Plenty of Korean movies I’ve seen just so happen to deal with revenge, and after a while they start blending together. In the same way Hong Kong heroic bloodshed action movies typically tackle brotherhood. Korean revenge movies try to delve into the psychology into those who feel wronged, and deserve to take justice into their own hands. Other Korean revenge movies will indulge the viewers in the fantasy of it. Either method works for me. Broken tries to be a more thoughtful take while providing the thrills, but ends up doing neither successfully.
Initially the movie makes a good impression bypassing the predictable to quickly setup the story of single father Lee Sang-hyeon (Jung Jae-young) wanting to take revenge on the teenagers that raped, and killed his daughter. Broken ends up going downhill after that setup is done. Forgetting to show the gradual change in Lee before he snaps into killing. It just happens without proper build up removing another piece of characterization. As the film progresses, Lee remains a husk of a character with only the fact he’s a father to have you sympathize for him. This is fine until the movie attempts to tackle subject matters without giving them the proper time to be explored. Slowing the film down when touching on delinquency, and the flawed justice system preventing building tension. As a commentary on these things it acknowledges these are a thing in society, it’s unfair, and that’s as far as it goes.
As a drama it fails to be captivating in the way it wants to be. Lee I already mentioned is a husk of a character. So when it tries to delve into the morality of his actions it falls flat. There’s hardly any scenes showing Lee spend time with his daughter to make it feel justify. A trait that is brought up, but isn’t use to explore any kind of regret in Lee. It’s simply makes him sad leaving there, and moving on.
When the film isn’t focus on Lee the attention is given to Detective Eok-Gwan (Lee Sung Min) who is tasked to find both Lee daughter killers, and Lee himself. His contribution to the story is very minimal using him, and his partner to talk on the injustice of South Korea justice system. Simply stating that the kids will get a slap on the wrist isn’t good enough to count as meaningful commentary on this subject. Significantly less so when it tries to humanize the murderers, and rapists of the movie. By doing so, the greyish morality presented further shines a negative light on the lack of depth, and detracts from the few thrills it has to offer.
Padding becomes more common in the second half. Dragging out out the running time by showing the actors walk through snow for minutes. Sometime it serves a point, and other times it’s just plodding along. The second half feels unorganized compare to the first half. There’s no structure in how information is presented, it’s a lot less eventful, and the pacing becomes slower then usual. What’s not preferable to that is the climax where characters do dumb things out of character. Coming off as contrived instead of organic to the story.
The ending wanted to be heartbreaking during its climax. Falling flat for two significant reasons; first one being Lee easily goes from your average, overworked father to a man on a mission for vengeance. So determine to the point Lee survives a hellish snowstorm despite being immensely exhausted from his journey, and with a broken leg. Second reason being the shotgun Lee carries for just over half of its runtime. Typically the rule of writing is if you have something like a shotgun, or anything established in the story it should be used later on. In the climax, the shotgun is used, but not the way you would expect it. If there was more to Lee’s character the outcome of the climax would be justifiable, but instead comes of as tacky. When I don’t care about the shallow main character of the movie why the movie thinks I would care about it’s equally shallow supporting cast is baffling.
Acting in general is fine without much standing out. Jung Jae-young I feel suffered the most from the screenplay. Almost all of his most potent bits of acting is at the beginning of the film. He goes through a wide arrange of emotion in the first half hour from being remorseful, to angry, and to confusion. It gives him great freedom to portray things about Lee that the screenplay doesn’t provide. Afterwards he becomes stiff being stuck to having his mouth open, and shaking in the cold for a performance. Jung Jae-young just can’t do much with this character coming off as wooden in portraying his tortured soul. Everything else from cinematography to music is fine, but doesn’t do much in service of the movie.
Writer/Director Jeong-ho Lee I would put the blame on for virtually all the film’s problems. Half an hour could have been cut from the movie which instead of using it to develop characters, or further explore it themes just has it actors walk around in the snow. Resulting in a movie that feel padded when it shouldn’t be. A few more touch up to the story would have helped Broken stand out among the mountains of Korean revenge movies. Instead, it’ll just blend in with the crowd without anything to distinguish it in the back of my mind.
In the late 1980s Viz Media released Area 88 in comic book form in the US. Offering readers cartoonish-looking characters struggling in war, and touching on their struggles to fit back into society. Due to poor sales, one thing the comic book shares with it OVA counterpart is leaving readers/viewers hanging. While talks about the comic book seemingly vanished the OVA is still fondly remembered for its story, and animation during its action sequences.
Being tricked into joining a foreign military by his best friend, Shin Kazama must either survive 3 years in the battlefields of Aslan, or earn money from missions to pay a debt of 1.5 million dollars in order to return home. Taking a grounded approach for its storytelling the OVA chooses to tackle the psychological effects war can have on a soldier. In doing so, it removes any fantastical elements present in other war stories in animes like fighting over ideologies, or having a singular advance piece of technology that puts the odd in a faction favors. Residing in a simple world where politics, and money drives the conflict around Shin Kazama being powerless against these forces.
The OVA is wonky in its pacing. Within 3 episodes each averaging about an hour in length. Two of the three episodes portray Shin as someone out of his element. Not hiding how much he hates the sense of war, and what it’s doing to him. These moments where Shin is confronted about his feelings toward fighting is where the characterization shines best. Showing stages of when he’s a pacifist, and refusing to accept what he has become as the result of the war. Not only will you get a picture of who Shin Kazama is from himself, but also what other around Shin feel about him. Making the human drama the centerpiece of the OVA.
When you do eventually get to the famous ariel fights Area 88 is famous for they have more weight attach to them. Spending time developing a bit of the supporting cast, and the history behind the base the anime is named after. Delving into the supporting cast mindset to explore how the stench of war has changed them forever. Showing the strong bonds between the comrades of Area 88 through some humorous exchanges. Highlighting the team sense of comradery with each other despite their tormented souls, and views on morality.
This OVA does have a villain in Shin Kazama best friend Satoru Kanazaki who betrays Shin to get everything he desires. Sleazily presented as he might be the OVA offers moments where he shows some humanity. Showing some level of remorse for betraying Shin adding food for thought in a otherwise simple character. Rokyo Tsugumo who is the center of a unwanted love triangle is given other things to do in the story than just waiting for Shin. She tries to deal with things sensibly, and is given her own moral dilemma which is handle well in the OVA.
The OVA biggest weakness is the weak romance. While watching the OVA I didn’t get a sense of a romantic connection between Shin Kazama, and his love interest Ryoko much. In a ironic turn, everything else revolving around that romance is actually handled better. One of those being a scene where Shin gets asked if he still believes Ryoko is waiting him. It’s a good scene since it gets across Shin affection for Ryoko. As individual characters Shin, and Ryoko are better than expected, but as a couple their romance storyline lacks any sparks, and chemistry to be on par with everything else the anime offers.
The Japanese voice acting wins by a long shot. While the English dub isn’t bad in any significant sense the voice work is notably weaker. In the English dub you have Chris Patton who voices Shin Kazama easily being the best voice actor in the English dub. He’s able to masterfully hide the jarring shift in Shin Kazama character going from a fish out of water to a cold blooded killer within the span of a single episode. However, Kaneto Shizawa who also voices Shin Kazama provides much more of a punch. Coming across more distraught, and cold compare to Chris Patton who withhold himself a bit in the more emotional scenes.
My biggest problem with the English dub is the supporting aren’t emotive enough. Doesn’t help they mostly play one note characters. Hilary Haag for example who plays Ryoko just sounds helplessly shy in every scene she’s in. In contrast to Sakiko Tamagawa who provides the Japanese voice for Ryoko sounds more concerning than shy in her performance. While the English dub is technically more accurate in portraying the different ethnicities of its cast. English voices are generally subdue better fitting the overall tone the OVA is going for. Whereas the Japanese voices can be over the top in places. However, the Japanese voice acting captures the emotions the best in their portrayals because they aren’t holding back like in the English dub.
Area 88 is hand-drawn by Studio Pierrot whom painstakingly go out of their way to animate the most realistic ariel fights possible. Changing up the scenarios to keep things interesting be it flying through a very narrow canyon opening to avoid radar detection, or trying not to crash into a giant steel wall during an assault on a enemy base. Going all out in showing airplanes being pierce apart in combat, tanks getting blown up, and at times showing pilots getting shot inside the plane. Putting on display a variety of different aircrafts. Through masterfully done camerawork you can easily see no shortcuts were taken during the action sequences in the OVA. Character designs are a bit cartoonish with their hairstyle, and wide arrange of colors. Thankfully it’s not distracting enough to take away from the drama.
The soundtrack in Area 88 is both awesome, and datedly cheesy in some of its choices. During the aerial fights the music is able to add a bit of tension to the proceedings. Thankfully director Hisayuki Toriumi knows when to use music so the soundtrack doesn’t come off as intrusive. While in the dramatic scenes it music can sound very hokey. Biggest standout in the soundtrack are both the opening, and themes. In both the English dub, and English sub version you’ll still get the opening theme “How Far To Paradise” in English sung by Derek Jackson which is pretty awesome rock song. “Kanashimi no Destiny” by Mio is the opposite being a slow, piano piece with some emotional vocals from Mio.
Another track, Sabaku no Illusion by Shima Kitahara is similar to “How Far To Paradise” in pumping you up to see the OVA, but lacks the same energy to match “How Far To Paradise”. “So Long My Love” also sung by Shima Kitahara is the second ending theme, and is a perfectly mellow tune to end the OVA on. Capturing the pleasant, and soft nature of the protagonist underscored by it sadden vocals.
Area 88 offers compelling characters, great aerial combat sequences, and theme exploration that’ll make you think about the various side effect of war long after its over. The ending will leave some conflicted, but it’s an appropriate end with everything wrapping up nicely, and the character arcs are completed. It’s an OVA I would highly recommend anyone checking out whether they want some good aerial fights, good drama, or both. Area 88 can deliver those things in stride in three episodes.
A Letter To Momo is about the title character Momo recovering from her father’s death, and her mother’s decision to move their family from Tokyo to a remote island. That’s about it to be honest. Well, there is also the whole thing revolving around three Yokai/goblins who are tasked to help Momo cope with her lost. If you’re expecting a drama to tackle the themes of lost, and death you’ll be disappointed. It’s leisure pace makes it more of a relaxing slice of a life than a reflection on hard hitting themes. At the cost depth, the movie remains simple with little added to the premise.
Anything supernatural is given the bare minimum development. It’s good enough to make sense within the story, but lacking in the way that it has little importance in the story overall. The three yokai/goblins in the movie primarily joke around causing mischief to Momo dislike. Each of the three yokai/goblins have distinct personalities with an interesting backstory that is touched on. Their responsibilities on the other hand isn’t touched on quite as much. The methods the yokai use to help Momo cope are a mixed in results; one making a point to have fun, and the other mischievous deed feel pointless. There’s also the supporting characters that hardly influence the movie other than Momo having to become brave. Fine for Momo character since she is a properly developed character by the end, but everyone surrounding her feels more like tools in Momo growth.
Being character driven resulted in a story that has the basics down from setting up the conflict, slowly working towards the protagonist improving herself, and eventually overcoming that problem. It’s just the steps of getting from one point to the other feel disconnected. One sequence involves Momo taking two Yokai to look for food resulting in a chase scene of the three running away from wild boars after the Yokai stole their babies. This chase last a long time adding little to the overarching story. Scenes like these are commonplace in A Letter To Momo. While they are amusing they add up to give an overall feeling the film doesn’t much to offer in theme exploration.
The climax is something of a anomaly since the main conflict is Momo having to accept her father death. Everything before it no matter how sloppily done was intended to be part of her growth. An illness pops up irregularly in the movie, and a expectation that Momo will finally be strong enough to move on if someone else important to her dies. That doesn’t happen opting for a happy that kinda makes sense, and on the other hand is confusing. It felt like writer/director Hiroyuki Okiura wanted to be make a light hearted movie while tackling a serious subject matter, but somewhere in the process he lost his clear direction. Hence the fade to black in the climax that comes out of nowhere, and leaves some questions unanswered. That moment best describe the movie in a nutshell; it has an interest in touching on death, and dealing with it, but not directly dancing around the idea occasionally.
The voice acting from both the Japanese, and English dub cast are wonderful. From the two, I would say go with the English subs. I prefer the English voice of Momo played by Amanda Pace perfectly capturing Momo awkwardness, and inner turmoil. However, where the English dub misses where it counts the most are the voices for the three yokais. In the Japanese cast, Cho (yes, that’s his full name), Koichi Yamadera, and Toshiyuki Nishida whom voice the three main yokai enunciate their characters eccentricities. Their performances, much like their characters, feel exaggerated, and out of this world like they should. While in the English dub, the voice actors downplay the yokais in their performance removing their otherworldly personality. Subduing the supernatural beings did the English dub no favors in the long run since what made them stand out from humans was gone.
Animated by Production I.G. the animation leans more on the more realistic side. Sparingly using 3D, the cel animation has a nice, clean, smooth movement throughout. The lack of background characters is noticeable whenever Momo walks outside in broad daylight on the island, but other than that the animation has little faults to it. This doesn’t mean it’s a spectacle either since most of the activity in the film are mundane. The few times where the fluid animation gets to shine is either during a chase sequence, or when multiple characters are being hyperactive.
Hiroyuki Okiura shines through more as a director than he does a writer. One instance being his usage of cinematography. There’s a scene early on in the movie perfectly establishing how shy Momo is with her remaining silent for several minutes as family around her joyously talk to each other. Okiura doesn’t draw attentions to his character more subtle traits through dialogue which is appreciated. Characters subtly grow, and change without it being told to you directly. His eye for details creates a realistic backdrop through soft, and dim colors in his environments. Providing lovely scenery shots of the ocean, and the small island town. Also, seeing our characters have a change of clothes throughout the movie, a detail that is ignored by a lot animation, is a nice a touch, even if it’ll go largely unnoticed.
In terms of animation the standout sequence is easily in the climax with dozen upon dozen of different yokais being animated, meshing together to basically form one giant umbrella, and with multiple moving parts. My description of the sequence can’t do it justice since there’s more to it like the flowing hair in the wind, the raindrops splitting apart when hitting a monster, the different individuals monsters moving around frequently, and other small details that would be difficult to capture through mere text. No other sequence in the entire movie comes close matching this impressive feat of animation. The music is composed by Mina Kubota comprising tracks that are soothing, whimsical, and calm. It’s a nice soundtrack to play with the nice visuals.
If half an hour was cut from A Letter To Momo I would have favored it a bit more. By lingering around too much the intended effect it wanted to have become lost to me. Sure it’s a solid movie with amusing moments, and good character growth, but there’s also not enough meat to the overarching story that made it feel it was worth it’s two hour run time. The final result of the movie isn’t what it could have been. I came out confuse by it execution even though the intent was clear. In the end A Letter To Momo is a solid anime.
Most of the animation I watch is either from the US, or from Japan with everything else being a detour. Korea, China, Britain, Russia, and a few others I can name you at least one piece of animation that I liked from those countries. One of the many places I currently can’t do that for is Indonesia. Be it they don’t have much of a animation industry, or they’re just don’t get US distribution makes the experience of watching Battle of Surabaya (also known as November 10th in some places) all the more sour.
Acting more like a cliff notes version of complex politics, and history Battle of Surabaya never finds it footing. This stems from the fact the historical events is merely a backdrop for half of the movie in favor of Musa’s coming of age story. Unless you’re familiar with this portion of this post WW2 history you’re likely to be loss in the all important events that take place. All of it feels rushed since the film doesn’t properly establish a semblance of time when all these events happen. In other cases provides too much information at the cost of a coherent story while rushing through significant moments. Making it difficult to figure how one event naturally lead to another major event.
You have the Japanese, the Dutch army, you have the Indonesian Rebel group, the BKR, TKR, the Allied forces, and the Kipas Hitam. I’m pretty sure I forgot a few other groups involved in the revolution because of how much is crammed in. All the while not including the possibly fictional, and real historical figures used in the story. With all of this going on in the background there’s no time to give important events they need to develop naturally. Instead of recounting history it has a subplot about ninja warfare which as far I can tell from my limited research did not happen. Using all the violent events, and turn Indonesian take to deliver a hamfisted message that war is bad. If the movie didn’t tell me war was bad I would have thought war was good thing seeing how Musa lose so many people close to him in the war.
When the movie is focused on our shoe shiner lead Musa everything is still as clumsy. Consistently being unable to transition between tones properly when shifting from the prominent romance to the background war of Indonesia. There’s a sequence that is setup to imply Musa is being chased by someone who wants to kill him only to reveal it’s his friend/love interest Yumna. This falsely build up tension scene is followed by a cheesy romantic stroll Indonesia with yes a even cheesier pop song. Unlike every other connection Musa has in the movie his relationship with Yumna works in service of the story.
The comedy on the other hand is just plain bad. Taking inspiration from anime for its sense of humor. At best the humor is questionable since what passes off for jokes in the movie will leave one wondering if they were meant to laugh. One sequence includes Musa uncle allowing Musa to fire a gun at a military base. When Musa fires the gun he nearly kills another soldier, and the movie cheery music tries to pass it up as a joke. I find it hard to laugh at a man nearly getting shot dead by Musa considering it also wants me to feel sad when Musa loses people close to him.
There’s another scene in the movie where Musa is running away from some soldiers. During this sequence that is meant to be filled with high tension you’ll get a comedic prat fall out of nowhere. That’s not the only time either, towards the finale of the movie when Musa is being chased by adults who want to kill him the insertion of comedy kills any tension. Why someone thought in the English dub the act of riding a cow was funny is about baffling as to why not all the dialogue is dubbed into English!
The forefront romance is also lacking in being an emotional pull. This mostly falls on Musa who doesn’t have much to him as a character. Musa mother for instant eventually dies in the movie, but Musa hardly spend any time with her making his mother death lack impact. His mother death isn’t delved into, nor does it have much effect on Musa. His love for his country isn’t properly developed since it doesn’t spend enough time on him soaking in the joys of Indonesia. Biggest drawback from this is the lack of progression of Musa losing his innocent view of the world when the war takes everything away from him. He merely accepts it, and that’s all.
Yumna is the only character in the movie who comes out unscathed by the bad writing. She gets a complete arc, a sympathetic backstory, and is more in touch with her love for her country. Providing a clear understanding of how much she cherish Indonesia compared to Musa where it doesn’t come across as strongly. While she might be in a supporting role she has a lot going on in her storyline that doesn’t merely involve her moving around places.
Side characters are typically one dimensional. Resulting in some questionable development that out of left field. One of them includes an adult, Danu, having romantic feelings for a young girl. Don’t worry, the young girl friendzone him, and it’s forgotten about. The film’s villain, John Wright is silly. He’s meant to be the embodiment of someone purely using violence to end all wars. This could have been interesting, but instead there’s a series of questionable decisions that come with all badly written villains.
Lastly, I have to take about one specific scene in the movie because it came out of nowhere. So a group of military soldiers (can’t remember which because there’s so many factions) driving by a food stand. John Wright stops the car, and takes out a type of machine gun. He proceeds to shoot a jar of rice with the word freedom written on it because it’s the quickest way to get across he’s the villain. A regular movie would have stopped here, but the scene continue with John Wright pulling out a grenade, and destroying the food stand! It was unintentionally hilarious, and I laughed in the utter shock of it.
Directed by Aryanto Yuniawan, and animated by MSV Pictures brings us some very choppy animation. You’ll be accustomed to seeing missing frames in animation, characters changing position or size whenever there’s a cut, and can not forget the 3D that sticks out a like a sore thumb. Copy, and pasting obvious 3D models, and multiplying similar looking models to ensure it’s hard to miss.
Rarely does the animation move smoothly leaving plenty to be desired. Especially on the character designs since they lack shading, and details in the hair are regularly missing. It’s an ugly movie to look at, especially in the climax where everything that can go wrong in animation does go wrong. When too much to handle, playing missing continuity adds to the fun. If you’re not distracted by the frequently misplaced, or distorted characters designs in different cuts of the same scene.
The only aspect of the animation that’s remotely passable are the environments. Since the background doesn’t have to move the animators put some details into the background to look okay. Other times the lack in depth of perspective make everything flat, even the characters interacting with the environment.
Aryanto biggest failure aside from the poor mixture of romance, comedy, and war drama is his handling of scenes. Instead of opting for something possible within his studio capability you’ll get some ugly, and ambition scenes. One of these include Yumna in a ninja outfit breaking into a military stronghold taking out other ninja with badly rendered 3D environment. This specific sequence makes it impossible to believe that the 2D character is moving in a 3D plain.
The English dub is downright terrible! None of the actors sounded convincing in their roles. Musa voice actor, Alistair Hendry, can’t figure out what accent to give to Musa changing it every so couple of scenes. Would have been forgivable if he didn’t sound monotone through the whole thing. Surprisingly, none of the main cast are actually the worst actors, but it’s the ones in bit roles. These bit role voice actors come out of nowhere to have some awful line delivery. Generally sounding like they use the first take, and didn’t bother with doing any more.
Indonesian animation is an area that’s completely unexplored for me, but at one point so was anime. In the same way my first exposure to Chinese animation (a movie called 10,000 Years Later) wasn’t a good one I’m still keeping an open mind about Indonesia animation. Assuming I can ever find another animated film Indonesia made with some viewable access. If not, well, Battle of Surabaya still wouldn’t be something I would recommend for anyone.
Direct to video action movies is an odd beast. You’ll get the familiar faces pass their heyday in Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, and Dolph Lundgren being regulars in this market to moderate success. It also seems to be a marketplace where if anyone wants to be an action star, even for a single movie they’ll get one, including Miley Cyrus in So Undercover (2012). It’s also a place where plenty of competent directors are unable to make it to the big leagues. One such director is Isaac Florentine, a man who has a strong eye for action scenes regardless of budget. In particular his fight scenes tend to be the standouts of his action movies. Much like Antonio Banderas who stars in this movie, Isaac Florentine is capable of more, but both become a victim of limitations.
Acts of Vengeance centers around fast talking attorney Frank Valera (Antonio Banderas) bringing justice into his own hands when his wife, and daughter are murdered. Starting with a quote from Marcus Aurelius Meditation before showing us Frank fight in the kitchen of a restaurant is a flash forward. When you see Frank strangling someone he asks the audience “Do you think I’m crazy”, and goes back to the beginning. Immediately you’re told factoids about the average amount of words people say in a say a day; women speak 23,000 words, men 17,000 words, and Frank Valera speaks 80,000 words in a single day. Doing the math that means Frank speaks on average for 22 hours, 13 minutes, and 20 seconds in a 24 hour day every single day according to him. Unless Frank talks in his sleep that factoid feels just slapped on without much thought given to it. All just to simply get across there’s only three meaningful words he uses every day, and yes the words are I love you.
That’s just a hint of the very blunt characterization in this movie ignoring the rule of show don’t tell. After the death of his love ones you’ll get Frank moping around before he miraculously picks up Meditation by Marcus Aurelius when trying to cover his stab wound. Despite all the blood it is covered in, he decides to read the book, and it changes him 36 minutes in the movie by taking a vow to remain stoic until he avenges his love ones. The transformation is where the film begins to fall apart, mostly because Frank’s narration would tell you what he’s feeling instead of showing it. More baffling with the fact you’ll have quotes from the book on screen whenever it goes into a new chapter. These quotes are clear in their meaning, yet are undermined by the narration as well.
A majority of the movie remains grounded which is why you’ll hardly see Frank fight anyone in the movie. Frank does become proficient in martial arts, but doesn’t get into trouble frequently. This comes at the cost of logic in several places of the story. Some of them including how the nurse who fixes up Frank doesn’t call the police, and according to Frank shutting up gave him super hearing. An ability use sparingly in the movie. Unlike Frank’s apparent telepathy because without saying a word everyone knows what Frank wants out of them. In terms of logic that’s easily the biggest leap this movie takes.
Other than Frank, the other characters just feel like plot devices to advance the story. There a few minor characters in the movie both of which are underdeveloped. Alma (Paz Vega) has a conflict about the Russian mafia wanting her to steal drugs for them, and not letting her go. This plot point is left unresolved since the closest thing to a solution that comes from this plotline is Alma staying with Frank at his house. She inexplicably decides to be very helpful to Frank even though they barely met, and why she didn’t call the police after fixing up Frank wound is never explained. There’s Strode (Karl Urban) who hardly appears in the movie, and has just little characterization. He’s only in the movie to be a plot twist that could have been shocking if he was developed.
Lacking on the characterization to make it more than a character drama, and there’s too little action to satisfy action fans. Ensuring viewers will experience a very conflicting movie. It understands its limitation so it succeeds in its simplistic storytelling. Things are clear cut, properly explained even if not resolved, develops in a good manner, and moves along in a nice pace never overstaying it welcome.
On the philosophy side of things this is not done correctly either. After reading Aurelius’s Meditation, Frank becomes motivated to take revenge. The last two lines from the book (well, going by the movie) are “The best revenge is to be unlike your enemy”, and “Accept the things to which fate binds you”. If Frank properly followed the words of Marcus Aurelius to heart Frank should have developed discipline for forgiveness, and accepts what fate has taken away from him. Being unlike your enemy would be forgiveness in this instance, and accepting your fate, but going that route wouldn’t make for an eventful action movie, although would have work fine for a character drama.
Before moving to everything else, there’s the expected funeral scene where Frank is mourning the loss of his wife, and daughter. In the only scene he appears in, Eric Alli who plays the grandfather just delivers the most in your face dialogue written in the movie. He just verbally gives a beating to Banaderas shoving it in his face another attorney like him would make sure if the criminal is ever found he’ll get off scot free. He also reminds Banderas he lost a daughter, and granddaughter because of him. This scene last around a minute, but it simply stood out because everything about it is so questionable to me, especially the performance of Alli. Oh yeah, there’s also the classic punching the mirror scene to display an outburst of inner turmoil, and a montage of Banderas getting training.
Antonio Banderas takes the lead with a passable performance. He’s a more capable actor than he actually displays in the movie. Having difficulty trying to portray the complexity of his character without the usage of words. Leaving Banderas to nod his head mostly either approvingly, or disapprovingly which isn’t exactly impressive. Even when Banderas does talk all his line delivery sound the same without much emotion express in them. Something odd to witness when he gives the proper facial expression, but unable to express it in his words.
Karl Urban who is hardly in the film is also passable. He plays his part in a straightforward manner leaving little room for him to do anything. Hardly appearing in the movie is also to blame for that. Paz Vega who appears in the second half is also passable. There’s not plenty of meat to her character so she just goes with the flow. The rest of the cast is passable. No one in the movie gets to shine because their time is either too brief, or just aren’t used properly.
Now we come to the action which is hardly here. You’ll get three decently length fight scenes, and that’s about it. One in the beginning, one in the middle, and finally one in the climax. With there being an average wait about 30, or so minutes making the action unevenly spaced out. This film isn’t a good showcase for Isaac Florentine eye for action, but there are two decent fight scenes in the movie. None of which are worth sitting through since they’re pretty basic fights with their choreography.
The climatic fight between Antonio Banderas, and Karl Urban is slightly spiced up because the environment they fight in gets used when Banderas takes a serious beating. Both should be commended for performing the fight sequence convincingly with Florentine expertly shooting the scene, and allowing for long takes for viewers to clearly see the actors performing the fight. There’s a little unnecessary usage of slow motion during half of the fights, but that’s a minor complaint. When it comes to storytelling his touch to the story occasionally come off overblown with the bombastic music not helping matters. It’s the only thing he could think off to do when limited by the fact his lead character doesn’t speak. With the narrations breaking the rule of show don’t tell in a negative way it’s overall just clumsily told.
It’s the same old song, and dance action fans have seen before. I just don’t have any strong feeling towards it one way or the other. Acts of Vengeance has more effort put into its story than your average direct to video action movies, but that comes off as a backhanded compliment. If it wasn’t for the needless narrations than it could have remedy some of my issues with the movie, but it also would have created new problems since Banderas didn’t overcome the stoic limitation. Neither did Isaac Florentine who wasn’t confident in how to tell his story. While certainly better than your typical direct to video action movie average is still average.
Producer Noritaka Kawaguchi whose name is attached to such projects like Garden of Words, Your Name, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices brings you an anime film about life in China. It might seem odd at first a Japanese producer making this movie until you remember Japan isn’t new to outsourcing their animation to China. In this case specifically it’s a co-production between Chinese animation company Haoliners Animation League, and CoMix Wave Film from Japan. The later of which is best know for animating Your Name, and several of Makoto Shinkai other works. Under the helm of three directors Flavors of Youth takes a gamble on it talents ability that doesn’t payoff. On a technical level it shows China is capable of matching the visuals of Japan best animated movies, but other than that this anothology has nothing else to show for it.
Sunny Breakfast (Hidamari no Choushoku)
The first anthology film is also the weakest without question. This short film marks the debut of internet-based filmmaker Yi Xiaoxing, and his inexperience shows. This short movie is about Xiaomin reminiscing about his youth, but mostly monologuing poetically about his love of noodles like its the only reason life is worth living. He expresses his excessive love for noodles to a point it becomes hilarious. Credit to Crispin Freeman who managed to properly portray his character despite the dialogue he was given to work with.
Here’s a few of those lines:
“Your tongue go numb. Little by little it forgets the sensation of its home town. That flavor I lost. Now seems to haunt me.”
“The mushroom were always strong, and fresh. The kukurage with its firm texture. Each added their own unique layer to the thick broth that crater them. Creating a flavor that made my heart soar.”
“The eggs soft, and fluffy that made the noodles richer as they slid down your throat. That light amber soup, that brought out the flavor of every ingredient.”
Why this short movie is the worst in this anthology is that it tries too hard to be dramatic in a short amount of time, and pretty badly while I’m at it. It tries to pull at the heart strings by having Xiaomin’s grandmother die towards the end. Something that could have worked if Xiaomin monologue about spending time with his grandma instead of describing how good his noodle tasted, or how inferior noodles now taste compare to when he was a child.
Going as far as describing the texture, and the warmth it gives him as a child versus the cold, and heartless taste when he’s an adult. It’s difficult to take Xiaomin seriously about what he lost in his youth, and having to move on from it when more time is spend on him passionately describing what he eats than showing what he experienced.
This story also suffers the most the difference in culture. Apparently in China food is a big deal since it’s the basis for family bonding, and socializing. Although, the short film itself failed to establish this clearly to the viewer so its failure is it own undoing assuming everyone knows about the importance of food in Chinese culture.
Sunny Breakfast gets a 2 out of 10. Only positive is that it’s unintentionally funny hearing the dialogue in the English dub, and is the shortest in the anthology. The animation is lovely to look at.
A Small Fashion Show (Chiisana Fashion Show)
This one is a bit better, but suffers from feeling shoehorn in its storytelling, and a forced happy ending. It’s about a woman who is a fashion model who feels she’s getting replace by younger models. Oh, there’s also a storyline about finding yourself, and being a family. The simplistic story is at odds with itself. On one hand it displays the toll the modeling career as taken on her health, and how badly it treats her since the modeling business will quickly forget about her. Then on the other hand there’s family drama she faces with a sister she hardly spend time with, and the most meaningful conversation they is arguing with each other. These conflicts are quickly resolve by the main character simply believing in herself which somehow fixes everything.
Unlike the first film, you’ll see the main character interact with the people around her instead of being told what’s happening. It struggles to develop characters since their conflicts is a lot more layered than it can explore in its run time. The rival model that appears in the story amounts to nothing more a tool to progress the story. Add on top of the fact the rival malicious intent isn’t even explained, nor is that conflict properly resolved. Another thing I find issue in this film is whatever commentary it wanted to have about the fashion industry is clumsily handled. There is a scene where the model has to soak in the world moving on quickly from her when looking at a billboard with a younger model. The idea behind this scene is good, but given the force happy ending it makes this scene, and other feel redundant.
One thing that is consistent among these short movies is they are all pretty to look to look at. The voice acting in this short film is the best since the actors have a lot more to work with, and the progression of events is more natural so the voice actors won’t overact. This film was directed by directed by CoMiX Wave 3DCG chief Yoshitaka Takeuchi whose lack of experience also shows. On the animation front he knows what he’s doing, but storytelling he has no clue what he’s doing.
A Small Fashion Show gets a 3 out 10. In wanting a happy ending it rushes its conflict ending up shallow in its attempt to give its two cent on the fashion industry, and the importance of family.
Shanghai Love (Shanghai Koi)
The best short film in the anthology, though not by much. It’s biggest strength is feeling like a condense Makoto Shinkai film. You’ll get the lovely animation, the tragic romance story, and you’ll sadly get teenagers acting very stupid. Unlike the previous films, this one is less in your face about it message. Sorta, it combines the failed attempt at tear jerking of Sunny Breakfast with the under written characters of A Small Fashion Show. It also contains the dumbest characters in this anthology when you look at the finer details.
The main character of this story is Li Mo (not a vehicle who wished to be a real boy as far as I know) an angry high school guy who has crush on Xiao Yu, a girl who is implied to be his childhood friend. So the girl’s parent want her to apply to a prestige high school, and the boy wants to go to said prestige high school since he likes her a lot. That’s seems stupid, but pretty harmless until you realize the Li Mo doesn’t want Xiao Yu to know he’s applying to the same school. On top of that, he also says to the one friend he tells about this plan that he’ll denounce their friendship if he tells Xiao Yu about the plan. This contrived conflict makes it impossible to sympathize with any of its characters. All Li Mo has to do is tell Xiao Yu he’s planning on going to the same school as she is, and problem solve, and of course that doesn’t happen.
None of the characters are fleshed out to care about them. Xiao Yu suffers the most from this since she’s meant to be Li Mo love interest, and the only way the film develops her is by mentioning she got physically abused by her parents. It just feels like a cheap manipulative ploy than it does a characteristic. As Li Mo there’s not much to like either. The writing didn’t know how to depicts friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time so it simply has Li Mo acting like a jerk to her for no reason. He’s a victim of the dumb writing since he, and Xaio Yu communicate through messages recorded on a cassette tape. The movie uses the excuse he’s studying so he won’t listen to a certain tape resulting in his heartache, though again, he did bring this on himself.
Li Mo character arc is somewhat competently handle. Exploring a character who lives with regrets is decently explored. Giving you a good idea how much regret he feels about this certain event in his past. Same with it touching on parents being hard in pushing their kids towards a good education. It’s only mentioned without delving into it theme, but doesn’t get drown out by all the melodrama on screen. Another one of its positive is being written in a way where it tries to make you forget about the logical, and be caught in the moment of the story. It sometimes succeed in that until logic rolls in its head.
We now come to the ending that negates the whole experience of the story, and sweeps it under the rug. If it wanted to get across the whole point Li Mo lost out on a experience of his life because of his action it would have hit home a lot more with a sad ending. The happy ending is fine, but with the direction it was heading it undermines what came before it.
This short film is visually the most outstanding with its detail background of a populated China from simple things like oncoming traffic to the urban streets of Shanghai. Everything move very smoothly without much of the 3D standing out in the movie in general. The music here is okay. It’s melodramatic for sure, but actually noticeable where in the previous short films the music wasn’t a presence. The one downside to this short film is Ross Butler performance as Li Mo. He doesn’t deliver any of his dialogue with any emotion, and simply sounds bore about everything he talks about.
Shanghai Love is directed by Li Haoling who unlike the previous two director actually has some experience under his belt. While he still has room for improvement he shows promise in being able to replicate the spirit of a Makoto Shinkai movie through his own style. Out of all the directors who worked on this, Li Haoling easily shows the most promise.
Shanghai Love gets a 6 out of 10. The characters are pretty stupid, but it manages to capture the feel of a Shinkai movie pretty well. It’s the best simply because it’s direction is clear, and direct in its simple ambitions.
There’s a post credit scene, though it doesn’t help much as the characters basically say they’ll move forward. A good message for certain, but not delivered in the way intended. It assumes anyone will become lost in its visuals to overlook the haphazard writing. If there was an overarching theme it gets lost underneath the one dimensional characters, the forced happy endings, and a general lack of proper storytelling from two of the directors involved. It wants to pull at the heartstrings, but ironically feels artificial, and soulless like the very thing it tried, and failed to criticize.
Rating: 3/10 (10/30 all short films added together)
During the mid 90s there was a series of Hong Kong movies by the name of Young, and Dangerous that were released. This series of movies focused on a group of young triad members, detailing their adventures, dangers, and growth in Hong Kong triad society. Aside from the fact it has some Hong Kong actors I like (they even got Simon Yam) I can’t really say anything else on the series since I haven’t seen them. However, it’s during this craze of goo wak jai (asian gangsters/triad members) that inspired many imitators to duplicate it success. Streets of Fury (1996) happens to be one those movie starring one of my favorite Hong Kong actor Louis Koo. In the same vein of Simon Yam, Louis Koo is also an actor who regardless of what he’s in I’ll watch it because I like him that much. Even in his first major film role, Koo striking on screen presence shines through in this horribly misguided movie.
Streets of Fury starts out by introducing the viewer to down-and-out teens Hu (Michael Tse Tin-wah) and Yu-long (Louis Koo Tin-lok) who are repeatedly victimized by local gang leader Short-Sighted (Simon Lui Yu-yueng) and his buddies. From here the movie gives out simple characteristics to our protagonists. Hu loses his temper easily, and gets into fights frequently whereas Yu-Long is more laid back, and caring. Through these defining features the movie does little to expand on them. One of the movie major issues is Hu, and the film attempt at trying to make him sympathetic. It’s impossible to feel any remorse towards Hu when he mistreats his girlfriend, is shown easily sleeping with women despite being in a relationship, and gives his girlfriend money, and tells her to get an abortion as soon as he hears she is pregnant. Not only that, but it’s implied during a timeskip he never went back, and reconcile with his ex-girlfriend after participating in a violent gang fight.
Hu is the antithesis of Yu-long in every way, yet doesn’t commit to making this character entirely unlikable. There’s a point in the story where Hu feels some semblance of remorse for everything he put his ex-girlfriend before the movie ditches that idea to follow Yu-long who’s a more rounded character. When the movie doesn’t need a conflict to push things forward Hu gets written out of the movie. He doesn’t have much of a personality contributing to his static nature, and after a while you’ll easily forget he was originally the main character.
Another major issue is the film’s pacing. Either escalating events to quickly, or meanders around in its attempts to flesh out Yu-long relationship with Shan (Teresa Mak). When it rush it resorts to easy tricks to make you dislike the film’s villain Short-Sighted. He doesn’t just rape Hu’s girlfriend, along with his entire gang, but does it again to Yu-long girlfriend later on in the movie even after Hu chopped up one of his hands! In general, characters don’t learn anything, and if there is a change in them it occurs off screen.
On the meandering side you have Shan, an old schoolmate of Yu-long who immediately falls in love with him. Leading to a relationship where Shan gets decently developed while Yu-long receives a minor character arc. Unfortunately, the writing decides to basically rehash the first act, and this time have film villain Short-Sighted rape Yu-long girlfriend resulting in the same events playing out like act one. You have another gang fight between our leads, and Short-Sighted with the only difference being how the confrontation ends the second time. I honestly can’t recall another movie I’ve ever seen rehashing events of the first act of its story for its conclusion.
The writing is on the nose at times being unintentionally funny; like a brief exchange between Hu, and Yu-long where Hu talks about Hu dead parents. These two grew up under the same household so Hu basically saying “Yu-long, we’re brothers, even if not blood related, or from the same parents” comes off unnatural during their exchange. What the movie is trying go for is uncertain since in a coming of age movie growth is necessary, and our lead characters have little time to reflect on their life. Only two minor characters in the movie actually reflect about the hand life dealt with them, but they’re hardly in the movie. Any thematic exploration there could have been is lost in its jumbled mess of a story. Being incapable of crafting a balance between a coming of age story, and triad crime drama.
By far the most likable actor in Streets of Fury is Louis Koo. His on screen presence is simply natural. He doesn’t try make himself look tough like his co star Michael Tse attempts to do. Making Koo more believable in his portrayal. Another thing Koo does is not dialing up the less favorable aspects of his character. Understanding that his character while misguided should still be sympathetic. Completely the opposite of Michael Tse who goes overboard in making his character unlikable. Whenever Michael Tse has to portray a more gentler side of his character it’s tough pill to swallow because of how unlikable he is in general. Dragging the movie down when he’s the focus.
Tsui Kam-Kong who plays the dreadlock triad leader King. He simply hams up his role being the most laid back triad member in the entire movie. Through his silly mannerism he carefully makes a comedic character who’s also capable of acting tough. Pulling off the difficult task of making a comedy relief convincingly look tough. Ben Lam Kwok Bun who plays brother beast also balances the delicate side with the tough side as Brother Beast. It’s a shame he wasn’t in the movie more since he’s pretty good. Of course there’s also Alan Chui Chung-San as another mobster whose only memorable because he typically carries a miniature fan around with him because it’s always too hot.
Simon Lui pulls in an unlikable performance just like Michael Tse, but this time in the film favors. His character is written to be pathetic, and despicable in every sense of the words. Buying him as a teenager is a bit tough with a receding hairline, and five o’clock shadow, but other than that he’s fine. There’s also the two ladies Gigi Lai, and Teresa Mak whom only act as romantic interest. Teresa Mak gets a bit more to do since she has more screen time. Also, I have to address Jerry Lamb being on the cover of the DVD I own since his only purpose is getting killed. His contribution is minuscule, and considering there’s three other actors who have more screen time than him that’s just baffling he’s on the cover.
Directed by Hin Sing ‘Billy’ Tang he does an incompetent job on filming the fight scenes. Going for a documentary look to it the fight sequences are clearly shot on a hand held camera. This is an issue since the camera shakes a lot making 90% of the fights unwatchable. Considering the movie are simple, large brawls it’s baffling how Billy Tang couldn’t maintain a clear image. The 10% where it is visible the choreography is unimpressive, and needed to be rehearse more to appear more natural than it did. Other than the lackluster music, and okay editing there’s pretty much nothing left to cover. Okay, there’s a magazine Michael Tse reads that had an image of Young, and Dangerous 3 on the cover for all intent, and purposes is a unsubtle hint at what it ripping off poorly.
Streets of Fury is a movie not made for artistic expressions, but to simply latch of the success of a popular movie, and make a quick buck out of it. Movies like Streets of Fury get made in droves not only in Hong Kong, but every film industry you can think of has at least one of these movies. They usually get forgotten about fairly quickly, and even when an actor becomes a superstar in their country film industry like Louis Koo eventually did. Very few of their fans even bother digging up movies like these as they continue to collect dust.
In This Corner of the World is a coming of age drama set in Hiroshima during World War II. Following Suzu Urano, an artistic, kind, supportive young woman who moves to Kure, a small town just outside Hiroshima as she struggles with the daily loss of life’s amenities she still has to maintain the will to live. What separates In This Corner of the World from other movies set within the same time frame like The Glass Rabbit (2005), and Struck By Black Rain (1984) is the depiction is broader in capturing the emotional state of its country, and its people. Unlike the two films I mentioned earlier, In This Corner of the World shows the happier times as well as the hardship of its characters eventually befalls. Detailing the lifestyle Japan once had before it permanently change through the course of world war 2. Providing an almost episodic structure for half of it run time to live through the wonderful times Suzu had early in her life. It’s during this portion of the movie the viewer will see Suzu adapting to new a home over the span of a couple of months, and eventually years. You get to witness the free spirit, and dreamer side of Suzu during her out of the blue marriage proposal.
With the realistic backdrop set during a turbulent time in Japan the film isn’t solely serious. Understanding in order to properly get across what eventually gets lost some fun is meant to be have. Injecting humor into the film before eventually cutting it off during a certain point in the story. Besides using the humor to loosen some tension. Humor is also used to characterize Suzu. Showing the audience how her mindset contrast against reality, and family members at certain points in the story. It’s also through humor that many of the character dynamics shine through displaying the strength this family has. The family interaction with each other feels natural, and certain family members develop makes them much more sympathetic, even a character who gives Suzu a hard time through a good chunk of the story. What this balance also avoids is the pitfall of tonal whiplash. It does so by ensuring the humor isn’t taking the spotlight away from the story, nor drawing too much attention to itself. Making the eventual absent feel subtle as a narrative device instead of a issue in balancing tone.
When the second half kicks in, you know the drill if you’re familiar with these type of movies. Instead of putting you in the middle of the chaotic nation during war time, the film takes it time to slowly establish the new normality of this new lifestyle. Empathizing the difficulty in obtaining simple rations, bombing drill being more common, learning about explosives, and everything surrounding the war finding it difficult to remain calm in hectic times. Just like in the first half, the film chooses to wisely not over dramatize this portion of the story. Keeping it subtle touches that help make the second half as great as it becomes. Getting across the essence of struggle, and lost in a way that feels true to life. It is through this second half where it attempts to get viewers in the heart strings; showing hardship, after hardship, after hardship, and its characters struggling to keep it together. Suzu being the focal point of the movie greatly shows the impact living during war times had on Suzu herself, and the strain it puts on her family.
What movies of this nature usually forget is no one wants to be see force a message about the horror of wars, or the fake enthusiasm about a brighter future that awaits beyond harsh times. In This Corner of the World knows it doesn’t have to tell any of this to the viewer. Sure, the film is positive about moving forward without sugarcoating the harsh realities the characters face. Hearing Suzu speak about how she would have preferred to die as a dreamer one point in the movie carries a more impact to itself when Suzu, along with several other characters, are so nicely fleshed out, and grounded in its depiction of its events. Without being created for the sole purpose to deliver a specific message it’s able to tackle many themes leaving a stronger impression.
While they are present, the shortcomings don’t take away from the overall narrative. From a writing perspective, Suzu isn’t shown interacting much with her own family. Suzu does form bonds with her husband family, and that is shown throughout the movie, but when it comes to her own family they don’t get the same luxury. It’s not bothersome at first, but overtime it becomes more noticeable when certain characters are not given enough screen time given the impact of they have. One of this includes an abrupt revelation of the death of a family member from Suzu side who wasn’t on screen for much time. It would be less noticeable if there weren’t a funeral scene, and another scene dedicated to that character. There’s also a few other non-family related characters who appear in the movie without much importance. Thankfully, the movie keeps those type of characters down to a minimum.
Director Sunao Katabuchi (Black Lagoon, Princess Arete) helms the project, and the animation is handled by studio MAPPA (Terror In Resonance, Yuri!!! On Ice). In the hands of Sunao Katabuchi the story is told with minimal usage of music. A wise choice that served this movie well allowing the strength of the visual themselves convey the mood of a scene instead of the music. Katabuchi grounded approach to storytelling is what the movie needed; without resorting to over dramatizing anything the film plays out better. Same with his handling of characters which never feel to out of place within the story. Another welcome departure is he doesn’t demonize the US during this time not because he doesn’t harbor any ill will, but because he’s more concern in the characters we see rather than the enemy you don’t.
The artstyle is reminiscences of water color drawing that Suzu is seen drawing many times in the movie. Studio MAPPA is able to capture Suzu’s personal art style, and apply it to the entire film. Perfectly getting across how she sees the world as it unfold. Backgrounds generally are colorful while being pleasant to the eyes. Character designs are surprisingly in the moe category. However, not to a point where the simplistic designs clashes with the tone of the story. If anything, in its own way, it continues the notion of Suzu being able to see beautiful things around her despite how ugly the world can be to her. Aesthetically, it’s one nice movie to look at, especially it’s extensive recreation of Hiroshima, and Kure. In movement, there’s nothing special about it since virtually everything is kept mundane, but given what type of movie it is the animation is fine the way it is.
When it come to voice acting you can’t go wrong with either. The Japanese cast are more expressive in a way when delivering their dialogue while the English dub cast is more subdue in their performances. Both approach work in favor of the movie. If you had to choose, probably go with the subs since you’ll get the Japanese songs translated, but that’s honestly the only factor. I would say the Japanese audio is more historically accurate. However, it’s fictional story based around some true events so the language you watch it in won’t matter. Performance wise, Japan gets that win for Rena Nounen who voices Suzu. Much like actor Koji Yakusho in The Boy, and the Beast, Rena Nounen primarily acts in live action films, and television series. Her experience in those field helped be able to carry the movie with ease. Delivering a powerful performance. Laura Post in the English dub voice Suzu, and he’s not as good. Her lack of experience in the leading role shows a bit in some of her inability to express Suzu emotion. Sometime coming off distill in her portrayal. Aside from that small complaint, Laura Post does a good job still.
In This Corner of the World is a captivating drama being both optimistic through it’s perseverance while never hiding from the harsher side of reality. It’s a coming of age drama whose subtlety in its storytelling leads to a dramatically rich experience. All without the any of the usual tricks films of this sort would rely on. The slow pacing, and uneventful structure of the movie will make it a tough watch for some viewers. Harsh as the world presented may be to the Suzu, and her family, you’ll come out of the movie with a positive experience.
The Merciless tells the crime genre age old tale of young, and spirited undercover cop, in this case being Hyun-soo (Im Siwan) infiltrating a criminal organization to take down Jae-Ho (Sol Kyung-Gu), and his boss empire. It sounds by the number, but when it comes to execution it delivers a pleasant surprise, and only for the first half. I can’t name you another movie in general that opened up with two criminals talking about eating raw fish, and killing people. This unusual opening show traits of the film capabilities to make something fresh out of a generic concept. For half of the movie, it does that perfectly fine. It does the usual plot points of showing the undercover cop infiltrating the prison, the preparation before the operation, and information regarding the criminals the officers are attempting to capture. Moving along in the prison where it also contain scenes you would expect; the undercover cop gaining the powerful criminal trust, rescuing powerful criminal from death, capturing the top criminal attention in a prison brawl, and eventually bonding. Familiarity easily could have been this film biggest enemy, but it turns it around, add its own spin on things, and feels fresh.
For about an hour, it does a superb job sprinkling plot points that could eventually become rewarding the more the film progresses. Showing early on shades of grey on both the officers Hyun-soo works for, and the criminal he’s infiltrating. All the while balancing Hyun-soo ever growing bond with the target, what it does to him mentally, and showing how his loyalty wavered. Another nice approach to the matter is taking a setup that is usually played dead serious, and adding much needed levity to make it stand apart. Giving the prison portion of the movie more charm than one would expect. Providing a host of laughs without tonal whiplash when it goes back to being serious. The fun nature become part of the characters we follow, and makes them likable. While in prison, the story doesn’t forget to thicken the story by providing Jae-Ho his own conflicts. Ensuring even if Hyun-soo isn’t on screen something significant does feel like is happening. It’s unfortunate that once both characters make their eventual exit from prison it’s all a series of bad choices.
A slight twist to liven up a generic set up is the film antagonist knows our protagonist is an undercover cop for half of the movie. This makes the dynamic far more interesting by avoiding the usual pitfall of “the lier reveal” climax movies of this nature tend to heavily rely on. It’s a shame the film decides to do very little with this twist. Hyun-soo plays both sides conflicted about where he belongs, and goes in the direction you expect it too. The police officers begin to doubt his loyalty, and so do some of the criminals. It never becomes a greater of two evil since the decides to remove the shades of grey it set up early on. A singular plot point derails the shades of grey undoing its own fresh take on a generic story.
Another aspect where the film falls apart is the police chief. This character is just here just because the film needs a stubborn chief to keep the undercover cop in check. There’s nothing done with her whereas Jae-Ho is meant to be a surrogate father to our protagonist. With this major flaw it’s impossible for the film to make a good case for why Hyun-soo loyalty should be solely with the law when the film frequently shows Hyun-soo getting berating, and the police chief mistreating him constantly for a job he didn’t want. Jae-Ho on the other hand also suffers from the lone fact him, and Hyun-soo relationship isn’t shown enough on a personal level. When it comes to them doing their criminal deeds there’s no expense of those scenes to find, but showing them interact in non job related activities is virtually absent. Doing a disservice to the viewer for detailing the growth of Hyun-soo, and Jae-Ho relationship.
What The Merciless was trying to go for is also questionable. The first half of the movie attempts to be a crowd pleaser while the second half takes a more arthouse approach both of which aren’t balanced. Instead of weaving a story that handle both style of cinema it went the easy route, and simply separating two vastly different style instead of combining them together. The second half attempts to make the viewer think on the story, and what it’s protagonist has to live with. Problem is, what the viewer is meant to take away from the story largely is unknown. It has a bleak ending, and that doesn’t means much when characters lose their appeal overtime the longer it goes on. Once outside of prison, the movie fails to further develop it leads in engaging ways. Reiterating traits about them already established. If it was trying to be a tragedy than it didn’t provides the characters needed to be worth caring about. Failing as a crowd pleaser since it goes from a fun, and occasionally grim undercover cop movie to a contemplated piece about human nature, and loyalty. It’s a messy movie with clear potential, and it dropped the ball.
On the acting, and technical side of things it’s well rounded. When it comes to style director Sung-hyun Byun gives the film a sleek, and cinematic look to it. Always finding creative ways to shoot on paper would be mundane scenes. For example, when Sol Kyung-Gu is getting beaten by police officers outside of an office. Byun shows the sequence play out from the inside of the office out the window, and follows it to be more visually interesting. The film biggest set piece in the middle portion of the movie has a huge between two gangs. He doesn’t simply keep the camera in place with a wide view to make everything visible. A few time during this sequence he’ll have a take go on longer than expected to show the chaotic fighting, have the camera follow actor Siwan as he gets tossed across the room, and in a instance he rotates the camera full circle during the brawl. A rotation shot that could been seen as self indulgent, and distracting, but works thanks to his excellent eye for detail.
Im Si-wan falls into the category of what some viewers familiar with Asian movies would call a pretty boy. Typically this is an in-circle phrase for Asian cinema insistence to cast “pretty boys”, typically pop stars, in leading roles they shouldn’t be in from gangsters, to criminals, serial killers, and so forth that would make it difficult to accept them as the character. Asian cinema isn’t the only film industry guilty of this so I typically pay it no attention. Especially here since the physical appearance of Im Si-wan works in his favor. It’s easy to buy from him that he gets drawn to the allure of the criminal world. He plays his role exceptionally well, especially during his dramatic turns as some of his work in this movie. Combining a certain level of vulnerability, or arrogance within his performance.
Sol Kyung-Gu is another standout. His role is more complicated to decipher. He’s able to demonstrate a more caring side within his portrayal despite him playing a character aiming to be number one through any means. Expressing his character enjoyment in his dangerous business weather it be beating up criminals, or climbing up the ranks. Displaying a ruthless within him, even when coming off as playful. Yet, he never loses his darker side whenever on screen with Im Si-wan. When together, they both bounce of each other naturally. The only other actor with a noteworthy performance is Kim Hee-Won. A more playful performance to counteract Sol Kyung-Gu subtle performance. Kim Hee-Won gets most of the film jokes, and delivers them perfectly thanks to his comedic timing. Despite being the most lighthearted among the cast, he too is able to dramatic pick up the slack when it comes time to it. Other actors do just as well in their more straight laced role. Jeon Hye-Jin who plays the police chief, and Lee Kyoung-Young who plays the criminal boss play them straight. Despite that, both are given enough time to leave an impression.
The Merciless was a tough watch for the sole reason it’s the kind of movie that could have been more, but didn’t know how to. It’s unfortunate because you have half of a good movie, and the other half that derails it with a misguided direction in writing. It wants to be a movie that appeals to the general crowd, and cinephiles alike, but just end disappointing both. Lavish production values, good performances, and very little, but decently action sequences barely helps it raise above the mediocrity of similar movies. However, when the writing unwillingness to commit to taking risks, and gamble big prevented The Merciless from possibly being another classic piece of crime cinema.
In the early hours of June 28, 1968, began a series of violent demonstration by members of the LGBT community in Manhattan, New York City at the Stonewall Inn. These riots are the most famous, and often cited as the most important event leading to the gay liberation movement. Since the movie itself, even if taken as a work of pure fiction, doesn’t provide context for the significance of the Stonewall riots. Before Stonewall riots, incidents like the Portland Vice Scandal which basically forced sexual sterilization laws in Portland when nineteen-year-old Benjamin Trout revealed details about homosexual activity in the city. This would lead to police probing around the local area arresting anyone for simply being gay, or doing anything resembling gay activity. This was also many in the US first learned about homosexuality, and thus many profession would simply be able to fire you for being gay.
During one of the movie’s many misguided scene a character talks about serving in the Navy completely missing the opportunity to provide insight on history. For some reason, the scene doesn’t bother to even mention the mere existence of something called The Blue Discharge. What this basically did was get rid off gay soldiers, and stated in the GI Bill anyone with a Blue Discharge couldn’t receive any benefits during world war one, and world war two. Homosexuals had it rough during this era, but unfortunately something called the Red Scare post world war two included homosexuals on that list with this second wave being called the Lavender Scare. Assumed by many during the 1950s that homosexuals were more susceptible to blackmail. Ever met a person who thought the FBI, or government was after them? Well, if they were homosexual during the 1950s that’s exactly happened. The collective impact of these events would last decades, and wouldn’t be until the Stonewall riot that a swift in gay rights was reaching a turning point for gaining the rights they so desired.
This streamlined history of what homosexuals suffer before Stonewall is obviously too much for one movie cram into a single feature. However, it’s not impossible to provide some level of insight of these events, and the impact they made on society. A brief sequence, or snippets of dialogue dedicated to illustrating the pent up frustration some felt about this unfair treatment would have suffice. The Stonewall riot is set the piece were some finally had enough of being mistreated, and stood up for themselves. Sadly, you’ll learn more in these previous paragraphs about the significance the Stonewall riot than you will watching this movie. That is just sad on so many level. Only thing possibly sadder than that is simply calling this a bad movie ain’t doing justice how incompetent it is on nearly every conceivable level. Here’s a head scratcher before I go into the actual movie, apparently this was director Roland Emmerich passion project. You know, the director of Mel Gibson’s The Patriot (2000), and 10,000 BC (2008) which are consider some of the most historically inaccurate movies ever made.
Stonewall follows the fictitious character of Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine), a small town teenager outcasted in Indiana by his own father moving to New York in the months leading up the Stonewall Inn riots. For starter, Danny is purely a work of fiction, and using him as surrogate is fine to establish the treatment society gave to homosexual during that time. However, that’s about all it gets right on that front, and even then it doesn’t go into details how badly homosexuals had it during this time. I already mentioned a few examples in my previous paragraphs so I’ll skip the rehash here. I will add that before we see any homosexuals receive any beating from police officers; Danny first introduction to Ray (Jonny Beauchamp), and his group by a multiracial group of young, gay, and genderfluid street kids and drag queens vandalizing the neighborhood! Why would the film thought you would sympathize with a group of teens, regardless of sexual orientation, and what they identify as, whom throw a brick at a store to steal a hat, and go out disrupting people in the neighborhood is beyond me. Forget the fact they’re homosexuals, if this is how Ray, and his friends regularly act no wonder nobody likes them.
With Danny being our lead character it means actual characters based around actual activists during this time get sideline in favor of a coming of age, and young love storyline. A questionable decision cemented in the fact that those fictional portions of the movie are terrible. Exploration of Danny coming to terms with his sexuality is absent from the film. He goes from being ashamed of it to embracing his sexuality just like that. There’s little to talk about Danny character in any tangible form. It relies too much on the idea of the era, and how those in the LGBT community were treated to bother developing its characters. Danny comes off more like Roland Emmerich self inserting himself into Danny, and being the one who started the Stonewall riots. A significant event in the movie that isn’t impactful; Danny, nor the audience know the true length politics held back LGBT people, and simply claiming it was bad during this time isn’t good enough when it think it’s a important film. There’s also Danny highschool love, which the audience doesn’t get to see blossom. Therefore, making it’s bittersweet message in the movie bring hollow since, you guessed it, hardly appears in the movie.
When it comes to depicting romance this movie fails in that too. Every person Danny falls in love with are poorly defined as individual characters. Ray for instance, a love interest that Danny can’t love (Danny says this himself) is tonal whiplash. One scene has him crying to Danny telling him about how he got a beating, and how things won’t seem like they’ll ever change. Next scene, Ray wakes up getting angry at Danny for finding a flyer for a gay rights meeting in Danny pocket. Trevor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is another one of these love interest with a confusing portrayal. Part of the blame can be taken by the bad direction, but in terms of writing he didn’t come off as unreasonable. Sure, Trevor cheating on him is justified in Danny hating him, but at the same time that’s about it. The relationship is so spontaneous, and rushed through feeling sorry for Danny is impossible. Trevor is established to be fighting for gay rights since his introduction, and all Danny cares about is his heart got broken despite the fact he experienced, and witness first hand the LGBT community face!
Leading into Danny is boring. He doesn’t take an interest in the political side of gay rights rendering whatever mention of activism purely be lip service. All he seems to care about is making a good life for himself. As a badly written character you won’t know what he aspired to become, nor understand how heart he is that he seemingly can’t patch things up with his Christian father. Reminding me of another plot point. One of the few defining traits of Danny is he loves his family, but the movie hardly shows him communicating to them. Being more wrapped up in the events of New York, and finding other like him. This becomes a bigger issue in the ending when Danny’s mother shows up to a gay pride march when she didn’t speak much to her own son. You know, possibly using Danny mother to get across that acceptance is slow, but can come.
Now the biggest nail in the coffin for Danny is the film gives him the first throw in Stonewall shouting “Gay Power!”. A fictitious character who mostly mopes around about a broken hearts takes away something that real people experience by giving the first brick throw to him. This wouldn’t be an issue if some of the film’s characters weren’t based around real people. Instead of being empowering, it comes across as pure cheese, and at worst possible insult that a teenage boy started a riot that would be the big push towards gay right all because he was sexually frustrated.
On top of a terrible leading character, the film writing has characters that disappear for long periods of time. Only bringing them back when it’s stuck to generate conflict in an artificial way despite the fact the movie is based around true events. One of these character is Ed Murphy (Ron Pearlman, I’m shocked too) is just bad, and that’s about it. He appears in one scene, disappears, and sells Danny into sex slave. A topic that isn’t explored either among the other number things that aren’t explored.
If I even bother to break apart the many aspects of history it gets wrong there would be no feasible end in sight. I will pick on the fact Danny sister is happily accepting that her brother is gay. It’s the 1960s, and homophobia is rampant during this time. The most exposure that Danny’s sister would get of homosexuals would be primarily negative. Maybe Danny told his sister he was gay when he was younger, but no such thing exist, even in throwaway dialogue!
It’s much quicker to run down it gets accurate like the sex work depiction that did happen, and the mention of mafias owning bars serving gay people is right. However, the whole sex slave plot point is pointless as it contributes nothing to the actual movie. It does have activists like Marsha P. Johnson, Bob Kohler, and Frank Kameny in the movie, but more as decorations than important characters. Downplaying their roles in gay rights activism, and relegating what their did into a brief text crawl at the end.
The closest the film ever gets to being humanized is a brief scene where Ray sleeps next to Danny in a crowded apartment. Ray goes on about a better life for them, and Danny pretends to be sleeping smiling of such prospect. It’s the most subtle the movie ever gets. Just one scene in a movie that slightly goes over two hours! Filled with stereotypes of LGBT of all being negatively flamboyant, or obnoxious. Doing just about nothing in that time to make viewer understand them. As a pure work of fiction it’s simplistic depiction of complicated real world issues works against it. Discrimination that LGBT people face, and the battle they face to get their rights is something that needs a mindful approach. Not just a “people mistreat us! Let’s riot, and we get our rights!” approach which is sadly an accurate way to summarize this movie. When taken as a historical film, well, mentioned earlier, simply implying the Stonewall one riot automatically gave LGBT their rights in the US is astonishingly stupid! It glosses over so many facts you’re simply better off reading books, or watching documentary on the subject of gay rights. This movie doesn’t understand what makes a good story in a fictitious sense so entrusting it to discuss real world issues beyond some minor details is beyond its capability.
On a technical side it doesn’t fare any better either. Roland Emmerich is insecure about his direction that it’s difficult to read what exactly he wants the audience to feel. For instance, it would be nice to actually see Jeremy Irvine who portrays Danny to actually show him be comfortable sexually. Nearly all of Jeremy Irvine sexual encounters is played off as tragic. Inadvertently implying homosexuality is a something bad instead of a part of a person that feels natural to them.
His biggest misjudgment is his representation of LGBT characters. With the exception of Jeremy Irvine, every actor is either the stereotype flamboyant gay person, or evil. Having his actors overact every scene. Leaving no room for substance, especially the opening text that is meant to establish a harsh mood, but doesn’t because of the over acting. The color filtered makes things either too dark, or too yellow. Emmerich is unable to hide the cheap look of his sound stage. This one block in the movie is simply filmed in different angle, and takes you out of the illusion. Music choices are fine, but don’t do anything special. The original on the other hand, lack subtlety in its bomb static sound. As for the riot itself it’s pretty lame to see. Police push forward, and LGBT people slowly back off. That’s basically all that happens in the riot. Cars, and windows are destroyed I presume because of the sound effects, but this portion of the movie is poorly done.
Stonewall is a cinematic that gets nothing. As a work fiction it’s too simplistic on discussing complicated issues with poorly defined characters. As a historical film it gets so many things wrong viewers will leave with possibly less understanding on the significant on the Stonewall riot. It’s a movie that is meant to appeal to everyone, but will end up satisfying no one except for Emmerich who inserts himself into the lead character. There’s history worth remembering, and being proud off, yet this movie does everything it can to not capture that. Failing to understand people, the community it represents, and the history behind it.