Posts tagged ‘bollywood’

Different Drum: Three big Asian films to see instead of Star Wars

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Deepika takes aim, Bajirao Mastani, 2015

The advent of the new S*** W*** release means that no other big Hollywood movies are opening this weekend, which has an added hidden bonus for fans of Asian cinema. Although most US multiplexes have booked the return of Han, Leia, and Chewie, theaters still need to fill out their calendar to give the illusion of choice for moviegoers. Aside from a few holdovers from past weeks and some other counterprogramming hoping to catch the overflow of those not fortunate enough to have gotten advance tix to SW, there are three big Asian movie spectacles opening up this weekend in San Francisco.

srk-gerua

Shah Rukh Khan, Lord of all he surveys, Dilwale, 2015

Included among those are two huge Bollywood blockbusters featuring some of the biggest stars in India. Dilwale includes the legendary jodi of the baadshah of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan, and Kajol, the violet-eyed movie queen who has starred with him in several giant hits over the years. Dilwale purports to be a romance/action film and the trailer includes longing glances, exploding cars, automatic weapons, slapstick masala humor, and pretty European scenery, so it will either find a huge audience in South Asia and beyond or fall completely flat at the box office. SRK has a massive fanbase and a lot of goodwill banked over the years so despite the film’s apparent formulaicness I’m betting that the former rather than the latter will occur.

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Ranveer brings it, Bajirao Mastani, 2015

Going head to head against Dilwale in India and here in North America is Bajirao Mastani, another lavish spectacle starring New Gen superstars Ranveer Singh (Lootera; Gunday), Deepika Padukone (Chennai Express; Tamasha), and Priyanka Chopra (Dil Dhadakne Do; Mary Kom). The latest historical epic from quirky visionary Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Saawariya; Devdas), Bajirao Mastani follows the story of the famous Maratha general Peshwa Bajirao and his two romantic interests, a warrior princess (Padukone) and Bajirao’s loyal wife (Chopra). As with all Bhansali films the art direction is completely gorgeous and over the top, this time utilizing a beige and sandstone palette accented by deep, saturated reds and greens. Real-life lovers Singh and Padukone were brilliant together in Bhansali’s 2013 Romeo and Juliet epic Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram Leela and hopefully Bajirao Mastani recaptures some of their intense chemistry. Chopra is one of Bollywood’s best actresses, with presence, gravity, and beauty, and she’s also been making inroads in Hollywood lately, most recently as the star of the ABC action series Quantico.

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Shu Qi, Tomb Raider, Mojin: The Lost Legend, 2015

Rounding out the clutch of Asian film spectacles opening this weekend is Mojin: The Lost Legend, another big-budget CGI spectacle from mainland China’s movie mill. This one is full of A-list Chinese stars including Chen Kun, Huang Bo, Shu Qi, and Angelababy, with an appearance by young Hong Kong actress Cherry Ngan (The Way We Dance) as a Japanese schoolgirl assassin. The storyline follows a pair of down-and-out adventurers, Hu Bayi (Chen Kun) and Wang Kaixuan (Huang Bo), former tomb raiders and treasure hunters who end up scraping by on the streets of New York City Chinatown in 1986. Somehow they are enlisted to rob a tomb they’d disastrously encountered twenty years prior, and the movie follows their exploits as they travel to Mongolia to find their fate. Shirley (Shu Qi) goes along for the ride based on poorly sketched and gratuitous romantic subplot with Hu.

Director Wu Ershan (Painted Skin: The Resurrection) continues his patented ADHD style of filmmaking, as the disjointed plot jumps back and forth in time from China to Mongolia to New York City. The film intersperses large swaths of nonsensical exposition with lackluster fighting and action scenes loaded with egregious CGI. The cast gamely attempts to inject some energy into the witless proceedings, with the usually excellent Huang Bo in particular trying to enliven things with scenery-chewing and profanity, but the film remains a paper-thin excuse for a string of not-very-spooky tomb-based action scenes and strangely juxtaposed set pieces. I actually enjoyed the maniacal weirdness of Wu Ershan’s first feature, The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman (2010) but here the scenario falls pretty flat, as the effects overwhelm the story and characterizations.

My favorite part of the movie is the flashback to the Cultural Revolution that includes clueless Red Guards giddily singing CCP propaganda songs and foolishly deriding ghosts and spirits for being counterrevolutionary, but this sequence of political irreverence is short-lived. The rest of the movie relies on a turgid plot and lack of characterization that is sorely lacking in wit or originality.

So if you’re not feeling The Force this week, these are a few options for cinematic spectacle instead. Catch ’em while you can.

UPDATE: Saw both Dilwale and Bajirao Mastani last week. Dilwale: not good. A few brief incandescent moments of SRK-Kajol magic surrounded by many long passages of utterly boring masala crap. I love SRK but this is a shyte movie.

Bajirao Mastani, on the other hand, is utterly enthralling. From its very first moment I was completely hooked. Top-notch art direction, costumes, songs, and performances, with Ranveer Singh bringing the swagga as Peshwa Bajirao, matched in fierceness and intensity by Deepika Padukone as his warrior princess lover. Priyanka Chopra as the third leg of the love triangle is strong and steady. The film is almost too gorgeous in its warm beige and red color palette, with crazy detailed costumes and the best pearl and jewel earrings on men that I’ve ever seen. The songs and choreography don’t stop, with old-school dance sequences featuring a cast of dozens in moving in fluid unison. A complete delight for the eyes and ears, with a passionate love story at its core. Highly recommended.

opens Dec. 18, 2015

Dilwale, dir. Rohit Shetty

Century San Francisco Centre 9 and XD

Bajirao Mastani, dir. Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Century San Francisco Centre 9

Mojin: The Lost Legend, dir. Wu Ershan

AMC Van Ness 14, San Francisco

 

 

 

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December 18, 2015 at 7:48 pm Leave a comment

Spread Your Wings: More airplane movie film festival

Kamal Hasan and ominous pigeons, Vishwaroopam, 2013

Kamal Hasan and bad pigeons, Vishwaroopam, 2013

Another round of international flights, this time on the much more updated Singapore Airlines. Not only does Singapore have a full 1000-plus slate of movies on demand but they have an entire Indian food menu to go with their Chinese and “Western” selections. Since they were out of the chicken mushroom rice noodles by the time they got to my seat, I ordered the chana daal, which came with lime pickle, some outstanding curried vegetables, a rather dry roti, and raita, which beats most U.S. airlines’ food service any day. Alas, they did not have the cup noodles featured on Cathay Pacific flights so my middle-of-the-flight hunger pangs had to be assuaged by a mediocre cold cheese sandwich. But lots of movies on tap!

Andy Lau Tak-Wah beaching it, Switch, 2013

Watch advert or dream sequence? Switch, 2013

Switch

This 2013 release was a sensation in China last year for all the wrong reasons as it was rated one of the worst movies ever on China’s online discussion forums, douban and baidu. The movie paradoxically was also one of the highest grossing films of the year in China, due to very bad word of mouth, and it indeed lives up to its negative hype. Truly unique and fascinatingly bad, it’s an astoundingly shoddy cinematic construction that plays like a bunch of fancy and expensive set pieces only tentatively linked together by a narrative structure. Genial superstar Andy Lau Tak-Wah portrays a super-spy assigned to crack the case of an arcane art heist involving two halves of a lengendary scroll painting. Along the way the film throws in a quartet of girl assassins on roller skates in clear plastic miniskirts, an obligatory psycho Japanese villain, and many gratuitous Andy-lounging-on-the-beach-in-Dubai shots, as well as fancy aerial shots of a car flying through the air dangling from a helicoptor attached to a magnetic grappler, a surfeit of swordfighting, explosives, and incendiaries, and many, many costume changes. The movie is full of technology fetishism at its best, and Andy Lau gets to be a combination of James Bond and a low-rent Tony Stark, complete with transparent floating holographic computer readouts and ridiculous gadgets. With its illogical leaps in time and space, the movie is great if you think of it either as one long dream sequence or as one long Andy Lau watch commercial.

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LBH does CYF, Red 2, 2013

Red 2 (Lee Byung-Hyun parts only)

Because I was fortunate enough to watch this on a plane I could skip over all but the scenes involving Lee Byung-Hyun, which absolutely elevated my viewing experience. In this one LBH demonstrates his much improved English diction and gets to play out a greatest-hits of Asian male action tropes. In his introductory scene he appears buffed out and naked, back and front, then goes on to assassinate someone with origami while wearing a kimono. Along the way he also brandishes two guns at time in a shootout, displays some high-kicking hung fu, and, in a pretty fun car-chase/shootout, practices a bit of Tokyo-drifting with a gun-toting Helen Mirren. As per usual LBH looks sharp in a tailored suit and holds his own as he grimaces and swaggers with John Malkovich and Bruce Willis. Somehow the audio on my seat-back monitor got switched to Japanese in the last five minutes of the movie so I missed out on all of the banter in the denouement, but I’m sure it was awesome and clever, and it was actually kinda fun seeing Helen Mirren dubbed in Japanese. In my fangirl dreams she and LBH have a thing for each other—spinoff sequel?

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Sridevi and flowers, English Vinglish, 2013

English Vinglish

I LOVED THIS MOVIE. The best thing I’ve seen in a long time, English Vinglish is a lovely family dramedy anchored by Sridevi’s charming performance as a woman trying to balance between duty and self-worth. Sridevi is brilliant as a beleagured Mumbai mom and housewife who comes into her own on an overseas trip to New York City by herself. I probably also liked it since the main character is a mother on a long trip away from her family, which, seeing as I was on a long trip away from my family, made me feel all sympathetic and stuff. Also, Sridevi wears some of the most excellent floral-print saris I’ve ever seen.

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Fun and frolic, Fukrey, 2013

Fukrey

Another winner and another example of the resurgence of commercial Hindi-language cinema (aka Bollywood), Fukrey (“slacker”) is a bit like The Hangover, B’wood-stylee. The plot involves a quartet of Dehli townies who long to attend the local college despite their apparent lack of intellectual gifts. Among those aspiring students are Coocha and Hunny, a pair of cheerful losers who earn their living as dancers in costumed street productions of religious Hindu mythologicals, and who apparently have a foolproof way of predicting winning lottery numbers that involves arcane dream interpretation. Their interplay in particular includes some extremely funny comic moments and the two riff off of each other as deftly as Martin and Lewis. Dreamy musician Zafar is stuck in a rut—three years after graduating college he’s still fruitlessly pursuing his musical aspirations, which causes his sensible and levelheaded girlfriend, who also teaches at said college, no end to angst. Lali works at his dad’s popular restaurant and sweet shop and also aspires to attend the local college, though he currently can only take correspondence courses. Somehow the four protagonists get caught up in an increasingly tangled morass of financial woe, eventually ending up in debt to the tune of 2.5 million rupees to the local drug boss, a toughie named Biphal (the excellent Richa Chadda from Gangs of Wasseypur 1 & 2) who has “Sinderella” tattooed on the back of her neck. The plot twists and turns ala its spiritual predeccesor, the equally clever and irreverent Delhi Belly, making great use of that city’s crowded, dusty locale to accentuate the characters’ sticky situation. The comedy is deft and skillful and, despite many chances for overdoing it, director Mrighdeep Singh Lamba directs with a fairly understated hand. The characters are somewhat broadly drawn at first but become complex and sympathetic and Lamba has excellent and economic visual storytelling skills—his narrative structure and editing cleverly tie together all of the loose ends of the wide-ranging story. This is the best kind of movie to watch on a long plane flight, with a nice long running time that eats up hours, a fun, lighthearted romp of a story, and amusing and likeable characters. Throw in a few quick episodes of song and dance and you have a winner. Great stuff—

Kamal Hasan does this too, Vishwaroopam, 2013

Kamal Hasan does this too, Vishwaroopam, 2013

Vishwaroopam

An outstanding Tamil-language spy film written and directed by and starring the amazing Kamal Hasan. This is only the second Tamil film I’ve seen (the first having been Puddhupettai, starring the wonderful Danoush,) but it definitely won’t be my last. The film starts off in New York City as an upwardly mobile NRI woman (Pooja Kumar) describes her marital issues to her sympathetic psychologist. Somehow, through a series of complicated and indescribable narrative turns, the film ends up in the middle of an Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, where the plot takes a lengthy digression. The story then wends its way back to New York to further explicate links between Al-Quada terrorists, uranium, an oncology lab, and radioactive pigeons. A bomb scare and much frenetic action follows. Lead actor and director Hasan, who gets to show off his hand-to-hand martial arts chops as well as his classical Indian dancing skilz, among many other talents, anchors the film with his charismatic performance as the super-spy with a complicated personal life who wryly notes, “I have a lot of emotional baggage.” The movie’s production values are top-notch, the songs by Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy are outstanding, and the war scenes pull no punches, with men, women and children blown up, shot, strafed, and otherwise becoming collateral damage in the vicious guerilla fighting. The only weak link is Kumar as the clueless wife—she’s not quite able to pull of her character with much conviction, though admittedly she’s not given a lot of to work with.

Anthony Wong brings it, Ip Man, The Final Fight, 2013

Anthony Wong brings it, Ip Man, The Final Fight, 2013

Ip Man: The Final Fight

I only got to watch the first five minutes of the latest installment in the ongoing Ip Man saga before the in-flight movie system on the plane was shut off. This chapter, directed by stalwart Hong Kong director Herman Lau, chronologically follows the unrelated Donnie Yen pair of Ip Man movies as well as the unrelated Wong Kar-Wai version, The Grandmaster. Yau did direct Ip Man: The Legend Is Born, the prequel starring Dennis To as baby Ip Man, so there might be some thematic continuity there but for the most part the Ips are all running in parallel universes. Since the flight attendants had already confiscated the headphones by the time I started watching the movie it was a silent viewing experience for me, but I did get to see a very nicely staged encounter in which Ip Man challenges an eager young disciple to a battle to knock the grandmaster off of a square of newspaper laid on a kitchen floor. I watched the rest of the movie a few weeks later after I got back home and it didn’t disappoint, as a fun little slice of bygone Hong Kong ala Echoes of the Rainbow. Anthony Wong is great as the middle-aged Ip Man, carrying himself with dignity, grace, and the inimitable Wong Chau-sang swagga. The movie also includes familiar Hong Kong cinema faces including Anita Yuen as Mrs. Ip, Eric Tsang as a rival martial arts master (who has an outstanding duel with Ip Man that’s a marvel of cinematic fight choreography in the way that it makes two non-martial artists look incredibly suave and skilled), and Jordan Chan and Gillian Chung (yes, that Gillian Chung) as a couple of Ip Man’s disciples. In the face of the continued encroachment of China’s commercial film industry on the Hong Kong moviemaking world, it’s nice to see a genuine HK film with actual Cantonese dialogue (albeit with Ip Man and Mrs. Ip feigning broad Foshan accents). Bonus points for Anthony Wong not being afraid to play an old, albeit very cool, dude.

February 2, 2014 at 6:16 am Leave a comment

The Thrill of It All: Raj Kapoor at the Pacific Film Archive

Raj Kapoor, vagabonding, Shree 420, 1955

Starting this week and running from July 19-Aug. 11, the Pacific Film Archive plays host to The Eternal Poet: Raj Kapoor & the Golden Age of Indian Cinema, a six-film series of classic Bollywood films by Raj Kapoor, the superstar actor and director whose career spanned six decades. Beginning in the 1930s Kapoor was involved in dozens of films and his popularity in India gained him the nickname “The Great Showman.” He’s probably best known for his lovable tramp persona, modeled in part on Charlie Chaplin’s famous screen character, and he made some of India’s most popular films of the 20th century.

Kapoor began his career in 1935 at the age of 11—his breakthrough film was Neel Kamai in 1947. Many other hit films followed and by the time of his death he was revered as one of the kings of Hindi-language cinema—he acted in as well as directed, produced, and marketed many of his films. Handsome and photogenic, with wavy dark hair and blue eyes, and with a nimble physical grace and keen comic timing, Kapoor was made for the silver screen. As is often the case in India, several of his family members are also members of the Bollywood pantheon including his father Prithviraj, brothers Shashi and Shammi, sons Rishi and Randhir, and grandchildren Karisma, Kareena, and Ranbir Kapoor.

The PFA series is a nice sampler of his work, with films ranging from Aag (1948) to the Kapoor-directed Bobby (starring his fresh-faced son Rishi) from 1974. The films are lovely fables about life, love, and humanity, with Kapoor as the everyman searching for meaning and beauty amidst the chaos of modern times.

Nargis & Raj 4-ever, Barsaat, 1949

Barsaat (1949) stars Kapoor and Premnath as friends who woo two country girls, with Kapoor’s violin-playing idealist looking for love while Premnath looks for recreation. Nargis (who later starred in Mother India) was Kapoor’s real-life extramarital squeeze and she appears in five of the six films in the PFA series. In Barsaat she plays Kapoor’s romantic muse and the chemistry between the two is palpable, reflecting their torrid offscreen relationship.

I watched a DVD screener of Barsaat and even in that degraded format the cinematography was pretty stunning. Despite the fact that it was clearly shot partially on location and partially on a soundstage, the film successfully blends the two visual styles, creating dreamlike mix of realism and artifice. The film also artfully alternates between diegetic and non-diegetic music, further enhancing its surreal, mythical feel.

In Shree 420 (1955), Kapoor in full-on tramp mode is charming and entirely watchable. His lovable rube, also named Raj, wanders the mean streets of Bombay, where, as one character states, “high buildings are made of cement, people have hearts of stone, and only one thing is sacred, that’s money. ” The number 420 in the film’s title refers to the section in the Indian penal code dealing with theft, and literally translates as “Mr. 420,” or respectable thief. Written by K.A. Abbas (a well-known figure in India’s “parallel,” or neo-realist, film community), the movie is an interesting critique of unbridled capitalism, portraying the wealthy as unethical, venal predators who ruthlessly exploit the poor.

Kapoor’s innocent character is seduced by the corruption of the big city, much to the dismay of his love interest, the right-minded and honorable Vidya, played by Nargis. Much like her similar character in Barsaat, Nargis’ Vidya is the film’s moral center, using her expressive eyes and virtuous bearing to great effect.

Despite the harsh realities of life in the big city, Raj finds small kindnesses from the other poor and working-class folks he encounters—a matronly fruit-seller gives him free bananas and, after a brief misunderstanding, his fellow street-dwellers welcome him into their midst. The film’s climax evokes Frank Capra at his populist best, as Kapoor rages against the machine and rallies the downtrodden.

Get your motor runnin’, Rishi & Dimple, Bobby, 1974

Bobby (1974), directed by Kapoor, was the first Indian film to feature the now-familiar Bollywood premise of young protagonists defying tradition in the name of love. Baby-faced Rishi Kapoor, his character named Raja (Hindi for “prince”), and sixteen-year-old Dimple Kapadia play out the classic rich boy/poor girl storyline, challenging the status quo with their caste-busting romance. The film reflects the youth rebellion sweeping the world at the time and at one point, astride a motorbike and dressed in leathers, Rishi Kapoor actually resembles Peter Fonda. Both of the filmic fathers (one played with great zest by Premnath from Barsaat, here with a middle-aged paunch) are tigers, loudly and insistently battling it out for top cat. As is fitting its 1970s release the costume design is amazing, with Rishi in red velour jumpsuits, long striped scarves, and turquoise bell-bottoms.

The film, which takes the countercultural revolution of the 1960s and 70s and filters it through a distinctively Bollywood lens, was the first Hindi-language film to focus on young love, and Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia ably fulfill their roles as the passionately yearning teen couple. Interestingly enough, many years later in his middle age Rishi Kapoor played a similar role in the 2009 film Love Aaj Kal, as a man who overcomes parental and societal pressure in order to pursue his true love.

The PFA series also includes Awaara (1951) another of Kapoor’s renderings of his famous little tramp character, Boot Polish (1954), and Aag (1948), Kapoor’s directorial debut. All three were available on preview DVDs but I instead decided to wait to see them on the big screen, as they should be. I’m sure I won’t regret it.

The Eternal Poet: Raj Kapoor & the Golden Age of Indian Cinema

July 19-Aug. 11, 2012

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft Way

Berkeley, CA 94720

(510) 642-1124

July 20, 2012 at 7:48 am 1 comment

Slippin’ Into Darkness: Agneepath and The Viral Factor film reviews

Hrithik Roshan, tattered, Agneepath, 2012

A funny thing happened on the way to the multiplex last week—both of the number one movies in China and in India were playing simultaneously at Bay Area theaters. The Viral Factor, director Dante Lam’s latest actioner, and Agneepath, a remake of a classic 1990s Bollywood revenge drama, both made their way to the U.S. with day-and-date releases in the U.S. and their respective countries of origin.

Agneepath, starring the remarkably hot and handsome Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan, set a record for highest opening day grosses in India and is on its was to joining the 100 crores club, along with blockbusters like Aamir Khan’s Three Idiots and Ghajini, Shahrukh Khan’s Ra.One and Don 2, and Salman Khan’s Bodyguard and Dabangg.

The flick is an old-school vengeance story with new-school stars, including the aforementioned Hrithik, pouty-lipped former Miss World Priyanka Chopra, and hulking villain Sanjay Dutt. It also features an item number with another rising star, Katrina Kaif, who shows off her amazing articulated torso in a fast-paced dance sequence.

The original Agneepath is a cult classic in India and stars OG bad boy Amitabh Bachchan. Both the original and the remake take their title from a well-known poem written by Bachchan’s father, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, and it’s featured prominently in both films. Agneepath roughly translates as “the path of fire,” referring to persevering in the face of great struggle.

Sanjay Dutt, evil, Agneepath, 2012

In the new Agneepath the intensity is turned to up eleven for the duration as first-time director Karan Malhotra brings the high melodrama on a grand scale, including child slavery, beatings and hangings, tattooed villains both bald and hairy, machete-wielding transvestites, and a bride who gets gunned down on her wedding day. Not to mention Hrithik Roshan’s smoldering green eyes simmering with rage throughout the movie. At the plex where I watched the show with a mixed crowd of both desi and non-desi audience members, the stoned teenager in the projection booth had jacked up the theater’s volume to “deafening,” but this only suited the movie’s thundering score and accentuated the general more-ness of the storyline.

In contrast to the theatrics of the plot, Hrithik turns in a subtle, intense performance as the tortured hero bent on avenging his father’s wrongful death. Despite being astoundingly hot, as always Hrithik’s on-screen persona is fairly low-key, downplaying his tousled hair and perfect profile. He’s the dreamboat with a heart of gold who is incredibly handsome, cut and toned, yet remarkably unassuming. At the show I attended, Roshan’s first appearance thirty minutes into the movie was greeted by an elated fan calling out, “I love you, baby!” Her sentiment was quickly echoed by a happy murmur from most of the female viewers in the audience.

Producer Karan Johar’s Sirkian aesthetic is all over this one, thought it’s nominally directed by Karan Malhotra. The film’s emotional palette is completely saturated, with every scene staged for maximum dramatic effect. Yet despite the overall fever pitch, some sequences manage to stand out, including a harrowing lynching that sets the dark and violent tone of the film, and a gorgeous orange-toned set piece that takes place during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. Malhotra makes excellent use of the festival’s spectacle, skillfully intercutting the riotously colorful celebration with a cat-and-mouse assassination attempt. The film’s sleek production values, its gorgeous and charismatic leading man, and its bloody tale of violent retribution make it a good candidate for crossover success in the U.S. and worldwide.

Nic Tse, misunderstood, The Viral Factor, 2012

The Viral Factor, China’s number one movie last week, is a horse of a slightly different color. Part intense and violent actioner, part family melodrama, and part reunification allegory, the film boasts an amazing amount of property and vehicle destruction, and copious quantities of flying bullets, sheared-off limbs, and characters leaping from high ledges. In other words, it’s a typical Dante Lam movie.

The story concerns a pair of estranged brothers, one raised in Hong Kong by his father, and one raised in China by his mother, who of course end up on opposite sides of the law. Fai, the cop, stiffly played by Taiwanese pop superstar Jay Chou, and Yeung, the thief, more energetically rendered by Hong Kong pop superstar Nicholas Tse, meet cute after Yeung busts out of police custody in Malaysia. Intertwined with their nascent reunion is a plot involving a mutant smallpox virus, corrupt cops, and a sleek English-speaking gangster clumsily played by Andy On (here billed as Andy Tien).

Jay Chou, cornered, The Viral Factor, 2012

Director Lam keeps the pace cracking throughout, starting with a blistering car chase and shootout in the streets of Jordan—clearly someone’s been watching The Hurt Locker. Yet in true Hong Kong style the action sequences, smartly choreographed by Chin Kar-lok, are interspersed with a melodramatic family subplot. The hoary cop-criminal brothers theme has a long and venerable history in Hong Kong action movies, perhaps most notably essayed by Chow Yun-Fat and Leslie Cheung in A Better Tomorrow. Here the conflict is much less dramatically rendered, in part because neither Jay Chou nor Nic Tse possess the passion, chops, or sheer charisma of either Chow or Cheung, and as such the brotherly relationship is more friendly than fraught. Tse manages to be convincing as the hotheaded criminal, despite his slight and wiry stature, but Chou doesn’t bring a lot to his role as the cop. Without much fraternal tension the familial dynamics don’t possess a huge amount of urgency, so the storyline’s resolution ultimately lacks impact.

But the action sequences more than make up for this dramatic slackness, and veteran director Lam makes excellent use of enclosed spaces full of whizzing bullets, hand grenades, and sharp objects. As with his two previous films, The Beast Stalker and The Stool Pigeon (both of which also star Nic Tse), all of the lead characters suffer grievous bodily harm from car wrecks, gunfire, blunt force, and other physical trauma, with each eventually sporting the facial scars that have lately become Lam’s signature. Although he handles the fancier set pieces effectively, including a helicopter chase that weaves through a dense jungle of skyscrapers, Lam seems most at home down in the mean streets of Kuala Lumpur. It’s there that the film really gains some traction, with corrupt cops and scraggly gangsters populating neon-lit outdoor food stalls not unlike those found in Lam’s native Hong Kong. Along with Herman Yau, Lam is one of the few directors in the former Crown Colony still making streetwise commercial cinema, and the success of The Viral Factor both at home and abroad will hopefully enable him to find future financing for his gritty, kinetic Hong Kong-style movies.

Bonus beats: Here’s a clip of Chikni Chameli from Agneepath with Katrina Kaif and her amazingly flexible abs. Props for lighting a match on her forearm. Also includes nice cutaways of Hrithik brooding prettily and Sanjay Dutt getting his mean on.

February 3, 2012 at 8:39 am 4 comments

What We All Want: Milestones, Smut, and Shahrukh Khan

Best-Actor-Shahrukh-Khan-1

SRK forgets to wear a shirt

Holy cow! After less than a year of existence this blog reached  100,000 hits this week. Coincidentally, this week also marked Shahrukh Khan’s 44th birthday, which is only significant because SRK is one of the main reasons for the healthy traffic on this site. Along with fellow semi-naked movie star Edison Chen, SRK’s posts have received fully one-quarter of the total visits to this blog. Nothing like a little celebrity skin to draw an audience–

Interestingly enough, the next-most-popular posts are about the Star Trek reboot and the Tiananmen Square tank man, so it’s not just thrill-seekers stopping by. Other popular search topics are fairly diverse, including Kinatay, Brillante Mendoza’s controversial new flick, asiansartmuseum’s parody website Lord, It’s The Samurai, the late Pinoy poet Al Robles, and President Obama’s brother-in-law Konrad Ng.

bobo-chan-edison-chen-pics

Good friends Edison Chen & Bobo Chun, naked, 2007

But the double-barreled combination of a starkers Badshaah of Bollywood and Edison Chen’s sexual escapades are the all-time hit kings here on this site. Considering the popularity of on-line porn, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that people would be so fascinated with looking at their favorite actors in the altogether. When I started blogging it wasn’t my intention to be a way station for pictures of bare-assed Asian movie stars, and I don’t think I’ve catered to that need too flagrantly, but I’ll take the traffic however it comes.

Probably only a fraction of the flesh-seekers explore the site any further but I’d like to think that I’ve lured a couple unwary readers into my clutches with promises of semi-nude celebrities, then pried open their brains and poured in some radical knowledge. For me one of the great joys of blogging is throwing my random thoughts up on the web, without knowing how they’ll be received or who’s going to come across them, then seeing how they play out. I have to say that I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

west wind francis ng

There's a new sheriff in town, Francis Ng, Fierce West Wind, 2010

PS: Just because I can, here’s a nice picture of Francis Ng in his upcoming movie Fierce West Wind. He plays a bounty hunter in what looks like a classic Eastern Western. Cowboy Francis! Be still, my heart–

November 6, 2009 at 1:26 am 6 comments

One Time, One Night: Fangirl Extra and Shah Rukh Khan, My Name Is Khan

Shah Rukh Khan and friends in San Francisco, My Name Is Khan, 2009

Shah Rukh Khan and friends, My Name Is Khan location, San Francisco, 2009

I’ve known for a while that Shah Rukh Khan’s newest movie, My Name Is Khan (MNIK), would be filming in California this summer and I was amused to think that the King of Bollywood, as well as his equally fabulous co-star, Kajol, would possibly be within a few hundred miles of me sometime this month.

When the movie shoot finally arrived here I realized that, according to various Bollywood fansites, MNIK was not only filming in California but in San Francisco, within miles of my house. Like the good otaku that I am, I tried to track down the production in hopes of possibly seeing SRK up close and in person.

Shah Rukh Khan smoking, Market Street, My Name Is Khan location, San Francisco, 2009

Shah Rukh Khan smoking, Market Street, My Name Is Khan location, San Francisco, 2009

At first I tried to trace SRK’s whereabouts via twitter, but the news was always a little too late—I found out he was at the Palace of Fine Arts a day after the shoot there; he was at Dolores Park on a Friday but I read about it the following Sunday; the movie crew was in the South Bay for a couple days but it was impossible and insane for me to drive two hours in the hopes of crashing a closed set to catch a glimpse of him. Then by chance I ran into an Indian couple at my excellent local video store, Four-Star Video, and chatted with them in front of the store’s newly inaugurated Bollywood section (full disclosure: I helped Ken Shelf, the store’s awesome proprietor, pick out several of the movies therein and wrote the blurbs for him, too). The Indian couple mentioned that they’d just been extras on MNIK and that the production was probably still seeking people for the last couple days of filming. So I raced home and looked up the information about becoming an extra, emailed the casting agency, and within a couple hours had received a call back to work on the very last day of the shoot.

It sounded great at first, but then I found out that the location was in Healdsburg, which is about 1.5 hours north of where I live, and the call time was 6 pm, with shooting to possibly go up to 4 am. Would I be able to keep my eyes open? (I hadn’t pulled an all-nighter in many a year, especially without extreme chemical assistance). Would my kids freak out if I was gone that long? Where the hell would I sleep once the shoot was over?

In a panic I posted on facebook—what to do? As expected nearly everyone who responded urged me to do it, but I was still undecidedly fretting about it the next day. Finally I figured out the logistics (take a nap earlier that day, don’t let the kids know I’d be gone all night, sleep at a friend’s place), but when I called the casting agency back, they’d already filled their quota for extras! Ah, the irony! but they put me on the backup list in case there was a cancellation. I sulked for a few hours, then the casting folks called back and told me I was in.

So at 6 pm the next day, after fighting holiday rush hour traffic up Highway 101, I signed in at the location with 300 other extras and settled down with a book (The Golden Compass) and my iPhone (to live-tweet the whole event) and waited the extra wait. As anyone knows who’s worked as talent on a movie, there’s a whole lot of sitting around interspersed by brief bursts of shooting activity, then more sitting around, repeated ad infinitum. True to form, the extras weren’t bussed to the set until three hours after we’d arrived—by then filming had started and things were jumping.

Kajol texting, My Name Is Khan location, Healdsburg, 2009

Kajol texting, My Name Is Khan location, Healdsburg, 2009

Myself and a few other eagle-eyed fans quickly spotted Kajol, MNIK’s beautiful, violet-eyed lead actress, near the edge of the shoot as she hung out shooting the breeze with the natty, baby-faced Karan Johar, the film’s director. I was disappointed to see that Kajol had tweezed her famous unibrow but she looked great nonetheless. Since this was one of the last days of filming there was much back-slapping and souvenir picture-taking amongst the cast and crew. I managed to fire off a couple of surreptitious, fuzzy pictures on my iPhone and post them on twitter before one of Kajol’s handlers asked me to stop.

Back of Kajol & Karan Johar, My Name Is Khan location, Healdsburg, 2009

Back of Kajol, Karan Johar & friend, My Name Is Khan location, Healdsburg, 2009

More waiting around, then we extras, or “background,” in Bollywood parlance, were pressed into action. I was envious of the fancy lighting rig, including a huge, helium-filled china-ball lantern that floated many feet above the crowd, and two twenty-by-thirty foot scrims to diffuse the giant lights that lit the scene. This was a top-notch, high-end production, with a crew of about 200, and as complex and professionally run as any Hollywood set I’ve been on (which, admittedly, have been very few).

After a while filming without any of the principle actors, I was standing near the edge of the set when a ripple went through the crowd. And there he was, cigarette in hand, strolling up the path with an entourage of about 15 people, five feet from where I stood. He was wearing a white caftan and looked quite kingly, in a casual sort of way. Needless to say I was overcome by fangirl recklessness and, with a tiny shriek, called out, “Shah Rukh!” SRK waved lazily in our general direction and continued on his way. As he passed by us another, much louder series of screams and calls came from the other side of the plaza where we were shooting and I realized that a good-sized crowd had formed at the perimeter of the location, held back by several wary-looking security guards and a ring of caution tape. Apparently every Indian in Sonoma County had gotten wind of the filming and had trekked to Healdsburg in hopes of spying Shah Rukh Khan, and now that the man himself had arrived they were very vocal in expressing their delight.

The crowd, seemingly consisting of entire families, stayed on until well past midnight. At one point SRK waved directly at the eager onlookers and they shrieked in admiration, but whenever the AD called “Silence!” (Bollywood-speak for “quiet on the set”), they quickly fell into rapt quiescence. Amongst the extras, however, the majority were unfamiliar with SRK—a few people asked me who he was and which of his films they should watch (all of them!). There were some clued-in folks, though, including one (non-Indian) couple who had driven down from Washington State to be near their idol, and many others who kept up a constant low chatter in Hindi and boldly snapped photos of King Khan and Kajol despite the ADs stern admonitions not to do so.

Back of Shah Rukh Khan's head, very far away, My Name Is Khan set, Healdsburg, 2009

Back of Shah Rukh Khan's head, very far away, My Name Is Khan location, Healdsburg, 2009

At one point SRK stood about ten feet from me in the crowd, but I was too cowed by the constantly prowling ADs to try to take a picture, for fear of being thrown off the set. But I did live-tweet most of the night and early on, before I lost my nerve, I shot and posted some blurry photos. This was quite fun and helped me to stave off boredom, especially when several people began following and tweeting back for more information.

In person SRK looked exactly like he does onscreen, though perhaps a bit more slender and compact. He’s also very focused when he’s performing, though between takes he was pretty chill, taking lots of ciggie breaks and chatting with assorted paparazzi. Likewise, Kajol didn’t have any diva moments and hung out on set most of the time with the rest of us peons instead of hiding in her trailer. Altogether it was a pretty tightly run ship, without any star-drama or untoward extra-abuse. We were allowed to watch the filming, sit down, or wander about between takes, we got decently fed at the appropriate hour, and no one on the crew yelled at us just to vent their emotions.

Blurry but close Shah Rukh Khan, My Name Is Khan location, Healdsburg, 2009

Blurry but close Shah Rukh Khan, My Name Is Khan location, Healdsburg, 2009

When we finally wrapped at about 2.30 am, the extras were instructed to head toward the bus that would take us back to our staging area a few blocks away. But about fifty people bolted in the opposite direction, swarming after the departing Shah Rukh Khan as he left the set. Security tried in vain to divert us but the extras, many of whom were South Asian, weren’t about to miss their chance after standing in the cold for six-and-a-half hours. Luckily SRK was really cool and allowed several people to take pictures with him, as well as signing many autographs. I got a couple of blurry but reasonable photos of him, though I was hampered by the lack of a zoom lens or a flash on my iPhone. And so my fangirl night was complete—

UPDATE: Ironically, Shah Rukh Khan was just detained by while trying to enter the U.S. at the Newark (New Jersey) airport for almost two hours for unclear reasons. Speculation is that his last name (which is common among Muslim Indians) set off alarm bells at the airport.

According to the New York Daily News, after the incident SRK texted to reporters, “I was really being hassled, perhaps because of my name being Khan. These guys wouldn’t let me through.”

I can just imagine the exchange in the Customs interrogation room:

SRK: I’m the biggest movie star in India!”

Customs: Mmmmhmmm.

SRK: I’m here as to lead a parade celebrating Indian independence!

Customs: Sure you are.

SRK: A billion people recognize me by sight!

Customs: But we don’t. So tell us the real reason you’re coming to America, MISTER Khan.

Although his travel papers were in order, at first Shah Rukh Khan wasn’t permitted to use his cell phone and, despite being recognized by several fellow travelers, he was only released after he was allowed to call the Indian embassy and an official vouched for him.

There’s a huge discussion on twitter about it and some wags speculate that it’s all a publicity stunt to promote MNIK. Whatever the truth may be, you can be sure that the shrewd and canny SRK will be milking for all it’s worth.

Thanks to dleedlee and Sunny for tipping me to this while I’m on vacation, otherwise I might have missed it.

July 6, 2009 at 6:04 pm 21 comments

Hawai’ian Eye: Asian American Studies conference

beach1

AAAS conference back porch, 2009

Just got back from the Association of Asian American Studies annual conference, which this year was held in Honolulu, HI. Needless to say it was a very well-attended event, taking place a block from the beach in Waikiki. I myself confess that the percentage of time I spent swimming in the ocean vs. attending panels and roundtables was pretty much skewed toward boogie boards and sandcastles, but I’d brought my kids along so I had an excuse.

I did manage to tear myself away from skimming stones and walking in the sea foam to attend a few presentations, however, and participated in a couple as well. UC Berkeley’s Elaine Kim organized a great panel, Bollywood, Believing Women, and the Female Bin-Laden, which included Huma Dar’s pointed critique of Hindi-language films that demonize Muslim men and exoticize Muslim women. Filmmaker and scholar Irum Sheikh displayed several images of “disappeared” individuals who have been detained by the U.S. government, many held for years on flimsy or nonexistent charges in the “war on terror” perpetuated by the Bush regime. Her straightforward and unvarnished presentation made an unimpeachable case against a foreign policy gone horribly awry.

Dawn Mabalon & Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, porkpie-ing

Dawn Mabalon & Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, fedora'ing

I also ran into several former students, now all grown up, including Sudarat Musikawong, who’s a prof at Willamette University, Mitch Wu, now teaching at SUNY Hunter, Carolyn Tran, about to enter grad school at the New School for Social Research, Margaret Rhee, poet & PhD candidate at UC Berkeley, and Celine Parrenas-Shimizu, who’s a superstar professor at UC Santa Barbara and whose latest tome, The Hypersexuality of Race, won one of conference’s book awards this year. Plus, as at any good Asian American gathering, I spotted several people in felted hats, further supporting my contention that Asian Americans love stylish headwear.

Lawrence Hashima, Pahole Sookkasikon, Kevin Lim & RJ Quiambao rock the house, AAAS 2009

Lawrence Hashima, Pahole Sookkasikon, Kevin Lim & RJ Quiambao rock the house, AAAS 2009

I also took along a couple grad students from SFSU to present their research on a panel called Assimilation, Rice Queens, Porn, and the Mainstream: Constructing Media Images, which, in keeping with scholarly tradition, wordily includes a term from all of the panelists’ papers in its title. Pahole and RJ from SFSU and Kevin from UH Manoa rocked their presentations and made me feel like a proud mother fawning over her young. It ain’t easy covering topics ranging from “The King and I,” Asian & Hawai’ian women in online porn, and a new framework for Asian American cinema, but the guys pulled it off with flair. Larry Hashima provided excellent feedback and tied together the panel in style.

I also organized a panel called Art and the Academy: Working Artists In Asian American Studies wherein I talked about the legacy of creative work in SFSU’s Asian American Studies Department and outlined the production of POP! Producing Our Power: Presenting Asian American Culture, a student-run show at SFSU that asks the age-old question, “What is Asian American culture and how can we express it on stage?”  Also presenting their awesome social practice projects were brilliant artist-scholars Ming-Yuen S. Ma, who talked about his amazing video art bus tours through Los Angeles, and Gaye Chan, chair of the Art Dept. at UH Manoa, who described her guerilla gardening project, Eating In Public. Both projects are unapologetic blows against the empire that conclusively prove that artists are indispensible in the battle against tyranny and injustice.

Sliders, Hawai'ian style, Sidestreet Inn, Honolulu

Sliders, Hawai'ian style, Sidestreet Inn, Honolulu

On the recreational tip, I managed to have shave ice nearly every day, though the Waikiki version is pretty tepid. The killer stuff is found on the North Shore in Haleiwa, at Matsumoto’s, where the sour lemon, lilekoi, and coconut combo I tried was stunning. Back in Honolulu, good eats were to be had at Sidestreet Inn, a formica-table sports/karaoke bar that serves up some of the best Hawai’ian food around, including excellent ahi poke, kahlua pig sliders, and fried chicken wings.

So despite my struggle to resist the lure of the beach and do my academic duty, the trip was pretty fun. I’m glad to be back in my cool grey city of love, but I sure do miss swimming in the tropical sea every day.

April 30, 2009 at 5:05 am Leave a comment

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