Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Asian Language Movies Set in East Asia (Non-Horror)

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling us about them!

I debated with myself this week, East Asian Week: Should I pick two of my All-Time Favorites, both of which are, generally speaking, rather popular films? Or pick some pretty great lesser-known films that people should seek out? Or be completely crazy and pick ALL OF THEM?

Guess which route I picked...

In the Mood For Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000) It is the 60s in crowded Hong Kong. Neighbors Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan (although they might as well be called He and She) discover that their spouses are having an affair. Trying to understand, they start meeting and play-acting as their spouses (he as her husband, she as his wife) to see how the affair may have started, and their relationship grows. In the Mood for Love is one of the most beautiful movies ever filmed, one that enraptured me from practically its very first scene. That it stars Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, two of the most beautiful, charismatic movie stars in the world, certainly doesn't hurt, but it's the beautiful fluidity of cinematographer Christopher Doyle's camera, the incredibly smart music selections, and how director Wong brings everything together that really make this a stunner.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000) Ang Lee's terrifically entertaining wuxia still holds up fifteen years later as a superb exercise in pure storytelling. Effortlessly entertaining and totally engrossing, this is a magical film - pure cinema at its finest. I get downright giddy during long stretches of this, for numerous reasons: Tan Dun's thrilling score, the inventive fight choreography of Yuen Wo-Ping, the pure bad-assery and beauty of Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh.... I love this movie so much, and it never gets old. Ever.

Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950) A terrible crime has been committed, and we find out what happened from five different points of view... but can we ever know what truly happened? By now you've probably heard mention of Rashomon's structure, but that's only one part of the glory of Kurosawa's breakthrough film. To watch Rashomon is to watch a good director turn into a master over the course of one movie. This is another film that is just endlessly entertaining to watch, more than living up to its classic status.

Floating Weeds (Yasujiro Ozu, 1959) The beloved Roger Ebert once said something along the lines of "sooner or later, all film lovers make their way to Ozu", and it's easy to see why. Ozu had an early mastery of staging and framing that marks him as almost a predecessor to Bergman - his camera almost never moves, preferring instead to be set up in one perfect place to watch a scene or moment play out. Floating Weeds is to Ozu what The Man Who Knew Too Much is to Hitchcock: the good early picture that was later remade by an artist at the height of his powers. The story is about a Japanese theater troupe that travels to a small coastal town where the troupe's master has a son... who thinks the man is his uncle (of course). The man tries to make up for lost time, but his current mistress (and leading actress... of course) gets jealous. I love it for many reasons, not the least of which is the insight into Japanese theater, some of the most stylized, complex theater in the world.

Kisses (Yasuzo Masumura, 1957) This sweet little film, the first film of future provocateur Masumura, is a touching little romance that deserves a wider audience. Kinchi and Akiko meet visiting their fathers in prison. They each need 100,000 yen to help their fathers. This has all the freshness and vibrancy of the French New Wave films, which were still a couple of years off. In the film's presentation of its two main characters as lost kids trying to do the best they can for their wayward parents, Kisses feels far more modern than other youth films of the period from other regions, which tended to patronize or moralize to their teen characters/audience. It's almost surprising this story was never adapted by the French or the Brits or even the Americans, given that the story could easily be transplanted just about anywhere. Anyway. It's a great little movie, and may or may not be available for free on YouTube with English subtitles...

BONUS PICK:
The Joy Luck Club (Wayne Wang, 1993) Okay, okay, so TECHNICALLY depending on how you look at it, either half or all of this one actually takes place in the US and is told in English, as the life stories of four Chinese women and their Chinese-American daughters are told through flashback during the course of one party. But I don't care, and much of it uses Chinese dialogue. So there. The movie is rather unjustly forgotten today despite being based on a much-loved and popular novel. No, the movie isn't as good as Amy Tan's novel (the film somehow renders each story much more cliché than the novel), but it's still very respectable, and features some great cinematography and scoring, plus incredible performances from a cast of Asian actresses who so rarely get much, if anything, to do in Hollywood. With all the talk recently on actresses of color who should have better careers (thank you Dell and Drew!), this one was on my mind, as we sometimes forget that Asian Americans are "people of color", too - and they're even less well-served by Hollywood by African Americans.

18 comments:

  1. I've only seen Crouching Tiger, but the rest of these all sound intriguing. I'll have to add them to my watch list.

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    1. Oh please do! They are all great films that deserve to be seen.

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  2. I'm not participating this week, my knowledge in this particular genre is beyond thin but I've seen two of your picks.

    Crouching Tiger is visually beautiful, the action is wonderfully staged and I love Ang Lee as a director but I just didn't connect with the film. I didn't hate it I just didn't care for it all that much.

    I put off seeing The Joy Luck Club for years but finally caught it recently and really liked it. It was great to see France Nuyen again. It was heartbreaking but beautifully acted.

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    1. ...yeah, I went on a bit of an Asian kick a few years back and that's the only reason I had so many to choose from for this (although for Southeast Asian week....). I would highly recommend Kisses to you - Hitomi Nozoe (the lead actress) is just lovely.

      Knowing how much you love actresses, I would recommend the works of Kenji Mizoguchi (particularly The Life of Oharu and Street of Shame), Kon Ichikawa's The Makioka Sisters, and anything with Lingyu Ruan (especially The Goddess), including the biopic of her with Maggie Cheung, Center Stage.

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  3. Finally, someone picks In the mood for love! And dang, another Rashomon.

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    1. ...and I was afraid too many other people would pick it! I'm so glad I decided to go whole hog and just do all of these. More people need to see them!

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  4. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE!!!!!!!!!!

    Yes!!!!!

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    1. It's at #4 on my list of All-Time Favorites. So fucking beautiful it hurts.

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  5. Love Crouching Tiger which is one of my picks. I must see Rashomon-always wanted to. The first film looks like a beautiful note on love, marriage, loyalty and fidelity. I will make a note on that as well

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    1. In The Mood for Love is just gorgeous. And the last scene is one of the most perfect things I've ever seen.

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  6. I've seen Crouching Tiger and Rashomon. Both are fantastic. I cant' tell you how many times I've been deciding between Joy Luck Club and some other movie and just went with something else. I promise I'll get to it one of these days. Great picks.

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    1. Please give into the (admittedly very feminine) charms of Joy Luck Club. I was honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

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  7. The first three are awesome! Especially, Wong Kar wai's. Rashomon is quite tricky for me, 'cause I read the novella prior to the movie, and it kinda bent my perception.

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    1. Wow, I don't know anyone who's read the novella of Rashomon!

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  8. Rashomon bros! Nice! The only other one I've seen here is Crouching Tiger, which is just breathtaking. I adore that film, but used it for the Oscar winners category way back in the winter. I so need to see some Ozu. I have yet to do it. He is one of my next ventures.

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    1. What I love most about Ozu is the humanity that seems to be missing from the films of other such perfectionist directors (namely Kubrick and Bergman). He's not even remotely chilly.

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  9. I love In the Mood for Love, it was so beautiful.

    Oh, I really wanted to put a no Hollywood caveat in the theme but have somehow forgot and was reminded by this when I saw your Joy Luck Club pick and someone else picked Letters from Iwo Jima. My intention for the theme was for everyone to discover movies from other places, about the people from those places, told by the people from those places, in their local language and not through the lense/filter of Hollywood. So I'll be putting a no Hollywood caveat in the other similar future themes.

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    1. ...yeah, that's why I only included Joy Luck Club as a "Bonus" pick. I knew I was skirting around the rules a bit. :-) It's just that it's such a hidden gem now that I wanted to feature it.

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