the baths, double the bare butts. Don't expect a major twist or entirely new direction, Terumae Romae II (Thermae Romae II) is a near-replica of the original film, once again remaining close to the source material. And as it turns out, that's not such a bad place to be.

screen capture of Terumae Romae II

The source material might not have been that easy to adapt to a live action feature format, but Terumae Romae's concept is pure comedy gold, so when the first film turned out alright a sequel was bound to happen. Takeuchi didn't tinker much with the original formula, reserving the first hour for more fragmented gags and the second one for a simple but passable storyline. A smart choice since Terumae Romae is first and foremost a comedy.

Once again Terumae Romae starts off in ancient Rome. Lucius (the thermae architect) is tasked with designing a soothing bath for the gladiators, not much later he's travelling "back" to modern-day Japan to learn some tricks from what he calls "the flat-faced clan". The first hour is spent traveling back and forth, with Lucius visiting a sumo bath house, a water park, an onsen village and a Japanese toilet. Inspiring trips that are translated to slave-powered labor back in Rome.

Half-way through a story starts to form around the successor of the Roman emperor. Lucius ends up in the middle of a vicious coupe and will need all his wits and bath smarts to unearth the truth. It's nothing too serious and the plot never runs very deep, always keeping the comedy front and center, but for a 2 hour film you need something to hold everything together and that it does well. If all of this sounds familiar, that's because it plays out exactly like the first film.

screen capture of Terumae Romae II

Visually everything looks a little slicker, a little more polished than the first one. Takeuchi does a pretty great job bringing old Rome to life (on a small scale of course, this is no Gladiator) and while the CG is still a bit too obvious in places, overall the film looks good. Not only that, Takeuchi also mixes in some fun and quirky visual gags. Add some smartly framed shots, beautiful lighting and detailed settings and what you get is a pretty attractive package.

The soundtrack too is a carbon copy of the first film. Most of it is pretty forgettable, light-hearted background music, but once Lucius starts traveling through time the opera/classical music bits return. I'm still not entirely sure I understand the point of these scenes, but they add a lot of character to the soundtrack and they're an overall fun addition to the film, so you don't hear me complaining.

Much of the film's appeal rests on the shoulders of Hiroshi Abe, who reprises his role of Lucius. This time around, Abe's looks are even sterner, his puzzlement even more thorough and his stature even more God-like. He's still a perfect match for his character and probably one of the only Japanese actors who could've pulled it off. The secondary cast is fun too, in particular one or two ancient-looking Japanese men (the recluse and the master) who are simply beyond adorable.

screen capture of Terumae Romae II

Terumae Romae II feels like coming home. If you've seen (and liked) the first film, this feels like rewatching one of your old favorites, only with different gags, a different plot and looking a bit more polished altogether, more in line with your slightly exaggerated memories of the first one. Seeing both films back to back would probably ruin that experience, so it's really best to leave some time in between watching both films.

While it's probably best Takeuchi stops the series here, this second film was anything but redundant. It's a nice reprise of the original film, only slightly better, slightly funnier and slightly more well-rounded. What it wins there, it loses in originality of course, but if you're fine with watching an alternate version of the first Terumae Romae, that shouldn't be much of a problem. I'm already looking forward to see what Takeuchi is worth when he moves on to his next project.

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Wed, 25 Feb 2015 11:58:46 +0100
<![CDATA[Johnnie To/x50]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/focus-on-directors/johnnie-to-x50
Johnnie To

Like Hark Tsui and Jing Wong, Johnnie To started his career at the crossroads of the '70s and the '80s. It was a period of great change for the HK film industry, with the Shaw Bros slowly losing grip and a new generation of directors eagerly waiting to carve their own niche. Unlike his peers though, To didn't really take a flying start.

While To wasn't exactly shy for work, his 80s films lack the distinctive qualities that would bring To international fame further down his career. Some of his 80s work is still quite pleasant though. Films like Ji Xing Gong Zhao [The Fun, the Luck & the Tycoon] and Bi Shui Han Shan Duo Ming Jin [The Enigmatic Case] are decent enough films. But then he also made Qi Nian Zhi Yang [Seven Years Itch] and Cheng Shi Te Jing [The Big Heat], real stinkers having little appeal beyond hardcore genre fans and/or To completists.

To rode the waves of the 90s like most other Hong Kong directors. Sam Sei Goon [Justice, My Foot] and Chai Gong [The Mad Monk] are two fun Stephen Chow comedies made during the early 90s. Then there's a noticeable dip during the mid 90s, with Shi Wan Huo Ji [Fireline] as a disappointing low and of course the reboot of the Hong Kong industry nearing the turn of the millennium. With To on the front row, readying himself to rise as one of the stars of Hong Kong crime cinema. Films like Am Zin [Running Out of Time] and Cheung Fo [The Mission] foreshadowed To's true awakening.

He kind of split himself in two after that. On the one hand he kept on making his crime films, with Chuen Jik Sat Sau [Fulltime Killer], PTU and Yau Doh Lung Fu Bong [Throw Down] as notable highlights. On the other hand he teamed up with Ka-Fai Wai for more light-weight and quirky output. A profitable collaboration that yielded some good films. Watch Daai Zek Lou [Running on Karma] and Heung Joh Chow Heung Yau Chow [Turn Left Turn Right] are proof of that.

My favorite To period spans the second half of the 00's, where he combines the quirkiness of his Ka-Fai collaborations with his favored crime setting. Stylish cinematography, off-kilter soundtracks and some general weirdness come together to materialize into some of the best films the Hong Kong film industry has ever seen. My personal favorite is Man Jeuk [Sparrow], but films like Sun Taam [Mad Detective], Fuk Sau [Vengeance] and Fong Juk [Exiled] are also quite dear to me.

The past few years To has been alternating between more commercial crowd pleasers (Daan Gyun Naam Yu [Don't Go Breaking my Heart] and Gao Hai Ba Zhi Lian II [High Altitude of Love II]) and films with larger international appeal (Du Zhan [Drug War] and Man Tam [Blind Detective]). And with three new films in the works, there's no sign of To slowing down any time soon. You certainly don't hear me complaining as To's output has been consistently high the past 10 years. He's become one of the biggest and brightest directors working in Hong Kong and his reputation is more than deserved. He worked long and hard to get where he is today and he has quite the oeuvre to show for it.

Best film: Man Jeuk [Sparrow] (4.5*)
Worst film: Qi Nian Zhi Yang [Seven Year Itch] (1.0*)
Reviewed film(s): Man Tam, Du Zhan, Yau Doh Lung Fu Bong, Fuk Sau, Heung Joh Chow Heung Yau Chow, Sun Taam, PTU
Average rating:3.11 (out of 5)

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Mon, 23 Feb 2015 11:46:21 +0100
<![CDATA[The Fifth Element/Luc Besson]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/fifth-element-review-besson

It's been more than 10 years since I last watched Luc Besson's crazy space opera. Both ode and parody, The Fifth Element is a strange blend of genres, wearing its many influences on its sleeve while making sure it establishes a few memorable scenes of its own along the way. Truth be told, time hasn't been all that kind to this one, but the core of the film remains untouched. It's still a fun film, just not as amazing as I remembered it to be.

screen capture of The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element was the follow-up to Léon, Luc Besson's ( Angel-A) big international breakthrough film. While everyone was waiting for another action/crime epic, Besson went his own merry way and came up with a comedy/fantasy/sci-fi bender. As was to be suspected, not everyone appreciated Besson's bold choice and so the initial reception of The Fifth Element was mixed at best. Over the years though, the film found its niche and nowadays the film enjoys the comfort and protection of a clan of loyal fans.

Besson set out to make a film that pays homage to some of the biggest genre representatives. The early scenes in Egypt are vintage Indiana Jones, the futuristic city is a more colorful version of Blade Runner's metropolis and the birth of Leeloo is strangely reminiscent of project 2501's awakening in Kokaku Kidotai. The Fifth Element never feels derivative though as Besson goes to great lengths to make the material his own, adding to the source material rather than merely copying it.

The story revolves around the fifth element, a mythical element that is supposed to protect the universe from immense harm should the need arise. The secrets of the fifth element are buried deep within one of Egypt's pyramids, guarded from afar by a race of friendly aliens. When evil leader Zorg teams up with a malignant force called Mr Shadow, the universe is running out of time to retrieve the fifth element and to save everyone from doom.

screen capture of The Fifth Element

With the recent resurgence of sci-fi cinema, The Fifth Element has began to suffer on a technical level. The visual effects are underwhelming and the CG just doesn't really cut it anymore. Some shots are clearly geared to awe the audience, but those shots just fall flat now. Luckily the camera work is still more than solid and the sets and costumes still hold their cheesy charm, preventing the film from becoming a typical outdated CG nightmare.

The soundtrack on the other is pretty generic Hollywood fare. It's light-hearted, bombastic and ultimately forgettable. It isn't as annoying as other epic Hollywood soundtracks tend to be, but it's far from good. That is, until the opera scene starts. Out of nowhere Besson pulls out a song that becomes the focal point of an entire scene, perfectly mixed and edited to some pretty slick action antics. The scene became an instant classic and I really wish he'd included more moments like this throughout the film.

Besson did assemble a pretty special cast for the occasion. Bruce Willis is perfect as the smirky action hero, Jovovich plays one of the most memorable roles of her career and Holm is as dependable as ever. Stand-out parts are reserved for Gary Oldman (Besson gets the perfect villain out of him) and Chris Tucker, though his part is best described as extremely polarizing. All in all a pretty great cast, perfectly coached by Besson.

screen capture of The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element is pretty funky space opera, a pastiche that honors its source material, but is also frank enough to poke a little fun at it. Its light-heartedness might surprise unsuspecting viewers, but it's an essential part of the film that is introduced very early on and is exploited until the very last scene. The Fifth Element may be set in the future, but it's probably more fantasy than sci-fi and above all it's a comedy, so hardcore sci-fi fans might think twice before venturing into Besson's wondrous universe.

If only Besson had bet a little less on the special effects. Almost 20 years later they have lost much of their shine, leaving the film looking a bit cheaper than intended. It's a shame because the rest of the film is still as charming and funny as the day it was released. It features a great cast, plenty of smart references and some memorable scenes of its own. The Fifth Element is one of Besson's greatest achievements, a film only he could make.

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Tue, 17 Feb 2015 12:01:58 +0100
<![CDATA[Tokyo Tribe/Sion Sono]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/tokyo-tribe-review-sion-sono

Sion Sono, what a hero! The man's been on a roll the past couple of years and by the looks of it his quality streak isn't bound to end very soon. Tokyo Tribe is his latest film and may very well be very best thing I've seen from Sono so far. Not that I'm 100% comfortable with the film, but when it comes to putting on a blisteringly fun show, Tokyo Tribe delivers from start to finish, leaving no opportunity untouched to squeeze out some extra gags and laughs.

screen capture of Tokyo Tribe

Tokyo Tribe is Japan's first hip-hop gang action comedy. Quite probably, it's also the first hip-hop gang action comedy ever made (but don't quote me on that). It's a pretty outrageous, insane and otherworldly comedy that exists in a universe of its own, two hours of unashamed escapism with nothing else on its mind besides blatant entertainment. It's good to see Sono (Kimyo na Sakasu, Koi no Tsumi, Love Exposure, Ekusute, Tsumetai Nettaigyo, Himizu) letting off some steam once in a while.

The hip-hop part of the genre description doesn't just refer to the scene and setting, Tokyo Tribe is effectively a musical with the majority of the conversations and voice overs packaged as hip-hop music. Sono strikes a good balance between comedy and quality, with the beats and melodies guiding the film's drive. The lyrics and flow do lack some power and rhythm, which I guess may irk the more hardened hip-hop fans. As a more moderate fan though, I think Sono did a pretty great job.

The film is set up as one big gang fight. The different districts of Tokyo are governed by distinctive hip-hop clans, which are all dragged into an ongoing struggle for power. The Wu-Ronz and Musashino Saru clans are spearheading the conflict as everybody is readying themselves for a big show-off. Things get only more entangled when the daughter of a famed priest suddenly shows up in the middle of Tokyo. Much sense it makes not, but that's entirely besides the point.

screen capture of Tokyo Tribe

Keeping with the hip-hop aesthetic, Sono goes for agile camera work and strong, bright colors. But the lengthy tracking shot at the beginning of the film betrays higher aspirations. The beautiful lighting, detailed sets and sharp editing make for a vibrant and sprawling visual experience, rising high above the average hip-hop music video aesthetic. The CG can be a little shabby at times, but it's always functional and it has an obvious comical side (something not everyone will appreciate).

The soundtrack of Tokyo Tribe is clearly one of its main attractions. It's a 2 hour lasting hip-hop movie score that's simply impossible to ignore as it's put front and center throughout the entire film. The rapping itself leaves a little to be desired (though some of the actors were pretty proficient), but the beats and the songs itself are pretty awesome, setting a terrific mood and adding to the film's excruciating pacing.

Sono worked with a pretty vast cast, all of them clearly appreciating the opportunity to appear in this film. Ryohei Suzuki (mostly known from TV series) and Shota Sometani make particularly notable appearances, but there's truly only one man stealing the show here. Riki Takeuchi may not be a very good actor as he can do little else besides uncontrollably over the top, but give him a role that suits him and he just glues your eyes to the screen. Buppa's character is a perfect match for Takeuchi and he gladly goes overboard to deliver one of his best performances so far.

screen capture of Tokyo Tribe

Tokyo Tribe is pretty much perfect, still I felt a little uncomfortable after the film. Nothing to do with the film itself really, but looking at its distinctive qualities, it felt like Sono was treading on someone else's turf. Just consider the atypical musical concept (Katakuri-ke no Kofuku), the shabby but functional and comic use of CG, the gang setup (Kurozu Zero, the adaptation of a comic book and the zany sense of humor. Hell, even Takeuchi's presence adds to the feeling that you're watching a vintage Takashi Miike film. By themselves these points don't make too much of an impression, but put them together and there's a pretty strong connection with Miike's oeuvre. Not that it's a derivative film, it's just that Sono goes with a kind of unique that you would normally attribute to Miike.

That said, it didn't make the film any less enjoyable, on the contrary even. Tokyo Tribe is a killer ride from beginning to end. It's brutal, outrageous, funny, weird and it has a terrific drive. If you dismiss films that are pure escapist fun you shouldn't even venture near it and hardcore hip-hop fans might be a little disappointed by the not-so-album-like quality of the raps, but everyone else is bound to have a real blast with Sono's latest. It will be difficult for him to top this one.

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Thu, 12 Feb 2015 11:23:07 +0100
<![CDATA[Kiyosu Kaigi/Koki Mitani]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/kiyosu-conference-review-koki-mitani

Even though current day Japanese cinema can't really match the quality present ten years ago, there are still enough signs of life that point at a promising, positive future. Koki Mitani's Kiyosu Kaigi (The Kiyosu Conference) is one of those signs. It's not the most outrageously innovative film you'll watch this year, but it's a pleasant, fun and enjoyable romp. It's also the perfect film to get acquainted with Mitani if you haven't seen any of his films before.

screen capture of The Kiyosu Conference

For a while now Koki Mitani has been growing as a director. With his previous film (Sutekina Kanashibari) he finally moved far enough up the ranks to become one of big players. Kiyosu Kaigi builds on that, though it doesn't actually improve on Mitani's previous film. That's not necessarily a bad thing of course, but people hoping to see some progress here might be a bit disappointed. Kiyosu Kaigi is (almost) exactly what I've come to expect from a Mitani film.

There is one big difference with Mitani's earlier films and that's the film's setting. Mitani's work has always been grounded in modern day life, for his latest he travels back into time to recount one of the more important moments in Japanese history. Not a true to life retelling mind, the film is based on his own novel and is quite liberal when dealing with historical facts. Not only that, the film also feels very different from other history-based Japanese films. Much lighter in tone, less grim and serious.

The setup is quite simple. When the head of the Oda clan is killed, the clan is in dire need of a successor. With two eager brothers and a son eyeing the throne though, finding the right candidate is easier said than done. Ikeda and Shibata, two life-long rivals, each pick a favorite for the throne and start rallying to get their candidate in pole position. Both are certain they can win, but convincing their fellow voters proves a lot tougher than expected.

screen capture of The Kiyosu Conference

The color palette for these kind of historical dramas is usually quite muted, dull and overly reliant on brown tints, Mitani breaks with that tradition and turns Kiyosu Kaigi in a warm, colorful film. There's a little CG that stands out just a bit too much, but apart from that the visuals are bright and cheerful, helped by some very solid camera work. It's nothing too out of the ordinary, but those who've seen their fair share of samurai flicks will definitely notice the difference.

The soundtrack too is a lot more upbeat than usually the case with these type of films. It's big, bold and orchestral, with lots of drive and positive vibes rubbing off of it. It does its part in helping to brighten up the atmosphere and while none of the individual tracks made a big impression on me, overall the soundtrack does make a big difference.

Mitani loves to work with big casts (just have a look at the posters for his films), but he truly outdid himself with Kiyosu Kaigi. And it's not just the size of the cast that is impressive, just looking at the actors featured put a big smile on my face. Koji Yakusho and Tadanobu Asano team up, Susumu Terajima has a sizeable role and there are small but fun parts for Ken'ichi Matsuyama and Yusuke Iseya. But the undeniable star of the film is Koichi Sato. Normally I can't stand the guy, but he's perfect here as the goofy but cunning Ikeda.

screen capture of The Kiyosu Conference

Even though the setup is quite simple, the path from there becomes complex real fast, with all forms of treason, scheming and leg-pulling going on. Almost every character has ulterior motives, stretching far beyond the candidate election. Even so, Mitani keeps a clear overview of what's going on, helped of course by the film's generous running time. It never becomes boring though, neither does it start to drag, the film's just to jolly and fun for that.

Kiyosu Kaigi is good, solid, old-fashioned fun. Mitani has a great cast to his disposal and goes with colorful visuals and an upbeat soundtrack. The plot is engaging enough without ever outstaying its welcome. Kiyosu Kaigi is a film that confirms Mitani's talent, even though it does hint at the fact that he might have reached his top. Either way, it's a great way to spend 2+ hours without so much of a worry.

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 13:35:58 +0100
<![CDATA[Xi Feng Lie/Qunshu Gao]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/movie-filler/wind-blast-review-gao
Wind Blast poster

China's Gobi desert is probably one of the most beautiful shooting locations I know of. The barren, dusty and moon-like landscapes and near-deserted concrete towns make for the perfect place to shoot some high-octane action flicks (remember Wu Ren Qu). Director Qunshu Gao (Feng Sheng) is well equipped to bring an ordeal like this to a good end and you don't need to look any further than Xi Feng Lie (Wind Blast) for proof.

There are some meager plot lines hidden away in Xi Feng Lie, but Gao is too busy introducing characters and changing the dynamic between the different groups and coalitions to spend too much time explaining what the hell is happening. Because of that, the first 20 minutes are a little hard to follow and get in to, but once the film gets up to steam only the most hardened plot whore are likely to take offence.

The film is basically one big action sequence, travelling from one location to the next while setting everything up for an explosive 30-minute climax. All the while Gao makes excellent use of the film's setting, so expect rugged, hardened characters, dusty surroundings and a muted color palette. The Gobi desert is not a very hospitable place, that much is certain.

The cast does a good job, even though there aren't too many familiar faces. Jacky Wu is present but in a rather minor role, Francis Ng on the other hand shines as a ruthless assassin. There's also a small role for director Yibai Zhang (Jiang Ai, Mi Guo, Kaiwang Chuntain De Ditie) and a notable performance of Zhang Li. Not that there's much depth to the characters, but as tough action stars they're definitely above average.

Compared to a film like Wu Ren Qu, Xi Feng Lie falls just a little short. The intro is a little too tough to get through and it takes too long before the film really gets up to speed, but once it gets going there's a lot to enjoy here. It's a pretty neat action flick, sporting a phenomenal setting, some solid performances and a memorable finale.

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Mon, 02 Feb 2015 12:50:18 +0100
<![CDATA[Trainspotting/Danny Boyle]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/trainspotting-review-boyle

No doubt that Trainspotting is one of the quintessential films of the 90s. But it's more than that. It's also Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor's big breakthrough, it's the film that grounded modern British gangster cinema (just compare it to early Ritchie films), hell, even Underworld's international success was in part kickstarted by this film. But most important of all, Trainspotting is a film that's still an absolute joy to watch almost 20 years after its initial release.

screen capture of Trainspotting

It's not easy nailing a book adaptation, but with Trainspotting Boyle set out to prove it wasn't quite impossible either. I must admit that I never finished Welsh' book (the Scottish accent was just a little too demanding for me), but from what I've read the film comes rather close to the core of its literary source. Not happy with just adapting the book though, Boyle made Trainspotting into a landmark itself, adding a filmic layer that still feels fresh to this very day.

I admit that I have a pretty big soft spot when it comes to Britsh accents and dialects, so there's definitely a little bias here. Still, the Scottish language is this film is so outspoken, juicy and vivid that it became a bona fide asset rather than a gimmicky distraction, especially when combined with the witty and fast-paced monologues the main character fires at the audience at regular intervals. The "choose life" intro and outro monologues are simply legendary and have earned their place in a small shortlist of best and most memorable scenes of the 90s.

The film itself follows a group of four friends. Rather than build up a life they lose themselves in drugs (heroin mostly), living from one hit to the next. Renton is the smartest of the bunch, but even he has trouble escaping from the clutches of drug-induced bliss. While there is an underlying plot, it's merely an excuse to follow the mischief and extremities of this group of four, though you can at least expect a proper conclusion.

screen capture of Trainspotting

Boyle is known to be a very visual director. While this was already visible in Shallow Grave, with Trainspotting he upped the stakes. Fast-paced editing, freeze frames, beautifully framed shots and some crazy camera angles make for a very lively film. It's clearly the work of someone who was actively working on establishing his visual signature and it still holds a lot of its initial charm. That said, his style has been copied, matched and improved since the release of Trainspotting.

The soundtrack is smart selection of pop tracks that helps to identify the generation leap that runs underneath the film. While Trainspotting starts off with some 70s and 80s rock tracks (and generous references, like the Lou Reed one), it gradually shifts into 90s electronic territory, with groups like Bedrock, Ice MC and Leftfield all getting their moment of glory. The definitive track of the soundtrack is Underworld's Born Slippy though, which Boyle's uses to absolute perfection in the film's climax all the way through to the final monologue. This is how you do a proper soundtrack.

To top it all off, the cast of Trainspotting is quite the colorful bunch. McGregor will forever be remembered as Renton, Carlyle nailed his Begbie character and Welsh himself appears as the sketchy Forrester. But it's Ewen Bremner that takes home first prize as Spud. He never really made it as big as McGregor or Carlyle, but he did manage to portray one of the craziest, weirdest and goofiest characters I've ever seen on film.

screen capture of Trainspotting

In the final 30 minutes the film picks up some crime influences and builds up to an agreeable climax, but that's not really what Trainspotting is about. Instead the film's appeal lies with the antics of the four main characters. Stand-out scenes include the toilet scene, the breakfast scene and Spud's job interview, all moments that have nothing to do with advancing the plot.

While the overall atmosphere of the film remains quite light and playful throughout, mind that Trainspotting is not without its moments of gut-wrenching drama. There's a baby scene that's pretty nasty and not all the characters are blessed with a happy ending. While effective and well executed, these remain solitary moments of drama in an otherwise pleasantly insane film.

Boyle's breakthrough film is pretty crude and edgy, but it's also a cinematic wonderland about a bunch of drug-craving friends, drenched in thick accents. Add Koen Mortier's Ex Drummer as the perfect companion piece and you can ready yourself for an evening of degenerate fun. And even though the film's age is starting to shine through ever so slightly, it's still a great watch with a perfect cast, a superb soundtrack and some neat visual trickery.

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Thu, 29 Jan 2015 11:17:31 +0100
<![CDATA[Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku/Mipo Oh]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/light-shines-only-there-review

It's been a while since I watched a good, gritty, rough and introverted Japanese drama film, not something that's been broadly available the past couple of years. It's nice to see Mipo Oh pick up this type of cinema so elegantly and effortlessly. Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku [The Light Shines Only There] is a strong, intriguing and emotional drama that may not always be easy to watch, but is all the better because of it.

screen capture of Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku

The film reminded me a lot of the mid-2000 films of Ryuichi Hiroki, combining edgy drama with frank sexual scenes and a strong female lead. In the case of Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku though, there's an actual woman in the director's seat, securing a very warm and natural atmosphere that runs throughout the entire film, no matter how vile and disturbing the drama becomes.

Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku was chosen to represent Japan at the Oscars this year. Obviously it didn't get a nomination (I wonder if anyone at the Academy even made it to the end), but it did give the film the international exposure it deserves. Based on a 20-year old novel by Yasushi Sato, the film follows 3 people living their secluded lives in the lower society ranks of Hokkaido. Life isn't easy for them, but somehow they find hope and warmth in each other's company, no matter how dire their situation becomes.

It's not so much a film about poverty itself though, instead Oh focuses on the hardships that life has dealt them. Tatsuo is without a job, dealing with the death of a co-worker he was responsible for. One day he runs into Takuji, a former convict who is trying to make ends meet by working for a local criminal. Chinatsu, Takuji's sister, is working as a prostitute in a small bar, financing the care of her dad who is bedridden after having suffered a stroke.

screen capture of Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku

On the visual side of things, Oh doesn't stray away too much from the expected. Most of the scenes come across as very natural and effortless, though there are moments of stylistic excellence. A few nice tracking shots and some amazing jump cuts, coupled with some beautifully shot twilight moments add some shine to the film. All of these are classic elements of Japanese drama cinema, but they're executed quit nicely indeed.

The soundtrack is up to par, a selection of good but rather typical drama songs that get the job done. It's the sound design that provides real added value here, dropping sounds or highlighting them for extra dramatic effect. When used in combination with the sparse visual trickery it makes for some truly stand-out scenes that lift this film far above the status quo.

The acting is not extraordinary, but it's rock solid nonetheless. Go Ayano and Chizuru Ikewaki both put in a tremendous effort, drawing lots of emotional value from their respective characters, even when their motivations can be a little hard to grasp. I did need a while to get used to Masaki Suda, whose performance is a bit more accentuated. In the end though it's his performance that proves to be crucial to the balance between the harsh drama and the characters' positive outlooks.

screen capture of Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku

On paper Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku is a vile and relentless drama. Characters are abused, do things normal people would never want to be associated with and reside in a place with no real perspective of a better future. And yet, they deal with their problems in a very calm and down to earth way, putting aside their pride in return for a little bit of happiness. The ending is warm and hopeful, something I didn't really expect, but it fits the film remarkably well.

Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku is a surprisingly dark film for Mipo Oh (who, up until now, directed much lighter fare), but it's clear she has a knack for handling edgy subjects in a very respectful and natural manner. The result is a strong, remarkable drama with no weak points and a few stand-out scenes that linger long after the end credits have faded from the screen. A very welcome addition to the dwindling Japanese drama cinema.

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Thu, 22 Jan 2015 10:39:53 +0100
<![CDATA[Meikyu Monogatari/Kawariji, Rintaro and Otomo]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/manie-manie-review

It's not a secret that I have a soft spot for anthology films, animation anthologies in particular are often a sparkling well of creativity. Case in point: Meiky Monogatari (also known as Neo-Tokyo or Manie-Manie). It's a Project Team Argos and Madhouse co-production, adapting the work of Japanese sci-fi writer Taku Mayumura and bringing together a unique combination of talented directors. The result is 50 minutes of animation wonder in a project that easily withstands the test of time.

screen capture of Meikyu Monogatari

The late '80 were a great time for Japanese animation. With films like Tenshi no Tamago, Oritsu Uchugun Oneamise no Tsubasa, Akira, Tonari no Totoro, Kido Keisatsu Patoreba: The Movie and Hotaru no Haka all released in under 4 years time, it was clear that something was bolstering over there. Meikyo Monogatari offered directors Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Katsuhiro Otomo and Rintaro a chance to show the world they deserved a place in that scene.

The first of the three shorts (Labyrinth*labyrinthos) is directed by Rintaro and serves as a small introduction to the other two short films. Even though it's very light on plot, there is a basic storyline about a clock serving as a portal to a labyrinth world, discovered by a little girl and her cat while playing hide and seek. It's a rather experimental short, toying around with outlandish camera angles, novel animation techniques (there are some very limited computer animations in there) and a very unique art style.

Labyrinth is not your typical anime short, then again Rintaro is not your typical anime director. There's also a short continuation at the end of the anthology, making it a rather strange but fulfilling wrapper episode, with enough wonder and stand-out moments to warrant it a "full short" status. Just don't try to make too much sense of it, but approach it as a fever dream with a particular goal that needs to be met to kick off the other two shorts. 4.5*/5.0*

screen capture of Meikyu Monogatari

The second short is called Hashiru Otoko and is directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Kawajiri made a name for himself directing anime classics like Wicked City, Monster City and Ninja Scroll, a very particular type of anime that introduced many boys in the West to the world of Japanese animation during the early 90s ( while also giving it somewhat of a bad rep over here because of the rather graphic gore and erotica that make up a huge part of these films).

Hashiru Otoko is a little different, as it focuses more on its scifi setting and on character development, playing like a darker and more serious version of Takeshi Koike's Redline. The film's about a legendary race car driver who eliminates his opponents with his telekinetic abilities. Things get hairy when his mind is starting to give in and he ends up racing his own mental image. While a bit cruder in style, the build-up of this short is excellent and the pay-off is more than worthy. 4.0*/5.0*

screen capture of Meikyu Monogatari

The final short (Koji Chushi Meirei) is helmed by Katsuhiro Otomo, a year before he would adapt Akira into a feature film. Still new to the field, Otomo used this chance to get acquainted with directing scifi material, something that would help him out when he finally got around to directing one of the biggest anime films ever made. The short tells the story of a young supervisor who is sent to shut down a self-sufficient plant in the middle of the rainforest.

His job is to stop the robots from finishing the plant as they're burning through raw materials, but that's easier said then done since the robots are programmed to deliver the plant on time. It's a cute little short, bristling with small details, crazy animation (Koji Morimoto was on the team as key animator) and quirky ideas. It's not as serious of Otomo's other films, but there's a clear underlying message about AI and robotics that has been gaining traction again the past few years (now that's we're actually nearing technology like the one displayed in this short). 4.5*/5.0*

Meikyu Monogatari (together with Robot Carnival, another 1987 anthology sporting promising names) helped to pave the way for a respectable stream of animated anthology films coming out of Japan. Every few years a couple of directors come together to give the best of themselves, enjoying the freedom to make something that doesn't necessary needs to meet customer demands. They use this freedom remarkably well, which is why these type of films continue to pop up in my list of favorites. If you're into animation, Meikyu Monogatari is a definite recommend. The film has clearly aged, but the animation is still impressive and there's still enough left to wow you into liking it.

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Tue, 13 Jan 2015 13:05:23 +0100
<![CDATA[The Book of Life/Jorge R Gutierrez]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/movie-filler/book-of-life-review
The Book of Life poster

It surprises me to say, but 2014 was actually a pretty decent year for US animation. Sure enough there was still plenty of crap floating around, films like How to Train Your Dragon 2 and The Lego Movie continue to stifle the potential of the genre (and with films like Penguins of Madagascar and Minions coming in 2015 that isn't going to change any time soon), but at least there was some solid counterweight available. I already mentioned The Boxtrolls, The Book of Life should be added to that list.

The Book of Life is produced by Guillermo del Toro and helmed by first-timer feature film director Jorge R Gutierrez (who does have a rather lengthy history in the animation industry). While the influences of roughly 20 years of US CG productions are clearly visible, del Toro and Gutierrez bring a festive Mexican vibe to the table that helps to differentiate this jolly animation from the rest.

Give the film five minutes to settle down. The intro is a little lame, but once the "book of life" story actually starts the beauty of this production quickly transpires. The art style is cute, colorful and unique, sporting smart character designs and amazing environments. Once the characters are transported to the Land of the Remembered it gets even better, evoking memories of the parade sequence in Kokaku Kidotai 2: Inosensu.

But this is a US production, so sadly the film never spends enough time making the most of its beautiful surroundings. It's a bit like constructing an awesome instrumental piece of music and then drowning it out by adding vocals. While there's plenty to admire in The Book of Life, characters keep yapping away and everything is focused on plot progression instead of taking the pacing down a few notches so people can enjoy the scenery. I understand The Book of Life is primarily aimed at kids, but a film like Chasseurs de Dragons did a much better job balancing the two.

Still, The Book of Life is a big step up from other popular US CG animation features. It's a fun film, aimed at younger viewers but with plenty to enjoy for older animation fans. The story is a bit basic, not everything is as funny as it should be (Ice Cube's character didn't really do it for me) and you can pretty much guess how it's going to end, but the flashy Mexican vibe and the amazing art direction more than make up for that. Hopefully other studios will see this as a clear sign that there is a world beyond cheap comedy and plastic animation aesthetics.

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Mon, 05 Jan 2015 12:19:23 +0100
<![CDATA[Delicatessen/Jeunet and Caro]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/delicatessen-review-jeunet

Delicatessen was one of the first films that showed me French cinema had more to offer than just conversation-based dramas and mediocre comedies. It also marked the start of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's career (Micmacs à Tire Larigot, Amélie Poulain), generously assisted by Marc Caro (who received directing credits for his work on Delicatessen). It's one of the oldest live-action films in my list of absolute favorites, so I was quite interested to see how well the film had held up after all those years.

screen capture of Delicatessen

Jeunet and Caro are a unique duo. The cominbation of Jeunet's magical touches and Caro's darker visions make for a film that's both funny and oddly creepy at the same time. While Delicatessen is a comedy at heart, the setting is a dirty, mean micro universe in total disarray. There is no room for beauty here, yet within that grim, dirty place Jeunet dredges up a lot of melancholy and wonder. It's this constant tension between two very different worlds that turns Delicatessen into such a great film.

We're looking at a dystopian future. Food is scarce, meat is a rarity and people pay each other in corn. People get by, but times are tough. Except for a little commune centered around a butchery. The butcher is rich, the people living in his neighborhood are doing relatively well for themselves. Something is off though, but as everyone seems to be in on the secret no outsider is going to find out what is happening in the butchery.

Until Louison shows up on the doorstep of the butchery. He is looking for a place to live and since the previous caretaker mysteriously disappeared the job is his. Louison quickly adapts to his new surroundings, befriending the daughter of the butcher after a fateful encounter with a sleazy mail man. The two are clearly enjoying each other's company, but the butcher isn't too happy with the blossoming relationship between the two and devises a plan to get rid of Louison.

screen capture of Delicatessen

For a film almost 25 years old, Delicatessen still looks stunning to this very day. The sepia filter helps, but Darius Khondji's skills go beyond applying a mere filter. The camera work is less than subtle, featuring plenty of weird camera angles and unique framing, the lighting is exquisite and the settings are fun and detailed (though I assume that's mostly Caro's doing). The original copy is quite grainy and foggy though, so upgrading to an HD version might make for a slightly cleaner experience.

The music on the soundtrack has a classic French vibe, mimicking old French chansons for an extra quirky effect. It's not exactly up to Amélie standards, it's definitely not quite as memorable, but as a companion to the visuals it makes for a very warm, charming and endearing whole. A good soundtrack, even though individual tracks don't really linger as long as they should.

As for the actors, Dominique Pinon is perfect for the role of Louison. He has a very expressive face and posture, granting his character an almost cartoon-like appearance. The rest of the actors is equally well-cast, Jean-Claude Dreyfus in particular impresses as the mean-spirited butcher. Those with a sharp eye may also be able to spot Marc Caro in a tiny cameo (he's one of the "Troglodytes" - an underground counteraction group that pops up during the final act of the film).

screen capture of Delicatessen

Like most of Jeunet's films, Delicatessen is at its best when it's happily ignoring the main plot line. The inhabitants of the butcher's house are a strange and quirky bunch that get up to all kinds of mischief. The toy makers are weird, there's one woman constantly trying to kill herself and the guy pretending to be a frog ... well, there's really no sane explanation for that. The director duo doesn't mind diverging a little to revel in the bizarre world they created, which may not be too pleasing for people who prefer a rigid plot or who don't like Caro and Jeunet's strange sense of humor, but in the end it's what sets Delicatessen truly apart from the rest.

I clearly prefer this film over Amélie, if only for the darker and freakier setting. Caro and Jeunet make an excellent team and while Jeunet has the skills to put out a great film by himself, Caro is dearly missed in his later work. Delicatessen won't be for everyone, it's a bit too bizarre for that, but if you like your film a tad different than it's more than a solid recommendation. From a film nearing its 25th birthday, it's still one hell of a ride.

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Wed, 31 Dec 2014 12:52:56 +0100
<![CDATA[Ryuichi Hiroki/x20]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/focus-on-directors/ryuichi-hiroki-x20
Ryuichi Hiroki

By now, Ryuichi Hiroki shouldn't be a stranger to you. If you've been following this blog you probably bumped into his name before. He may not be the most famous of Japanese directors, but he scored a few minor successes in the early 2000s and found a supporter in me ever since. Like most people Vibrator introduced me to Hiroki's oeuvre, since then I've seen 20 of his films in total.

Hiroki started out in the 80s as a pinku director. Pinku is pretty much synonymous with soft-erotica, apart from the fact that directors get full creative freedom as long as they show enough nudity/sex scenes per film. It's a weird deal, but some directors actually use this freedom tot hone their craft. In Japan it's considered a bona fide way to earn yourself some directorial credits. Big names like Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Sion Sono also started out this way.

Hiroki directed roughly 40 films in 20 years time, most of them completely unavailable to us people in the West. The "real" start of his career is probably the release of Futei no Kisetsu [I Am an S+M Writer] and Tokyo Gomi Onna [Tokyo Garbage Girl] in 2000, two films that showcased Hiroki's knack for human drama.

When he released Vibrator three years later, things started looking up for Hiroki. With the help of Shinobu Terajima (the lead) and Nao Omori, he delivered his first fully-fledged drama. These early Hiroki films still carry quite a few pinky influences, but rather than arouse Hiroki's familiarity with nudity and femininity gave his films a very natural, realistic atmosphere while handling risqué subjects. He's one of the few male directors who can make a believable drama sporting a strong, female lead.

The following five years (2003-2008) Hiroki would release about two films per year. Apart from Bakushi (haven't seen that one yet so I can't vouch for it) and his entry in anthology film Fimeiru these films are all worth watching. The one that touched me the most was Yawarakai Seikatsu [It's Only Talk], a film about a manic depressive woman (Shinobu Terajima again) who learns to deal with her illness. But films like Girlfriend: Someone Please Stop the World, Koi Suru Nichiyobi [Love on Sunday 1 and 2], New Type: Tada Ai no Tame Ni [New Type: Just For Your Love] and M are definitely worth a shot too.

In 2009 Hiroki directed Yomei 1-Kagetsu no Hanayome [April Bride] and Raiou [The Lightning Tree], two films centered more around plot and story instead of characters. It marked the start of a new period in his already lengthy career, in which he would alternate between more commercial and indie work at regular intervals. These story-driven films fail to match the quality of his character-driven work (though they're fine in their own right), luckily he never quite stopped making those. If you're looking for more recent Hiroki films to enjoy, there's always Keibetsu [The Egoists] and Kiiroi Zo [Yellow Elephant]. The rest isn't bad, just not up to Hiroki's usual standard.

If you like drama films, especially the more impenetrable Japanese kind, featuring strong female leads and somewhat risqué setups, then Ryichi Hiroki's oeuvre is an almost inexhaustible source of quality films. They can be quite hard to track down, but it's definitely worth the effort once you get a hold of them.

Best film: Yawarakai Seikatsu [It's Only Talk] (4.5*)
Worst film: Raiou [The Lightning Tree] (3.0*)
Reviewed film(s): Kiiroi Zo, Yawarakai Seikatsu, Kikansha Sensei Keibetsu, M, Koi Suru Nichiyobi Watashi. Koishita, Kimi no Tomodachi, New Type: Tada Ai no Tame Ni, Girlfriend: Someone Please Stop the World
Average rating: 3.72 (out of 5)

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Tue, 30 Dec 2014 11:14:47 +0100
<![CDATA[The Big Film Shuffle/2015 Update]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/blog-updates/top-200-update-2015

After compiling my top 10 of the best films I watched this past year, it's time to get down to some serious business. The yearly update of my list of all-time favorites takes a bit more time and effort, but it's a necessary evil as new films are always waiting for a chance to storm the list, just as somewhat disappointing rewatches are pushed back down the ladder.

There are 16 new entries this year, that means another 16 films have dropped from the tables. Five of the new entries are awaiting review, so I'll give priority to those first. After that it's back to the regular schedule of expanding the list 10 films at a time. A full top 250 by the end of 2015 sounds a little improbable right now, but it's at least a nice goal to have.

The new list of 200 entries can be found at its usual spot.

IN OUT
Miss Zombie (049) Kantoku Banzai! (126) [Glory to the Filmmaker!]
Shi Hun (055) [Soul] Tian Bian Yi Duo Yun (153) [The Wayward Cloud]
Moi-bi-woo-seu (064) [Moebius] 964 Pinocchio (155)
Kaze Tachinu (076) [The Wind Rises] Himizu (159)
Jigoku de Naze Warui (077) [Why Don't You Play in Hell?] Kimyo na Sakasu (160) [Strange Circus]
Mogura no Uta - Sennyu Sosakan: Reiji (095) [The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji] Cheuat Gon Chim (164) [The Meat Grinder]
Geung Si (138) [Rigor Mortis] Gangu Shuriya (173) [Toy Reanimator]
Grand Budapest Hotel, The (147) Mah Nakorn (174) [Citizen Dog]
Hwal (169) [The Bow] Metropia (175)
Jin Yi Wei (170) [14 Blades] Nihon Bundan: Heru Doraiba (176) [Helldriver]
Delicatessen (no review) (172) Oretachi no Sekai (177) [This World of Ours]
Meikyu Monogatari (no review) (190) [Neo-Tokyo] Nintama Rantaro (180) [Ninja Kids!!!]
Eraserhead (191) Yokai Daisenso (186) [The Great Yokai War]
Fifth Element, The (no review) (194) Yume no Ginga (187) [Labyrinth of Dreams]
Trainspotting (no review) (195) Rokugatsu no Hebi (192) [A Snake of June]
Punch-Drunk Love (no review) (199) Wu Qingyuan (196) [The Go Master]
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Mon, 29 Dec 2014 11:14:13 +0100
<![CDATA[Movies 2014/The Highlights]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/movies-2014-top

After 7 years of me doing end of year movie lists you should probably know the drill. No 2014 list for me, my soft spot for Asian cinema means that I will probably have to wait until next year (if not 2016) to watch all the best 2014 films. Instead here's a rundown of the best films I watched throughout 2014. As you might notice, most are from 2013 (Q.E.D.!). If you're looking for the previous editions, here you go: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.

10. R100 (2013)

Hitoshi Matsumoto returns with another crazy comedy. It's pretty much impossible to describe what R100 is about, but if you've seen Matsumoto's other films you should roughly know what to expect. Quality between different scenes varies, the middle part is a bit dull, in contrast the entire finale belongs to the absolute best Matsumoto ever put on film. That alone is reason enough to give R100 a chance.

09. Minuscule - La Vallée des Fourmis Perdues (2013)

Minuscule is clearly aimed at a younger audience, but at the same time it's one of the most charming "bug" animations ever made. It's pretty a much a silent film that mixes real-life footage with little CG creatures. The effect is magical, even when the plot is pretty simple and hardly manages to hold everything together. It might not work as well when you've already seen the short films this is based on, but otherwise it's a superb little charmer.

08. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Wes Anderson finally did it, he cashed in on his potential. The Grand Budapest Hotel may well be his most stylized film and that's a good thing. It's probably also his funniest one, with a strong cast, lots of visual grandeur and a messy storyline that amuses from start to finish. It's 200% Anderson and it was about time he gave us that.

07. Geung Si (2013)

Chinese vampires aren't quite like their Western counterparts. There are no fangs, no stakes, no bloodsucking. Instead they act more like a cross between ghosts and zombies. It's good knowing this when watching Geung Si [Rigor Mortis] because it would be a shame to see Juno Mak's first feature film ruined by faulty expectations. It's by far the most atmospheric horror flick to come out Hong Kong ... ever. Mak's talent knows no boundaries.

06. Mogura no Uta (2013)

Aahhh, Miike is back. Mogura no Uta [The Mole Song] is a culmination of all the good parts of Miike's older work. It's a comedy, it's a crime flick, it has crazy Yakuza gangs and it's also very very weird with plenty of trademark Miiike moments. The all-star cast is clearly in on the joke, the film looks amazing and Miike shows there's still plenty of life left in him. It's the Miike film I've been dying to see the past 10 years.

05. Jigoku de Naze Warui (2013)

Some part of Jigoku de Naze Warui (Why Don't You Play in Hell?) is about Sion Sono's motivation to become a director, The other part is about a crazy bloodbath that embodies the genre-bending fun that characterizes Sono's work. Fumi Nikaido is on her way to great career, Sono is already there and keeping things fresh.

04. Kaze Tachinu (2013)

Quit while you're ahead. It's a strange thing to say about a director who passed his 70th birthday, but as a director Miyazaki is still in his prime. You don't need more proof than Kaze Tachinu [The Wind Rises]. It's a great film to end a sprawling career, an ode to an airplane architect wrapped up in strong moral ambiguity. Miyazaki will be missed, that's for sure.

03. Moi-bi-woo-seu (2013)

It took him a while, but Ki-duk has fully resurfaced. Moi-bi-woo-seu [Moebius] is a tough, relentless film, but it's not all gloom and doom. There's not a single line of dialogue, there's one actress playing two different roles and quite a few graphic scenes. It's reminiscent of the old Ki-duk, only more direct and more powerful. It's a film exclusively for the fans of his older work, others better stay away from this one.

02. Shi Hun (2013)

It took Mong-Hong Chung a while to direct a follow up to Di Si Zhang Hua [The Fourth Portrait], but Shi Hun [Soul] more than makes up for the wait. A superb mix of genres, blending traditional Chinese arthouse with strong, stylized crime cinema. It's a stunning film to look at, it comes with a terrific soundtrack and packs a mean punch. It's not as easy to get a grip on at first, but that just means you're watching something unique for a change.

01. Miss Zombie (2013)

The top spot is reserved for one of my favorite directors. Hiroyuki Tanaka has been recovering slowly for a little creative dip, but even then I hadn't expected such a major leap from him. Miss Zombie is a stylish, black & white arthouse zombie affair that really knows no equal. Superb soundtrack, lush visuals and an intriguing plot make this the best film I've seen all year. Just don't expect a run of the mill horror film, this is really something else.

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Wed, 24 Dec 2014 13:52:56 +0100