Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I'm back with foreign films on the brain!

I haven't been blogging as I should, and I suppose that makes me a bad girl, more importantly, just a rotten, bad "writer". No matter what, though, in the end, I always come back to this little space where I can write anything I want, whenever I want, however-which-way I want.

Having said that...

Right now, I want to write about the foreign movies I've seen lately. They have been mostly Asian, ranging in nationalities from Chinese, Korean and Japanese to one French film in the mix.

Here is a run-down of my thoughts on each of these films.

Lust, Caution.(China) This is one of the few movies I've ever watched with an NC-17 rating. If my memory serves me right, I believe it's only the second of such rating I've viewed. With the exception of one disturbing scene I could've done without, but is perhaps necessary to establish the relationship between the two main chracters of the film, this film is superb. It is based on a WWII-era novel by Chinese author, Eileen Chang, and directed by Ang Lee, the same guy who brought us Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain.

Lust, Caution, set in pre-WWII China, tells the story of a Chinese acting troupe, who decide to join the resistance against the Japanese occupation. The focus of the film is on the relationship between a young woman from the troupe seducing a Chinese official working with the Japanese, in an effort to assassinate him.

It is, quite simply put, a high quality film with complex characters that keep you wondering about their motives and thoughts. See this.

Harakiri. (Japan) Set in 17th-century Japan, back when Tokyo was called Edo, and the way of the Samurai was the way, this film lashes out at the very heart of the Japanese system.

The movie was made in 1962, during the golden age of Japanese cinema. It tells the story of an old man, a ronin, wishing to end his life with harakiri in the courts of the Lyi Clan House. The film is very well-written, as the old man tells his story in flashbacks, unravelling in the process his true purpose for coming to that house, where the Samurai code, as he puts it, is a sham.

Though this is set in 17th-century Japan, its message is a universal commentary on unjust systems anywhere in time or place.

Raise the Red Lantern. (China) I'd heard about this movie many times before I finally saw it. At the very least, I heard that it was nominated for a best foreign language film Oscar in 1992. I also had seen many of Zhang Yimou's, its director's, other films and liked the way he presented the human condition in China.

Raise the Red Lantern is a film that leaves no room for the viewer to like any of the characters. All the characters are guilty of wrongs, whether they are aware of them or not, except for perhaps Yang, the young servant girl of Songlian, the main character and fourth mistress of a rich lord. The title refers to the ancient tradition practiced in the house, where whenever the lord is to spend the night with one of the mistresses, red lanterns are lit and raised in her quarter.

The conditions under which the four mistresses live are hard to describe. Each has her own quarter with a servant. She is well-provided for and has no worries beyond gaining the attention of the lord of the house. It is a constant competition, that is rarely completely won, as one mistress is always scheming to take the attention away from the other.

I personally did not like this film too much, as it is dark and depressing from a woman's standpoint. I can't deny that it's a good film worth watching, however, but you should keep in mind that it's not a popcorn movie, but one that might leave a bad taste in your mouth. I did love the director's way of focusing on the lanterns, and playing out their importance in correspondence with the movie's smart title.

The Bow. (Korea) What do you get when you take an old fishing boat, put it in the middle of the sea, put a 16-year-old beautiful, mute girl on it with a 60-year-old man, and bows and arrows? You get quite a spectacular film, is what I say.

There is very little speech in this ultimately cute film, but it is still well-written. As I mentioned, a 60-year-old man has a 16-year-old girl whom he's raised on the boat since she was six years old. He is not her father, nor is he her grandfather, or uncle, or anything. In fact, he is her abductor, and plans to marry her when she turns 17. She knows this, and she doesn't mind, as all she knows is the little boat that is the world to her. The two live in perfect harmony, not speaking, but practicing archery together, and telling fortunes to visitors on the boat with the boat's archery target.

This harmonious, ignorant life is interrupted when the young girl meets a young man visiting the boat and is instantly smitten with him, much to the dislike of the old man. Watch this film, as it is sweet and not as gross as you may think. The cinematography is stunning, and the ending unlike anything I've ever seen.

And finally...

The Bridesmaid. (France) Where do I begin? This film is a lot of things... and none of them good. It is strange, creepy, pointless and next to The Piano Teacher, the absolute weirdest movie of any language I've ever watched. It tells the story of Phillippe, who lives with his single mother and two sisters. At his sister's wedding, he meets Senta, a strange, and as we see, deranged girl who is convinced Phillippe is her soulmate. After a strange series of encounters between these two "soulmates", the real weirdness begins. Senta tells Phillippe to prove that he loves her by doing certain things; plant a tree, have sex with someone of the same sex, write a poem, and finally... kill someone.

Putting aside the creepy basement Senta lives in, or the strange relationship that Phillippe has with a woman's bust that looks exactly like Senta (that's super creepy)... the characters are case studies all on their own. Though Senta is by far the weirdest of the two, there is something about Phillippe that leads you to believe he needs a good long talk with a psychiatric professional. I hated this is the bottom line.

I've watched more foreign movies, but these are the ones that really stood out. I plan to write about more of them in the near future.

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