May 3, 2005

Can You Pick Out A DVD With Chopsticks?

If you think Cinecultist plays the movie geek online, you should see us at the Day Job. We're positively "that's Cah-yay d-oo Cin-eh-ma, you neophytes!" annoying. But occasionally, the co-workers put in a specific recommendation request and following our recently wrapped Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto-themed issue one of our favorite but soon-to-be-departed c.w.s, Miss Chiaki Bates, asked for an Asian film tutorial. Here is our list for her, most of which are suitable for a quick click thru to your Netflix queue for simple adding.

Mainland China: Red Sorghum -- Sadly, Zhang Yimou's first feature and one of the film's that made the world sit up and say "hey, they make movies in China!" in the mid '80s is only available on VHS. However, having to drag your dusty tape player out of storage is no reason to by-pass this gorgeously shot historical drama. Anyone who caught Zhang's recent Hero or House of Flying Daggers knows the guy loves to use bold colors in his shot composition but Red Sorghum, a tale of a young peasant bride as recounted by her son, even has the signature hue spelled out conveniently in the title. If you're anything like CC, and Zhang for that matter, this movie will trigger a long love affair with the stunning Gong Li who was the It Girl of the 5th Generation. [Psst: Each group of Chinese filmmakers educated by their government is dubbed a generation and the '80s wunderkinds were called the Fifth.]

Korea: Chunhyang -- We're a sucker for a well-made historical drama and this retelling of a famous Korean folk tale by director Im Kwon-taek is completely gorgeous. A courtesan is wooed by a handsome, young scholar but will he stand by their secret relationship when the local magistrate wants to claim her? The film cuts back and forth between this world imagined by the filmmaker and a modern Korean audience listening to a traditional folk performer singing the old tale. Like we know the end to Cinderella, these listeners already are certain how the story ends yet the film's viewer can see the power of this man's voice still brings them to tears. If a story makes you weepy on the five millionth listen, imagine how it could blow you away the first time.

Taiwan: The Hole -- Jumping forward from the past to the uncertain future, Taiwan's Tsai Ming-liang composed his idea of what 2000 might look like for a French television series commissioning films before the turn of the millennium. In this future dystopia it will not stop raining and people seem to be coming down with some sort of weird disease that makes them act like cockroaches. In a quasi-abandoned Taipei apartment building, an isolated man and woman are still trying to eek out a day to day routine, going to work, making noodles, trying to fix the leaks, that sort of thing. A handyman creates a literal hole between their apartments floor/ceiling but it also opens up a metaphorical connection between them. But where that plot description might make this film seem like it might be logical or causal, it's artistic and moody and delightfully confusing. Modern malaise tempered with musical interludes, imagined perhaps. Awesomely weird, this movie is.

Hong Kong: Days of Being Wild -- It has the perfect HK triumvirate of Cheung-Leung-Cheung (aka Leslie, Tony and Maggie) and it's directed by Wong Kar Wai, a filmmaker whose use of Christopher Doyle's stunning cinematography with Wong's trademark measured pacing makes movies for savoring. Sure, Chungking Express, In the Mood For Love, Happy Together and hopefully, 2046 are all essential viewing at some point too, but D.o.B.W. has a freshness and a wit that tempered by the pathos and all of that freakin' typhoon-level rain makes it a wonderful intro to this national cinema.

Japan: All About Lily Chou-Chou -- You might think we'd recommend to little Chiaki something from Japan perhaps starring her namesake that has some ass-kicking or manga-style. However, the lyrical loveliness of Shunji Iwai seems like it could be up her alley and if you haven't seen Chou-Chou, we urge you to watch it as well. Based on a fictional pop star the director invented, created a web community for and then recorded the postings of her rabid teenage fans, All About Lily Chou-Chou treads in the very stuff of Japanese modernity, juxtaposing shots of endless rice paddy in a Tokyo suburb with obsessive text messaging and an electro-pop soundtrack.

By the way, don't be mad that we left out films from India or Thailand or Singapore or any of the other amazing Asian national cinemas finally tickling our shores. These are just a few flicks to get started with, hopefully a sampling like this will encourage the more casual movie renter out of the well-worn new release aisle at the video store. Stop the Hollywood hegemony! Oops, sorry. There goes our virtual megaphone when we just wanted to offer a few friendly suggestions.

Posted by karen at May 3, 2005 11:00 PM