What local films have been playing on movie screens in Asia in recent weeks? And will any of them travel to North America?
With students flocking back to school, collegiate romantic comedy Star Crossed Love is well-timed. Debuting at the recent Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, Star Crossed Love is set in modern Manila, revolving around a "friends with benefits" relationship between a poor, geeky boy (Edgar Allan Guzman) and a rich, hot girl (Mercedes Cabral, Serbis, Thirst).
"Very little actually happens in the movie in plot terms but, thanks to the insouciant dialogue … and the performances of the two leads, it makes engrossing viewing for most of its length," writes Derek Elley at Film Business Asia. "For a movie about a relationship that appears to be entirely based on lunchtime quickies the nudity by both [Cabral] and Guzman could be said to be integral to the movie. And it's certainly not the main attraction: what keeps the thin story motoring is the pure chemistry between the two players." Elley suggests that the film's best shot of gaining further exposure is through festival and niche TV play; keep an eye out for Star Crossed Love at regional Asian-American fests in the months ahead. In the meantime, you can watch the trailer, which is embedded below.
Sequels plague the film industry worldwide, but in the case of The Legend of King Naresuan Part IV, the sprawling subject matter may actually justify multiple films. The promised "huge fighting herd of pachyderms" did not make the final cut for the latest installment of the series, says local film journalist Wise Kwai, but "there's enough battle footage – some of it shot for the first two installments back in 2007 – to cobble together another violent and bloody chapter from ancient Siamese history."
Wise Kwai has details on the plot and the stars, and points to the NSFW (for violent content, including a graphic beheading) trailer as well. The first two installments of the series have been issued on DVD, and it's likely that the remaining chapters will also find their way to home video. And the elephants have been promised again for the next sequel, due in December.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is a quiet work of art, a meditation on life and death, set amidst beautiful scenic atmospheres somewhere near the intersection of reality and the place where ghosts are born. After playing at major international film festivals last year, it received a limited theatrical release and is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and On Demand. Critical response has been very positive; both of our critics, Dave White and Grae Drake, gave it high marks as well.
The second oldest director in the world has made his final film. Kaneto Shindo, 99 years of age, announced last year that Post Card would be his last word on cinema. Lest you think that it's "a geriatric shuffle through the attic of memory," assures Mark Schilling at Japan Times, "it has a striking relevance to the present moment, with a plucky heroine forced to restart her life after everything collapses around her."
The story concerns the victims of war, whether they be the women left behind when their husbands are killed in action, or the soldiers who manage to survive. Yet "the sentimentalism dripping from those stories is nowhere to be found," says Schilling. "In its first half especially, [it] is darkly comic in tone. The patriotic fervor on loud public display — all the marching and singing and shouting — is a front; in private, baser needs and desires bubble up, from the nakedly sexual to the unabashedly selfish." Unfortunately, Post Card is unlikely to be easily seen outside Japan; it's received scant play at festivals and, as a wartime drama, doesn't have any genre trappings to attract more mainstream interest.
The latest film from Sabu stands a slightly better chance at making the festival rounds, even though the prospects of a home video release are slim. Born Hiroyuki Tanaka, a name he still uses as an actor, the writer / director has made a series of strikingly original films since Non-Stop, his 1996 debut. (Steve Dollar at Greencine Daily wrote an excellent overview of Sabu's career on the occasion of a recent retrospective in New York.)
Bunny Drop (pictured), his latest, opened in Japan last weekend. Again we turn to Mark Schilling's review: "Based on a popular comic by Yumi Unita, Bunny Drop departs slightly from formula in that the 30-year-old salaryman hero, Daikichi (Kenichi Matsuyama), actually volunteers to raise 6-year-old Rin (Mana Ashida), the love child of his recently deceased grandfather." Perhaps needless to say, the film does not play out as those who saw and loved similar-sounding Hollywood fare (i.e. Three Men and a Baby) might expect, though Schilling concluded that the film "makes for a curiously uninvolving experience." Still, there are many Sabu fans among festival programmers, which gives Bunny Drop a leg up.
Last weekend, Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon again topped the box office charts in South Korea. In its second week of release, the historical action epic continued to draw audiences with its story of a young man searching for his sister and her fiancee after the long-running Chosun Dynasty in Korea is attacked by the Chung Dynasty of China. The film stars Park Hae-il (Memories of Murder, The Host), reunited with his Paradise Murdered director Kim Han-Min.
The Korean-language official site features a photo gallery and music video, with a romantic song playing over a rampaging army, a man and woman being dragged through the dirt with ropes around their necks, and more bow and arrow action than you're likely to have seen in years.
This kind of action film has a decent chance of securing a home video release overseas. As a minimum, it should earn some specialized festival screenings.