Monday, October 30, 2006


The Banquet

Zhang Ziyi has shown before that she can act (especially in Kar Wai Wong's 2046), and in Hong Kong's entry to the 78th Academy Awards, Ye Yan (The Banquet), she shines once again and shows why she's China's leading actress. She's more than just a pretty face, though she easily displays both this and her skill in the loose retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Just like in many other recent Chinese/Hong Kong epics, the set designs and costumes are stunning, and the music is suitably grand (though in this film sometimes messy); most of those involved in Ye Yan were the same people Ang Lee worked with in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That means that yes, there are still high-flying martial arts fight scenes here, mostly courtesy of Daniel Wu. They can prove distracting, sometimes even overdone, and the film might have worked more as a whole had subtlety not been cast aside for flash, but here the fights are more akin to a dance and are mostly fluid and lyrical. Aside from Zhang, actress Xun Zhou also gives a strong performance. Grade: B

The Prestige

Wolverine and Batman squaring off in a movie about magicians? I was onboard the moment I heard of the plot, the casting, and the director (Christopher Nolan). I did not let some negative pre-release reviews of The Prestige prevent me from seeing a film that I knew I would at least enjoy. I was not disappointed at all. The viewer can get slightly thrown off by the chronological order of the scenes (especially if he or she is not accustomed to Nolan's style of tweaking with the time element, as he so masterfully did in Memento), but other than that it's a strong headtrip of a movie, with a twist that you would be able to predict early on in the movie without ruining the whole experience. All principal actors, Hugh Jackman (in a dual role), Christian Bale, and Michael Caine, are superb, though Scarlett Johansson fails to shine onscreen. David Bowie is extremely effective in a short role. It is a thought-provoking and riveting film that is every bit as magical as its premise suggests. Grade: B+

The King and the Clown

Just like Hong Kong's Oscar entry, Korea's own, Wang-ui Namja (The King and the Clown), is a very visually appealing movie, with splashes of color in the Korean garb and set designs, and a pretty lead actor to boot. It is a moving film about two street performers/minstrels (played adequately by Woo-seong Kam and bishonen Jun-gi Lee) who land a job as court jesters by mocking the King (Jin-yeong Jeong in a far from endearing performance). Complications arise when the King's tyranny and cruelty abound as a result of the revelatory nature of the acting troupe's skits and are exacerbated by his growing obsession with Gong-gil (Jun-gi). Jun-gi's performance is the flashier here, with Woo-seong's being more subtle but no less effective. The film builds up the tension in the court without rush, and the dramatic scenes near the end are suitably powerful. The ending scene (and the scene accompanying the credits) is poignant and wraps up the film in a beautiful tone of realization and surrender. Grade: B+

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