75 Films From Asia: HAPPY TOGETHER (1997)

Happy Together (1997), is a beautiful and sensual film from Wong Kar-wai that is a special achievement from the incredible director.

CREDIT: Kino International

There is not a lot of filmmakers that I can say that I fell in love with their work just one movie in. Now having watched Chungking Express (1995) and In The Mood For Love (2000), I can say that Wong Kar-wai has definitely made it to one of my favorite directors of all time. Even though those two films are hard to top it does not take away from this heartbreaking but sensual piece of art. Wong Kar-wai once again shows me that there is something so special to the way he crafts his movies. There is a sort enticing but saddening aspect about Happy Together (1997) that pours out of the screen when you watch it.

The film revolves around a turbulent romance between its protagonists, Ho Po-Wing and Lai Yiu-fai as they live in Buenos Aires, Argentina after moving from Hong Kong. It is filled with beautifully stylized love scenes and stunning chemistry between the two actors. You can totally feel the romance between the two of them, but most importantly you can feel the heartbreak both feel not being able to be there for each other. Both of them even though similar in ways are completely different opposites that attract.

The film combats homophobia, sex work, love, loneliness, obsession, and heartbreak on top of more minor themes. Kar-wai never fails to show the ups and downs of their relationship while creating a stylized piece of art. Everything from the music choices to the coloring choices makes the movie as exquisite as it feels. The picture never fails to depict its characteristics while also aiming to create something different from other romance films.

It is not as great as In The Mood For Love (2000) but it is also not a bad film by any means. I am sure that Wong Kar-wai does not even know what it means to make a bad movie. All three of these movies form him feel special, and they are all filled with something to fall in love with throughout its runtime.

Watch Happy Together (1997) on the Criterion Channel. Follow along with the rest of this challenge on Letterboxd or the google doc that has the rest of the films on this challenge.

75 Films From Asia: PERFECT BLUE (1997)

Satoshi Kon crafts a masterpiece of a film that will not just be remembered in anime but as a piece of cinematic art.

CREDIT: Rex Entertainment

Way back when before the pandemic hit on The Nerd Corps, we covered Millennium Actress (2001) from writer/director, Satoshi Kon. If you listened to the episode you know that I did not find that film anywhere close to being great. I thought it was convoluted and very disorganized in its story structure. Since then I had not watched another film from Kon and I was scared to possibly write this man off after just watching this one film (which you should never do).

Well, Perfect Blue (1997) is incredible from start to finish and never stops gripping at you. The film is constructed through the eyes of our protagonist, Mima Kirigoe, as she retires from her Japanese idol group and pursues her career in acting. We see the good and bad sides of this career as she encounters people obsessed with her and willing to cause her harm. Some of those causing her harm are those exact people within the film industry who are supposed to help her. The nuances of the film are so carefully crafted to create a picture that is so within the style of Kon’s framework.

The film deals with various themes such as obsession, voyeurism, and the harassment of young women within a male-dominated industry. Satoshi Kon perfects the blend of fantasy and reality within the film. Along with excellent writing and direction, the film features an incredible score, exquisite sound design, and profoundly beautiful animation that brings these characters to life. I am sure that this will end up in my top ten at the end of this challenge and in my top five anime films of all time.

Perfect Blue is available to stream on Hoopla through your public library or can be rented on all major movie watching platforms. Follow along with the rest of this challenge on Letterboxd or the google doc that has the rest of the films on this challenge.

75 Films From Asia: THE TERRORIZERS (1986)

Edward Yang’s 1986 film is an intricate piece of art that’s nuances and beauties might not be apparent at first but stick with you long after you’ve seen the film.

CREDIT: Central Motion Pictures

I have always heard of Taiwanese New Wave Cinema and probably the most notable director in the movement, Edward Yang, but I never decided to actually venture into him or this genre of film. Of course, there is a lot of movies and director in this challenge that I have never watched, but there was something about Edward Yang that was pulling me to him. This film has three groups of people that interact with each other as they maneuver a changing Taiwan not just politically but economically. The world is becoming more and more difficult for the youth to maneuver with globalization and money at its forefront.

To be quite frank, most of the time a movie like this would seem a bit too convoluted to me but that was not the case for The Terrorizers (1986). The message is so clearly there and filled with various nuances. I am sure the more films I watch from Yang, the more I will learn to appreciate this one a bit more. It is beautifully shot and directed with interesting characters who truly feel like a page out of Taiwan at the time with its changing landscape. The film poses this odd feeling of a documentary, as if it is a slice of life film but then returns to its odd story structure. I am hesitant to call this a masterpiece, but I am sure with time there will be more to dissect and analyze. Along with its brilliant writing, directing, and cinematography the film also features fantastic performances that truly give life to these characters Yang writes. My favorite being the novelist wife of the doctor who feels as she is caged by her own life and wants more out of it.

I am sure as time goes by I will learn to appreciate my introduction of Taiwanese New Wave cinema more and even the work of Edward Yang. This is a film that deserves more time to consume and a lot more time to think about. I will say this though, Edward Yang has a way of turning such a small scale story and making it grand. There was never a moment in this film that I did not feel that it did not feel as important as it is, and that is a testament to the filmmaker that is Edward Yang.

Watch The Terrorizers (1985) on Prime Video. Follow along with the rest of this challenge on Letterboxd or the google doc that has the rest of the films on this challenge.

75 Films From Asia: SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE (2005)

Park Chan-wook conclude his Vengeance Trilogy with one of the most underrated pieces of cinema ever created.

CREDIT: CJ Entertainment

The final film in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy is another fantastic inclusion in the masterclass of work that he has created. Lady Vengeance (2005) follows a similar pattern to Oldboy (2003) as it follows a woman released from prison for a murder she did not commit. Lee Geum-ja played by Lee Young-ae seeks revenge from the real murderer and this gets bloody fast. Now, even if the story sounds similar to Oldboy (2003), Chan-wook turns the table on you and creates another riveting and nuanced installment in his trilogy. The film not only follows by the beat of its drum but it also manages to include some of the most beautiful imagery I’ve seen yet.

Park Chan-wook is a director of many skills and this movie shows how rough his work can be but also including such tender nuances like the importance of a Mother being there for her daughter, sharing trauma to move past it together, and truly not being able to move on from trauma even if it is “fixed.” The world of this film is grim with a prison system that is so corrupt and unorganized that it allows for sexual assault and power structures to emerge inside. There’s a scene that truly empowers the idea of “teamwork makes the dream work.” I am so happy that I watched these three incredible films, and cannot wait to finish the rest of his filmography. One thing is certain, Park Chan-wook is my favorite Korean director and I am one hundred percent confident of that.

Watch Lady Vengeance (2005) on Shudder. Follow along with the rest of this challenge on Letterboxd or the google doc that has the rest of the films on this challenge.

75 Films From Asia: SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002)

The first film of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy is explosive, bloody, and incredibly nuanced from start to end.

CREDIT: CJ Entertainment

I don’t know if I am just excited to continue with this challenge or just the thought of watching and reviewing a film by legendary Korean director, Park Chan-wook, which makes me incredibly excited? This is the first of his Vengeance Trilogy and I am starting to feel somewhat dumb for watching this one after Oldboy (2003) but maybe after this is all done I will watch the trilogy in order. Even though I had watched other films of his before this absolutely nothing could prepare me for this anxiety-inducing film from Chan-wook.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) follows the story of a deaf brother and his girlfriend as they try to acquire money for a kidney transplant for his sister by holding a wealthy man’s daughter for ransom. The film includes the cast of  Song Kang-ho, Bae Doona, Han Bo-bae, and Im Ji-eun as they deliver excellent performances. Everyone is fantastic in this film, but I have to give it up for Shin Ha-kyun whose body language and mannerisms truly make the character of Ryu. Of course, Song Kang-ho is incredible as he always is and I think I might have to admit that he is probably one of if not the best Korean actor of all time.

The film does take a bit to unravel at first but once it picks up you are in for a ride that only Park Chan-wook can create. There are blood, sweat, and tears throughout this whole film with incredible levels of nuance on the subject matter. Once again, Chan-wook is no stranger to tackling classism and the faults of capitalism. He also tackles the state of the opposition against the higher class and how some may not even think such opposition even exists. Not only is this well written but it is photographed magnificently by Kim Byung-il, seriously every other shot can be hung up on a wall as an art piece. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) is another masterpiece by the genius director and one that stands out in his already prolific filmography.

Watch Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) on Shudder. You can keep up with this movie challenge of mine by checking out my Letterboxd or the google doc of all the films I will be watching and reviewing.