Once In A Summer


Director: Joh Geun-Shik
Cast: Lee Byung-Hun, Su-Ae
RunTime: 121 mins
Genre: Drama (Korean)
Rating: PG

(This entry is contributed by Moviexclusive writer Darren)

We always joke about the predictability of Korean love dramas. The use of symbols, the bittersweet end, usually brought about by the death of one of the protagonist by some sudden dilapidating disease or disappears, is almost a must have. I suppose you could look at it that way that inherently all Korean romances are doomed, and ultimately boring. But that would be unfair.

The beauty of such films lies in the way the story is told. Credit must be given to the Koreans for coming up with a thousand and one ways of telling this same story. And though Director Joh Geun-Shik’s Once in a Summer may not be the saddest or the most brilliant film to come out of the Peninsula, it possesses an alluring, almost poetic-like sensibility. A simple and sentimental love story that works.

The characterisations of the main leads are by no means two-dimensional. The fragile and beautiful Jung-in (Su-Ae) struggles with continuing loss and tries to fit into a village after her once pioneering parents defected to the North. And we feel for the handsome Suk-Young (Lee Byung-Hun) who charms his way into the sweet girl’s heart but later forced to renounce his love. The movie truly belongs to these two actors, who have made it their own. The audience is captivated, both by their funny and charming courtship and by the harsh, sudden and maddening break up by government and family.

The dichotomy between rural village and the urban center of Seoul is used to great effect. The pair court in a carefree and slow moving countryside. “Ten days are forever” indeed. Though it takes up more than half of the film, we are never bored and never tire at the sweet little moments the two share. The sudden and heart-wrenching turn of events (in less than 20 minutes!) that eventually separate (and reunite) the couple maybe a tad exaggerated, but serves as a reminder that it all takes just one small circumstance to ruin an otherwise wonderful and good thing.

In many films of this genre, predictability may be the word du jour, and Once in a Summer is no different. However, it benefits from some clever writing and the film is filled with small, memorable and magical moments. These are one of the strongest points of the film. The simple but revealing resolution will leave your heart heavy but warm.

Once In A Summer - Almost Perfect

Happy Birthday


Director: Jingle Ma
Starring: Rene Liu, Louis Koo
RunTime: 104 mins
Genre: Romance (Chinese)
Rating: PG

(This entry is contributed by 1003 part-time presenter Yan Wen.)

It is true that things are often better when they are not probe any further, especially in movies. To leave them in a condition where the audience could feel the emotions yet not being exploited by it is the most ideal. Happy Birthday is one such movie. The plot didn’t manage to impress, as it has stayed within one’s expectations.

Even the tear-jerking ending rings a bell. What makes the movie good is the meticulous display of emotions and the performance by Renee Liu. You may be able to relate to the dilemma M (Renee’s character) has for her love and expectations, or it is just happening to someone around you. Although having Louis Ku may seems a bit too gimmicky, but the overall presentation is still worth the time and the tears.


Happy Birthday - For the sentimental 给多愁善感的人

Little Children


Director: Todd Field
Cast: Kate Winslet, Jennifer Connelly, Patrick Wilson
RunTime: 130 mins
Genre: Drama
Rating: M18 (Some Sexual Content)

After Babel and Bobby, Little Children is the next Golden Globe nominated piece that deals with a multi-narrative plot. It is set around a bland suburban setting with housewives making judgements – Desperate Housewives it is not.

Human beings are imperfect. They find consolation and yet conflict in one another, ending and resolving in a final 'crash'. (Which other movie have we seen this before?) The four people involved – a feminist mother making out with a househusband, and an imperfect policeman harrassing for the sex offender.

It can be disturbing that what I remember of Little Children was the love making scene of Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson and the narrator. Kate Winslet (appearing almost naked in every film) is compelling during these scenes, as she shows her vulnerability, guilt and yet the willingness to break free. Patrick Wilson, after being a psycho in Hard Candy, provides adequate eye candy for female fans.

The movie is carried through with probably one of the best narration I ever heard, the lines witty and thought provoking. Like the suburban setting, it is uncomfortably slow paced for a purpose, for you to feel and acquire. Unfortunately, the movie scatters in the 2nd half, spreading itself thin dealing with several flawed characters.

With a lesson dealing with humanity: We see others as imperfect, but how have we seen ourselves?

Little Children – An imperfect movie about imperfection



Director: Emilio Estevez
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Christian Slater, Helen Hunt, Laurence Fishburne, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Martin Sheen, Elijah Wood, Sharon Stone, Freddy Rodriguez, Nick Cannon, Emilio Estevez, Lindsay Lohan, Heather Graham
RunTime: 116 mins
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG

Conversation with my friend Meiyan (MY).

BB: Bobby’s not too bad. It’s just a bit long.
MY: Yes, I felt so bored at the front and the middle.
BB: So many actors. Frodo looks weird in the movie with Lindsay Lohan.
MY: But I like this couple’s story and the one about Samantha and her shoes. I can totally understand what women want.
BB: It’s by Helen Hunt.
MY: Her husband quite famous too right? Too many stories lah.
BB: Yah, not enough depth. The story did not pick up till the assassination of Kennedy. Not all the stories are good. Quite redundant.
MY: I don’t like the hair dresser. (Sharon Stone) But Demi Morre quite diva ah.
BB: Her boyfriend acting as the hippie drug dealer. Can’t even recognise him.
MY: Is it? Anyway, it all happened in a hotel. Wasn’t Kennedy killed in a car?
BB: That’s John F Kennedy. This one is the senator Bobby Kennedy.
BB: Anyway, can help me write something about this movie?
MY: Don’t want. I don’t know what to write.

BB: Me too...

Nonimated for Golden Globes Best Picture, Bobby is presented in a multi-narrative storytelling with contemporary issues set in the 1960s. It traces the assassination of Bobby Kennedy through interpersing documentary-styled footages and fictional acting (similar to The Queen in terms of technique). Boosting a stellular cast, it is a classic example of "too many cooks spoil the broth".

Bobby – Heavy but overcrowded



Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Rinko Kikuchi, Adriana Barraza, Koji Yakusho, Michael Pena, Clifton Collins Jr., Elle Fanning
RunTime: 142 mins
Genre: Drama / Race Relations
Rating: M18

Babel (from Wikipedia): God, observing the unity of humanity in the Tower of Babel, resolves to destroy the tower and confuse the previously uniform language of humanity. This story is sometimes used to explain the existence of many different languages and races.

The movie: A story of victims of fate due to language, mistakes, fate and miscommunication, it converges 4 stories. Whatever we do, we are not alone. Here are some numbers:
144 minutes
25 million budget

21 grams director
20 people

7 Golden Globe nomination
6 families
5 times I looked at my watch
4 intertwined stories - Morocco boys with guns / Mexican nanny with children / American husband with gun shot wife / Japanese dumb girl with sexual needs 3 countries (Morocco, Mexico and Japan)
2 tits exposed (by rising Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi)
1 excellent actress wasted (Cate Blanchett)
1 excellent actress discovered (Adriana Barraza playing the nanny)
1 Golden Globe for Best Picture (Drama)
1 disappointing movie (possibly due to overly high expectations) , and
1 crash wannabe

Babel – Ambitious but one story too much



Director: Mel Gibson

Starring: Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez, Jonathan Brewer, Morris Bird, Carlos Emilio Baez, Amilcar Ramirez, Israel Contreras Vasquez
RunTime: 139 mins
Genre: Action / Mythology / History

Rating: M18

Hostel in a Mayan Jungle.

There is really astonishing what Mel Gibson can do. After the award winning Braveheart and controversial Passion of Christ, he has brought us another historical piece of the downfall of Mayan civilisation. Filmed with a cast of unknowns, with a native Yukatak Maya language, he tries to retain as much authenticity as possible as he did with Passion.

Violent! Bloody! Politically incorrect! Racist! Insane! Never mind what historians and critics say. For an entertainment seeking moviegoer like myself, I was thoroughly absorbed throughout the 139 minutes. Not one minute did I find it tiresome and boring, and the intense action kept adrenalin running.

Never mind there were beating hearts (literally) and rolling heads. Mel Gibson wants to shock, and he knows it. Guys will probably not mind it as much as girls who may find it excessively graphic and violent.

Mel Gibson has achieved movie magic with his ambition of crafting a visual spectacle with ancient civilisation. As Jaguar Paw journeys though invasion, fear, courage and hope, you just want to watch the movie again. As for criticisms that the people were too brutal, the truth is: Human haven’t changed much over 3000 years, have we?

Apocalypto – Violent but brillant!

Pan's Labyrinth


Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Ariadna Gil, Doug Jones
RunTime: 105 mins
Genre: Fantasy / Horror (Spain)
Rating: NC-16 (Some Violence)

Fairytale for adults; Alice In Wonderland meets Saw.

Good stories work when there is a conflict. In Pan's Labyrinth (also known El Laberinto del Fauno), two worlds that never seem to cross paths come together in parallels. One world is the harsh reality of a civil war in Spain, with a family and army controlled by an atrocious captain. The other is a mysterious labyrinth, where a little girl has to complete 3 tasks to become a princess of an enchanted world. In the process, she faces a giant toad and hideous baby-eating creature.

Which is more frightening? A pale face monster or a human being? This fairytale may push you to the darkest side of the human world and reality. Or it may entice you with its magical fantasy world of fauns and angels.

In any case, it is a visual spectacle despite its small budget of US$5 million, highlighting Guillermo Del Toro's craft in this genre. The soundtrack was equally magical. Its play with mystical symbols and remarkable storytelling has thrilled viewers and critics all over the world, earning a Golden Globe nomination.

The strange thing was, though I was not thoroughly excited during the process of the movie, its impact on me stayed on for quite some time. This is one movie for you to think about, with a haunting lullaby to hum along for a long, long time.

Pan's Labyrinth – A haunting fairytale for adults. Fantastic.

The Illusionist


Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell
RunTime: 109 mins
Genre: Drama / Magic
Rating: PG

Somehow we seem to have forgotten how important timing can be to a success for a film. The Illusionist, in many ways similar to The Prestige, just picked a wrong time to be released here.

Fans of magic and thrillers were treated to Prestige by Huge Grant a few months back. Although reviews have been generally positive, the peculiar and somewhat predictable ending marred some of the initial build-up.

The Illusionist is in many ways similar. Edward Norton plays a magician in Europe during the old 20th century. His special trick was to make things disappear and appear. While he can do almost everything, he cannot keep his love Sophie (Jessica Biel) as they are separated by wealth and status.

I will not say much in order not to spoil your viewing pleasure. The whole piece was a more direct, intense piece of mystery thriller, without the complications and problems with logicality that Prestige may have. However, its box office may suffer a slight setback due to a precedence of similar themed movies and the influx of Academy-type films.

Although I half-suspected the type of ending, I still thought it was quite a smart one. It definitely leaves up to expectation and its catchphrase "Nothing is what it seems".

The Illusionist – Magical and mysterious. It's better than what it seems.

Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (Japanese)


Director: Miike Takashi
Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Masanobu Ando, Shunsuke Kubozuka, Kiyohiko Shibukawa
RunTime: 1 hr 25 mins
Genre: Drama (Japanese)
Rating: M18 (Mature Theme)

The world is unknown. The space is undefined. The time is far away in the future. The love is between 2 men.

Highly abstract, it is directed by Takashi Miike known for bizarre pieces such as Izo. Is this a love story between a gentle murderer and a tattooed gangster? (Another stereotypical portrayal) Or a solve-the-crime murder story? Perhaps it is just an expression of art form by the director.

A dance sequence, a butterfly, a faraway rocket, and a group of gay prisoners dressed in yellow stepping over dirty laundry, the movie is full of symbols and psychological questions. At times, it felt like watching a drama in a black box.

The sexual tension between the young men locked in an unknown cell was quickly replaced by another narrative of a murder story. You either love it to bits or hate it for being too self-indulgent. It left me feeling rather frustrated.

Big Bang Love, Juvenile A – Style over substance

Gridiron Gang


Director: Phil Joanou
Cast: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Xzibit, Kevin Dunn, Leon Rippy
RunTime: 120 mins
Genre: Sports Drama
Rating: PG

Football (not soccer) is a big thing in the states, and countless movies were dedicated to it, from Remember The Titans and The Longest Yard.

Gridiron Gang is another film who falls into the cookie-cutter of an inspirational sports movie – delinquents who find team spirit, respect and confidence though sports. You know the start, the middle and the end.

The formulistic story of black juveniles discoverting themselves through their interest (such as Take the Lead, Step Up etc) may not interest you. There is nothing really new in the movie, and the quotes on dreams and inspirations can be a little to cheesy to the cynical movie-goer.

Before you dismiss this movie totally, "The Rock" shows that he CAN act, and not just as a scorpion king or mafia boss. His role as probation officer and coach Sean Porters balances with enough dynamism and emotions.

The best parts are at the end. Do stay to end to watch the credits, and you realize that it IS based on a true story. As for the cheesy lines, they are actually not scripted!

Gridiron Gang – Formulistic but still inspirational



Director: Allen Coulter
Cast: Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck, Diane Lane, Bob Hoskins
RunTime: 127 mins

Genre: Drama
Rating: NC-16 (Nudity)

Talk about Hollywood, and you think about celebrities, fame, glamour, lies and an extravagant lifestyle. Perhaps, perhaps not.

Fame comes with a price. Hollywoodland is about partly about being typecast. Everyone in Hollywood is typecast. People typecast themselves. Do you?

'Superman' George Reeves killed himself in 1959 from depression. After everybody identifies him as the Man of Steel, he could not move on to other roles. The curse of Superman. You start to think about other actors from Toby Mcguire, Elijah Woods, Daniel Radcliffe and even Brandon Routh. Will they be able get a 2nd memorable role after climbing buildings and casting spells?

Ben Affleck returns for a second spring in his career playing George Reeves, after a Bennifer affair and flops like Gigli half ruined his acting career. Adrien Brody, who plays the private detective investigating Reeve's suicide, hasn't had a career breakthrough yet after his Oscar win. The charming Diane Lane plays yet another old and lonely lady having an affair with a younger man. Typecast?

With parallel stories of a fallen actor and a failing detective, the pace is extremely slow and does not pick up. With credible performances by cast, it has 'Oscar-wannabe' written all over it. Unfortunately, it lacks oomph and the detective story detracts audience from what Hollywoodland should portray – the life of actors and the land of Hollywood.

Hollywoodland – One half of the story is good

The Painted Veil


Director: John Curran
Cast: Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Anthony Wong
RunTime: 125 mins
Genre: Drama
Rating: NC-16 (Scene of Intimacy)

Edward Norton must be one of the most versatile actors around, taking roles from the violent American History X and Fight Club, a charming magician in Illusionist and a love forlorn doctor in The Painted Veil.

He went on to produce The Painted Veil with Naomi Watts despite all odds, especially the industry lack of confidence in a love epic. Cultural barriers were plenty, American-based Norton, Australia-based Watts with actor Hong Kong-based Anthony Wong had to deal a British based piece filmed in China. We all know how difficult it is to get a film permit in China.

The story: When an extra-marital affair is exposed, the husband takes revenge by bringing her along to China to fight cholera. It seems absurd to any woman, but the spoilt wife learns more than just love on this journey.

The love story is not typical, and the two seem an unlikely couple, one boring and one fun loving. As the story slowly unfolds, you feel more for the two leads who gave credible performances.

This movie may not attract the typical entertainment seeking moviegoer. The pacing is slow and ending rather predictable. Like the love between the couple, the attraction to this movie is not immediate. The beauty lies in its intricacy, its brilliant dialogue, and the picturesque cinematography of Guilin, China. Complete this with the nominated score with Lang Lang playing Gnossienne No 1, it's like fine English tea on a Sunday afternoon.

The Painted Veil – Love knows no boundaries

The Last Dance 茶舞


Director: Max Makowski
Starring: Francis Ng, Joseph Quek, Ti Lung, Vivian Hsu, Harvey Keitel
RunTime: 101 min
Genre: Thriller
Rating: NC-16 (Some violence and coarse language)

High expectations normally come with huge disappointments.

I was looking forward to this local production, boosting a strong cast of Francis Ng, Ti Lung, Vivian Hsu and Harvey Keitel, and directed by Max Makowski (Queer Eye for the Straight Eye), but ended up feeling frustrated.

Here's what went wrong: Francis Ng's soulful performance was marred by bad dubbing. In fact, everybody had bad dubbing. The second male lead, local actor Joseph Quek (The High Cost of Living) needed more experience to carry the role of a funny gangster Ko that Chapman To would have carried off better. The other three foreign talents (Ti Lung, Vivian Hsu and Harvey Keitel) were just reduced to token stereotypical role, playing a police, damsel and mafia boss.

Parts that were supposed to be funny were not (run on the mill jokes) and parts that were serious became funny. Blame it on a mass splatter of CGI blood, bad dubbing again (especially for Hossan Leong and Dennis Chew), and a very contrived script for metaphorical symbols.

This crime thriller is described as a jigsaw puzzle. After an agonizing first hour, with the pieces all over the place, the final jigsaw was placed together haphazardly.

The Last Dance was not without merits. It boosts beautiful cinematography of local mise-en-scene (a lovely Seng Poh Road) and stylish editing. But a tighter script and acting classes would have helped.

The Last Dance – Sometimes, you don't have to try too hard

Fast Food Nation


Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Avril Lavigne, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Ethan Hawke, Bruce Willis
RunTime: 113 mins
Genre: Drama
Rating: M18

Will you still eat your burger even though there is s*** in it?

The answer is likely, because life is full of s*** as well. The urban legend of a fried rat didn't turn people off the chicken chain as well. We have hear so much of the evils of fast food, but few can resist the temptation of it. Strange. It's not even delicious in the first place.

Expect no Super Sized Me. Made up of an ensemble cast of Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke, Bruce Willis and Ashley Johnson, each of them tell a different story which attempts to preach than convince. It is also unfortunately rated M18 when the target should be teens.

Fast Food Nation attempts to look at the industry from a marketer, improvished Mexican immigrant, student counter staff, and cynical youths points of view. The end result was long dialogues and very separate directionless stories.

The final few scenes were very powerful though. It made me stay off burgers for some time. I havn't eaten my favourite CJ yet since the movie. Yet.

Fast Food Nation - Stay off bull and s*** for just a while

Stranger Than Fiction


Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, Emma Thompson
RunTime: 113 mins
Genre: Comedy
Rating: PG

I am glad start the year with a movie which was both sweet and warm. The last time I tear and laughed at the same movie was a long time ago, and would least expect it from a comedy starring Will Ferrell.

He was irksome in Bewitched, irritating in The Producers and forgettable in Talladega Nights. I take my words back after Stranger than Fiction. Facing initial inhibitions of wasting my $9.50 (yes, I paid for this movie), I was persuaded a Today reviewer who told me this movie was very touching.

Ferrell plays a boring IRS auditor Harold Crick, who suddenly finds himself the subject of narration only he can hear: narration that begins to affect his entire life, from his work, to his love-interest, to his death. Emma Thompson is wonderful (again) as the chain-smoking narrator which reads out as every line with an impeccable delightful accent. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman and Queen Latifah were also refreshing as the supporting cast.

Stranger Than Fiction may not be your typical 4-star movie as it is lightweight and lacks the cinematic qualities (can watch on DVD). The story is ironic and original and screenplay worthy of many quotable quotes. It leaves one much thought provoking, especially if you are one like Harold Crick walking in and out of life without thinking about it.

At the end of the movie, you may ask yourself, "What good do you want to do?"

Stranger Than Friction – Like reading a good book

The Queen


Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Sylvia Syms
Time: 97 mins
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG

Helen Mirrens’s quiet and powerful performance as Queen Elizabeth II is almost a shoo-in for Best Actress for the Oscars. The only person who may wrestle it from her should be the catty Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.

She plays the queen with much intricacy that every movement, walk, way she carries her bag, and of course that unmistakable crisp accent perfected to a T. Match that to her costume, wig and spectacles, you start to forget Mirren was once known for being a sex symbol.

This movie brought back a lot of memories in 1997 when Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris. The whole world mourned. Strangers from as far as Singapore who didn’t know her or read about her started paying much attention to her life. The magnitude was unimaginable and as a teen, I glued myself to the goggle box at her interviews and ceremonies.

More people remembered Candle at the Wind, but not so much of what Queen Elizabeth did, or didn’t do. The movie shows another side of her, another side of the story. Interspersed with old footages and gathered from interviews, the movie almost seems so real.

The Queen has sensitively left out the two young sons out of the picture which was a right move. Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) had a significant screen time and much is hinted on his current political situation. This is not only a story about the queen and Diana, but the manarchy and party, media and people, and life and choice as well. Blair's statement "Will someone please save these people from themselves!" probably sums everything up.

The Queen – Class performance

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