Eighty Eight (Movie Thoughts: Lucky Grandma)

I expected a whole different film in ‘Lucky Grandma’ before seeing it, and I don’t know where I got the different idea from – its poster? its marketing? I thought i would be watching a quirky comedy, but Sasie Sealy’s film is something different – a thriller/action film with a very unlikely protagonist – a Chinese grandma who relied on old school fate only to be played by it. Tsai Chin, playing Grandma Wong, is a great actress, and she is everything you want the Granda Wong character to be, but I just did not enjoy this film. It felt very forced, and the story not believable that it trumped all the good effort by everyone trying to make the film good. It’s a slickly produced film, but for me it felt hollow – pretty to look at, and without enough distractions to mask its deficiencies.

Around Asia (Film Thoughts: One Child Nation/The Kingmaker)

D78LHcdUEAEypH5I recently saw two documentaries that had a lot of things in common, both were about historical issues in two Asian countries: China and The Philippines.

The first one is Nanfu Wang’s ‘One Child Nation,’ which centered on China’s policy from 1979 of families only being allowed to have one child. Something needed to be done then on the country’s overpopulation, so the government issued a law curbing population. Wang is herself a child of those times, so she had some personal stake in it. But she also found out the ramifications of that policy. Doctors were performing late-term abortions by the hundreds of thousands, for example. Plus, a lot of female newborns were being given away by families, but since no one wanted female children, most times these newborns were left to die at the markets. Later on, these babies ended up being old in the open market, brought to the United States for adoption in exchange for money. Some of these effects were really disturbing, and tested my squeamish factor. I thought the film was very thought provoking, and opened my eyes on an issue that I didn’t know existed.

PrintSince I am a Marcos baby, there really weren’t a lot of surprising revelations in me from watching  Lauren Greenfeld’s ‘The Kingmaker.’  Greenfeld’s pat subjects have always been the rich and their downfall, so it must have been fascinating for her to have the chance to interview Imelda Marcos – this, after all, is a woman who owns a Picaso, a Michaelangelo, and a Monet. But in the course of making the film, she found something else – that the Marcoses are slowly inching back to regain political power in the Philippines. Some people have described this as sort of a dark Cinderella Story, and it’s very apt. You can see how savvy Imelda can be, and how she can easily charm you. I have a friend who know nothing about her and left the theater utterly buying everything she was selling. Greenfeld presents a very balanced subject here, giving equal time to her opponents and detractors, and gives an impartial view of the subject. The film is quite interesting, even for me who has semi-intimate knowledge of these affairs.

Don’t Say Zài Jià (Film Thoughts: The Farewell)

farewell1One of the things I love most about independent cinema is that it tells all these small interesting stories, and a lot of times it makes you think about what would you do if you were in the same situation. I am so Americanized now that the concept of what happens in Lulu Wang’ ‘The Farewell’ seems so foreign to me, but really, it shouldn’t. In the film, a young lady’s grandmother is diagnosed with cancer (Stage 4, lung) but her family has decided not to tell her about it. (I mean, can you imagine that happening int he United States, with our strange HIPAA laws?)  As a result, her family organizes a fake wedding, so they could all be together to say goodbye to her.

Awkwafina plays BIlli, the granddaughter, and for the most part, she essays the role. Billy is required to be both stoic and empathetic, as she cannot be transparent that her grandmother cam figure out the truth. Awkwafina is fine, but her plain face can sometimes come across as brittle, even petulant, which is the opposite of what she should be delivering. It doesn’t help that the part is underwritten, as we do not get proper context as to what these relationships mean to her life.

I loved the dinner scene where the family volleys ideas about how Chinese people are still Chinese even as they leave for other countries. I cannot help but identify with some of the points being thrown around.

In this summer of sequels and tepid blockbusters, ‘The Farewell’ i fantastic counter programming. It brings you to another world, presents other ideas that would challenge your own, and the characters are till human beings that one is able to connect with. Go see this.


Forbidden Love: Africa and Asia (Film Thoughts: Rafiki/Lan Yu)

rafiki-136713The love that dare not speak its name: this theme depicting homosexuality in movies used to be the norm, but in this day and age, is it still relevant? I thino f that even as I see two movies back to back exploring that very theme.

First is ‘Rafiki,’ directed by Wanuri Kahiu. This film was the first Kenyan film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and it comes with a bit of controversy, as it has previously been banned in its home country, and the battle even went up to their Supreme Court, with the court overthrowing the ban. (It finally was screened in theaters to sold out audiences)  The film presents a simple love story, as two daughters of competing politicians fall in love. The conflicts are layered – they battle homophobia and then the familial entanglements. It’s a bit too melodramatic at times, but the performances by Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva as the star-crossed lovers really elevate this. It captured my heart and melted it.

lanyuStanley Kwan’s ‘Lan Yu’ also did, though it is a less successful film.  From 2001, this film depicts a relationship between a successful businessman and a country boy. In its synopsis, the film boasts that it is a story from the 80s amidst the back drop of the rallies from Tiannamen Square. And though they vaguely reference it, we don’t really see it. Hu Jun plays an assumed corrupt businessman who pays for his involvements afterwards, and there’s enough conflict there, so the sad ending felt tacked on and unwarranted. Still, I cared about the characters enough to be touched by the film.

Cute Expectations (Movie Thoughts: This Is Not What I Expected)

90f23b0c51e4c9b448a6763b428d75a9Set in Shanghai, ‘This Is Not What I Expected’ tries to fill the rom-com dearth in my life. Unfortunately, though, it comes up short.

This Chinese movie, set in Shanghai, isn’t bad. It’s just a little bit too by-the-numbers. I always say that these kinds of movies are deep set on formula, but what will set them apart will be chemistry and charisma.

Takeshi Kaneshiro plays Lu Jin, your serious straight-laced businessman who keeps on encountering Gu Shengnan, played by Zhou Dongyu. They meet cute, sure, but they keep on meeting and Derek Hui just tries so hard to keep them cuter and cuter until you become so annoyed with them. And he makes Gu quirly with a capital Q, and it just seems so ‘manufactured’ to me that after a while I did not believe it anymore.

But the two actors do have chemistry, though. Even as they saddle through a cliched script, they almost pull it off by instilling a beating heart into the story. Plus, I have to admit it felt a little long to me – some situations could have benefited from a little editing. Still, the initial cuteness is appealing enough, like a Hello Kitty Doll that outstays its welcome.