Saturday, February 10, 2007

A bad patch of viewings

It happens every now and then when I run across a bad patch of films. However, I just didn't expect it to be from this collection of 4 films, 2 of which are efforts from world class directors at the start of their careers and a third was a promising director's second film.

Novo (2002, Director Jean-Pierre Limosin):

Eduardo Noriega plays Graham, a man who can't form long term memories and as a result forgets things right after they happen. In order to remember people and facts around him, he makes notes and sticks them in places. This aspect of the story is the only similarity with Memento as the rest of the film is set-up to be romantic sex film with some dry humour. Even though the film is visually sharp with some slick editing, I didn't find it interesting enough. The sex and relationship story-line seems dull and eventually I lost interest.

Shanghai Triad (1995, Director Zhang Yimou): Rating 7/10

Long before Johnny To directed his Election films, Yimou made his own triad film. The big difference is that Shanghai Triad is seen primarily from the eyes of a 14 year old boy who finds himself working for Shanghai's biggest mob boss. The other key character of the film is the mob leader's mistress played beautifully by Gong Li. The little boy's expressive eyes steal the show along with some slick cinematography. However, the first half of the film is dull and sluggish.

Ashes of Time (1994, Director Wai Kar Wong):

The poor quality of the DVD and the frustrating black subtitle bar which took up almost 30% of the screen certainly tarnished my viewing experience for this film. That being said, this is unlike any Wai Kar Wong film that I have seen. Ashes of time is a philosophical action film set in a stunning desert (which looks amazing thanks to Christopher Doyle's camera-work). I can't judge this film properly as having seen lavish productions such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero and House of Flying Daggers, the poor DVD quality really made Ashes of Time a difficult watch. Although having sat through the entire film one way or another, I know there is merit in this movie. I just rather wait to see if in the future a sharper DVD verison would be released.

Anwar (Director Manish Jha): Rating -- painful viewing

I loved Manish Jha's first feature film Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women which was an intelligent work. So I was really looking forward to his second effort. I had already grown to love Anwar's haunting soulful music and the film's colorful posters and trailers indicated a promising film. But it is sad to see so much promise go to waste. I truly feel this could have been a very good movie with some better acting, editing and a finer tuned screenplay. The needless item number song and the annonying edition of a few characters (Rajpal Yadav for one) really weighs down the film. In the end, the story boils down to a love story wrapped around a political religious theme. I can see what Manish Jha wanted to do. He wanted to use an isolated incident to mirror the current state of religion and politics in India. One man's story in a temple was to have been a spring-board into the tense relationships that existed between different classes and individuals in India -- aspects of young romance, heart-break, jealousy, friendship, corrupt political leaders, policemen, media, journalists, thugs, etc would all have been covered by this one story. Unfortunately, the end result is simply unwatchable.

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