Geisha Assassin: Exactly what it says in the title, save that there's virtually no geisha bits after the first 7 minutes, aside from Our Heroine's father saying that no daughter of his will be a geisha, and a couple of her opponents getting huffy about fighting a geisha. Our Heroine is on a quest to avenge her father, and his killer throws a bunch of opponents in her path. That's pretty much the entirety of the plot. There are flashbacks to Our Heroine's childhood that attempt to have a plot by explaining why her father died. but those pretty much just made me go "Dude, why didn't you just say that from the start?" Nothing memorable, but an entertaining way to spend 80 minutes if you like vengeful heroines and fight scenes.
The Messengers: Spooky and atmospheric movie in which a family takes over a derelict farm, and the 3-year-old son, Ben, and 16-year-old daughter, Jess, start seeing ghosts. Creepy ghosts that crawl on the walls and and keep trying to drag Jess into the basement. There's nothing in it that hasn't been in at least one other horror movie, but it was all put together pretty well and it got the tension and the spooks right. There is, though, a lot of NO BABY DON'T FOLLOW THE HAUNTED TOY TRACTOR DOWN THE HALL NO!! throughout, though, just for the extra bit of stress.
The Moth Diaries: A wonderfully atmospheric (and beautifully filmed) gothic movie with lesbian subtext (and the bit of text) out the wazoo, starring Sarah Bolger, Lily Cole, and Sarah Gadon. Still recovering from her father's suicide, a teenager named Becca (Bolger) returns to her boarding school and her best friend, Lucy (Gadon) and becomes suspicious when Lucy appears to be all but hypnotized by a mysterious new student, Ernessa (Cole), shunning all of her own friends and taking up "Ernessa says..." as her refrain. While studying Sebastian le Fanu's Carmilla in class, Becca becomes obsessed with the idea that Ernessa might be a vampire who is seducing and controlling Lucy. I liked it a lot, especially (in addition to all the focus on female relationships) since it focused on older vampire myths and kinda almost ignored the fact that Dracula exists. (Not that I want to slam it or anything, but it's nice when things don't assume that it has to be your basis for vampire stories.)
Painted Skin: The Resurrection: A sequel set 500 years after the first movie. The fox demon, Xiao Wei, is freed from centuries of imprisonment and sets out to find the reincarnation of her human lover so that she can steal hearts and become human. This time around, Zhao Wei is playing a scarred warrior princess and Chen Kun is the general she's in love with (and who appears to think his emo over feeling responsible for her scars is way more important than anything she might happen to think or feel on the matter), and Xiao Wei persuades the princess to trade her heart for Xiao Wei's skin. The writers seem to realize that Zhao Wei and Zhou Xun have far more chemistry than Chen Kun is able to muster with anyone (One day, I will watch a movie with that dude and he will not be the most boring thing ever in it. This was not that movie. Moving on.) and they have tons of scenes together and the writers appear to forget that they're supposed to be romantic rivals, and that the movie isn't supposed to be a supernatural lesbian romance. There's also a subplot with a demon hunter and a bird demon, played by Feng Shao Feng and Yang Mi respectively, that's rather adorable. (Though, are there any stories out there where the male demon falls for a human, or do only female demons do that?) There are some odd bits with consent and outer beauty themes, but over all I liked it a lot, and, frankly, the movie was so pretty that I sometimes forgot there was a plot involved.
Taichi Zero/Taichi Hero: A rather odd yet entertaining steampunk-kung fu duology that should be watched together. A young man named Lu Chen is born with a "demon horn" that makes him a natural kung fu prodigy, and which gives him superhuman powers when the horn is damaged. When it starts to endanger his life, he travels to a distant village to learn Chen-style kung fu, which baqlances Yin and Yang and can save his life. Except that the Chen family doesn't allow anyone outside the immediate family to learn the style, and a distant cousin of the family wants to destroy the village to make room for a railway. Flashbacks and backstories are largely shown as silent movies, fights have video game life meters, circles highlight key points in moves, and there's a display of opponents Lu Chen has to face. There are also captions that frequently show up for a variety of things (most important characters get a captain saying who the actor is, sometimes with a well-known work, or their athletic/martial arts cred, and at one point a character blurts out a confession of love and the person on the receiving end sees a multiple choice question regarding possible motives) , and then steampunk elements such as tanks, clockwork suits that mimic kung fu superpowers, and flying machines. It's very funny (sometimes in an awkward way) and has good fightscenes, not to mention cameos of as many people as they could possibly cram in. I'm not sure I always followed it, but I enjoyed it. That said, it violates all the laws of what is just and right by having Eddie Peng play a character who is first a jerk, and later straight up villainous, and that is just something that my brain cannot process.
Wu Dang: Set in the 19-teens, several treasure hunters converge on a martial arts tournament and use it for cover while they search for the seven treasures of Wu Dang. One, an archeology professor played by Vincent Zhao, wants the treasures so he can cure his daughter of the same terminal illness that killed his wife, and another, a martial artist played by Yang Mi, only wants one of the treasures, a sword that belongs to her family. Naturally, they team up and have bickering adventures. It's a pretty straightforward adventure ovies with lots of good fights, and I give it lots of points for letting Yang Mi and the daughter's characters have bonding moments, and that Vincent Zhao's character (and the movie itself) didn't think an illness that would kill her somewhere doen the road didn't mean his daughter couldn't have an active life, or that it stopped her from being a perfectly competent and capable person, and let her participate in the tournament. I was worried for a bit that I was going to have to retroactively hate it for the ending, but then it saved itself literally at the last minute. BTW, one day, I will have to think about why I only find Vincent Zhao attractive when he has short hair, when I'm normally a longhair appreciating girl. (Also, I want Yang Mi's wardrobe from this movie. And the ability to pull it off.)
It is, however, based on the same Liao Zhai story (though all 3 versions of the story that I've seen have had very different plots), and so I couldn't help comparing them quite a bit.
This one is way less wuxia and more of a straightforward ghost story, with the scholar hero meeting a beautiful girl in an alley and bringing her home (not knowing that she's a ghost with a horrible natural form who puts on a painted mask every day) much to his wife's consternation. And there are taoist monks and an evil spirit king. The ghost is played by Joey Wong, who is very subdued and serious throughout. It was quite odd not seeing her seductively lolling about and tempting men to abandon their chastity/vows.
It's a good ghost story, but I much prefer the 2008 version. Not because it's shiny and new (well, aesthetics is a factor, but 90s Hong Kong has its special brand of pretty and lushness too) , but because there's more with the women, less with the men, and I don't recall there being any rape in it. (Also, much as I love Joey Wong, she's the only cast member I have much of an opinion of, whereas I am quite fond of most of the main cast in the 2008 version.)
Yesterday, I was linked to this, which is essentially a breakdown of why the Nice Guy phenomenon is so incredibly creepy and...not nice.
It also explains why I shuddered and ran away to watch wuxia yesterday when I tried to watch the Bollywood movie U Me Aur Hum. (Lest anyone think I am bagging on Bollywood, I have watched and liked several Bollywood films over the last few months. I just haven't posted on them yet.) The setup for UMAH is that this young guy likes this girl and talks to his dad about it while they're out eating, and they end up making a bet that the dad can win over any woman in the restaurant that the kid chooses in just a few minutes. (Notice how it's already set up as charming and appealing for men to harass women minding their own business.) The kid chooses a woman minding her own business, reading a book, so the dad walks up to a complete stranger and starts talking about how it's his favorite book, and sits down at her table. She, of course, is wigged out but suppresses it, because women aren't supposed to say "dude, I don't know you and was reading and you're being creepy, go away" unless they want to be thought of as rude or "bitchy." Unless, of course, they're already there with another man the guy didn't see. Then they're justified in not letting other men force their presence on them. Anyway, she gets up to leave and he protests, prompting two guys nearby to ask her if she's ok. At that point, the man pulls the passive-aggressive "I'm not bothering you, right? If you leave or say yes, then you'll make all these people think I'm harassing you. You don't want to make me look bad just becaue I wanted to talk to a pretty lady, do you?" bit and she sits back down, successfully pressured into letting a man force his attentions on her so that he won't look bad.
I turned it off then and went to watch a wuxia movie, so I don't know how it played out, but that scene is just so incredibly common that it was almost downright creepy, even though it wasn't meant to be.
On a completely unrelated note, has anyone heard anything about Painted Skin 2, a Chinese movie due out in 2011? Apparently Donnie Yen is signed on, and it's a sequel to the 2008 movie. I haven't found out anything else about it though, and while I like Donnie Yen a lot asnd liked his character, I'll be really miffed if Betty Sun's demon huntresscharacter isn't also back, especially if it has him taking over the demon hunting, as that was kind of her hereditary thing.
The movie is amazingly beautiful (How do Chinese movies always make the desert so pretty?) but I suspect the story was rewritten a lot to emphasize the romance. But then, I suspect it was also rewritten for Moar Things For Women To Do, and likely a bit less of a good/bad binary between the heroines, so I won’t really complain. Most of the cast was excellent (though it was odd seeing Zhao Wei as Xiao Wei after just finishing Princess Returning Pearl, and Donnie Yen, while excellent, was oddly less attractive than usual) but the guy playing the general was like a black hole of dullness trying to suck everyone else in, with the rest of the cast struggling mightily against him. I’m not sure if the problem was the character or the actor. Probably both.
Also, while I really liked the movie, the only English subs I’ve found online are awful, and it doesn’t have a licensed version that I can find. (If I’m wrong, tell me! Please!) A large part of my understanding of various parts was based other similar stories and mythology bits I’ve seen in various wuxia, though I think you can still largely follow it without. But with struggling.
Here’s the trailer: