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I started watching this film with a misconceived uncertainty, the digital synopsis had been less than helpful and if anything had mentally prepared me for something totally different to what I was actually watching. Hideo Nakata’s people focussed piece turned out to be an uncomfortably morbid criticism of social media and today’s youth, as well as their self-destructive marriage.

The film has its roots in performing arts, a play by Enda Walsh to be precise. I think it carried over well as a film, but the look and feel was very reminiscent of stage acting, especially when the teenagers came together in their ‘chatroom’.

Thematically I thought Chatroom was very bold. It was border-lining eccentric at first, most likely to reflect the utopian atmosphere that cyber space can harbour. But it quickly developed into a concentrated plot with a lot to say about the uses and effects of the digital generation. Just like everything else the good times only last for so long, and when the bubble of safety and trust bursts the characters show their true colours, reclining back into uncomfortable ineptitude.

With the use of claustrophobic, albeit well suited indoor settings the ‘chatrooms’ (such as ‘Chelsea Teens!’, the dating room and the suicide ‘safe-room’) were given faces, so the film cleverly allowed the characters to act out their digital personas to realistic and disturbing extents. This also served as a solid contrast against their ordinary lives, where their imperfections and insecurities were not safely locked away or hidden behind anonymity.

I was impressed how effectively Nakata used simple visual cues such as lighting and colours to support the harsh juxtaposition of reality verses virtual reality. It was composed to such an extent that it likened the characters’ on-line escape to a drug addiction; I have to admit even I was eager to return to the vivid aesthetics of their alter-egos…

…And when the characters were stranded in reality for too long they declined like an addict too. Truly disturbing images of self harm, suicidal obsession and intense depression which played havoc as a causal agent were shown to us in full, unashamed and uncensored light (and eventually this echoed into their alternate realities, corrupting them where they felt safe).

I have to admit this film is bleak, but it’s honest. The character we look to for integrity and leadership is corrupted and broken, but he hides behind the power of anonymity with crooked agendas. These agendas are insidious and seemingly without reason; needless to say there is nothing to gain and that presents the morals of internet socialising: We can be anything on-line without anyone ever finding out, that is dangerous. Especially when trust is thrown into the mix.

Cyberspace preys on the weak, if you let the wrong people into your life they destroy you. Hideo Nakata made this shockingly clear...

I would say this film is not for the faint hearted, but at the same time I would urge people to see it for themselves, because it has a very real point to make. It’s an intense ride, it will disturb you, and it will make you think. It does all this because at the end of the day these characters are very real, and very much like us.

I think the second to last scene summed everything up. The individuals finally meet, they collectively witness something (SPOILER) tragic yet they don’t say a word to one another. In the end they go their separate ways, desperately trying to avoid eye contact as they do. Perhaps it is not the kind of closure we would have wanted, but this film is not one to oblige in happy fantasy.

Still, find a copy if you can. See for yourself, I needn’t say anymore.


Derek – Mockumentary with a heart.

Now I know that pretty much every single one of you (bar the hardcore Gervais fans) will have probably turned your noses at the sight of  Ricky impersonating a mentally handicapped person. And undoubtedly many have jumped on the band wagon of reactionary outcry, rushing to the ‘twittersphere’  or comments section to slam his concept. But how many of you even gave it a chance? How many left their convictions at the door and actually watched the pilot? It vexes me something awful to see people go with their pre-conceptions against something that could very well become a new favourite. So I try to keep an open mind with things like this, even when the odds are stacked unfairly.

‘Derek’ is a documentary styled show about regular people working in a less than glamorous setting. The characters are generally overlooked by society, judged for their appearances, intelligence or age.

I gave ‘Derek’ the benefit of the doubt, and I was not disappointed. If anything I was touched by the story it told, a very real and down to earth portrayal of life in a retirement home. It was from a rather different point of view which if anything made for a tricky piece to digest,  especially for our nation obsessed with political correctness, but after getting used to the characters I realised this was not a callous mocking of the disabled, nor a disrespectful stunt for publicity. If anything this was a salute to people like Derek and a touching reminder to the rest of us that we are humans, whether we are old and fragile, or handicapped and laughed at.

Yes the first section seems a little off, I thought it was cheap playing on the disabled gag, but it developed, and I realised the actors were playing serious roles. It was only a pilot episode, but I was impressed; I would definitely recommend watching it if you haven’t already.

My verdict overall – uncertain at first, but quick to warm your heart.

Midnight FM – A review

I imagine most people would turn their noses if I asked them to watch a South Korean film with me, I sense some sort of misconception about their culture. The moment you say it is Korean the average Joe’s mind will run away with misinformed connotations, leading them to expect an outdated and cheesy rip off of Hollywood. People can’t help imagining ‘Eastern’ cultures to be culturally or technologically inferior, and unfortunately that leads to East Asian film gaining a miniscule market in the UK. It’s a great shame, because they have just as much to offer as anyone else (Just as I concluded in my review of ‘The Host’ previously).

Midnight FM, to those of you who will spare the time to watch it is an action film at heart, but it carries a post film noir flavour that can be felt through the gritty nature of the film. It’s not quite a snuff film like ‘Psycho’ or ‘Saw’, but if you combined them with something like the film adaptation of ‘Enduring Love’ or anything else that throws an obsessive stalker into the mix, well you get the picture. That’s essentially the basic synopsis of this film, a deluded fan refuses to accept his beloved midnight DJ is quitting, so he goes after her and her family. It maybe a simple plotline but it works, and it leaves plenty of space for the creators to flesh out the feel however they choose.

The villain was well portrayed, a psychotic obsessive but a cunning opponent through and through. Ji Tae Yu (also seen in ‘Old Boy’) pulled the role off, as did Soo Ae playing the innocent radio DJ, who is seemingly helpless to help her family (or herself for that matter). Naturally some sort of equilibrium is restored, I can’t say I was kept thoroughly on edge all the way through, but the atmosphere of the film was perfectly crafted. The moments of suspense were placed exactly where they were needed, to get the most out of such a stock genre. 

The idea of the hostage situation running alongside the radio broadcast was intriguing, it gave it a standout twist. Yet I feel it wasn’t executed to its full potential. Still, this film is thoroughly watchable and I recommend it to those of you out there with a taste for the tensed up thriller. Sadly Midnight FM is another overlooked film; it’s modern and smart, action packed and gripping, yet the moment people realise it is a ‘foreign film’ they simply don’t want to know. Sometimes I think people don’t realise what they are missing…

Underwater Love – Kappa, anyone?

A rather curious tale of rekindled love that carries profound morals, ‘Underwater Love’ envisages the Japanese folklore of ‘Kappa’ and their intertwining with local culture. To cut a long story short a woman meets a long-lost lover in the bizarre kappa form. Their subsequent affair that follows clashes with kappa law, as well as the very rule of nature and death. Underwater love also happens to be a ‘pink film’, a kind of film that attract a more niche audience

I found it hard to pin this film into one genre or another (Other than strange soft-core pornography I could not decide what else to class it as), some would call it a comedy whilst others would call it a musical. Perhaps it was unintentionally funny, the crude scenes and references to ambiguous sexuality surely had something to do with it.

For a first-timer of East Asian cinema this can be something of a tricky experience, leaving you confused or perhaps a little dumb-struck, it’s not always in a good way either. I for one was left speechless after coming along to the UK premier in London, but it served me well to overlook the somewhat sketchy narrative or costume department and appreciate the free-flowing cinematography that guided the picture through and through.

The master work of Christopher Doyle reflects his eccentricity, as well as his veteran attention to detail. So the strange musical genre twist may not pull you in, but any good film buff would be attracted to the visuals. Bright vivid colours reflect the upbeat (if not hyperactive) nature of the film, and with that comes a taster into exciting and alternative culture of East Asian Cinema.

An intriguing first experience, one I will not soon forget. Under water love was a trip into the wilder side of the East Asian film experience…

Revenge: A Love Story

NOTE – Although the plot is summarized in this review I do not give away the real spoiler information. This film is about payback, so the tragic loss (which I touch on slightly) should be considered as an obvious (and essential) narrative device. In order for any good revenge film to work you must take everything from the protagonist before you set him loose on the world!

Hailing from Hong Kong and directed by Wong Ching-Po, ‘Revenge, a love story’ is an all out revenge flick, which delivers some gut wrenching visceral action and a strong moral punchline. Alone as a generic revenge film it would not necessarily offer much to an already swollen genre, especially when it stands next to the collection of ‘Western’ blockbusters. But as an export of a relatively unknown film culture, and as a masterpiece of cinematography it is a stand out picture that should be on your list of ‘ones to watch’ if you are serious about international cinema.

I came across this film thanks to the East Asian Film Society, who I am no longer a member of. However during my brief membership I was shown that the rest of the world has just as much to offer in the ways of quality films as Hollywood.

‘Revenge’ is centred around the psychotic (at first glance) vendetta obsessions of a relatively insignificant store clerk, Kit. There is nothing special about him, he is in many respects the stereotypical ‘loser’. Only he has (running the risk of sounding cheesy) a heart of gold.

Juno Mak acts out the character Kit with terrifying precision.

His life finally has a meaning when he meets the dysfunctional schoolgirl Wing, played by the very beautiful Sola Aoi. They are in a sense the unlikeliest of couples, yet their scarred and fragile personalities draw them together as any quintessential romance plot should.

Fragile yet beautiful, Sola Aoi is easily envisioned as the damsel in distress in this picture

I’ll spare the spoiler information and just say ‘this and that’ leads to their separation, and by dividing this young couple (who are totally dependant on one another) you take away everything they have. One of them gets weaker, and one of them snaps.

When this sad, but cute little couple are split you will feel it as much as they do.

And the fascinating thing about this film is the exploration into how much a person can change when you push them into that corner, when you destroy whatever they call home. Because the day you do that is the day that person turns into a monster, totally oblivious to the codes and conduct of humility. It’s easier than we think to go over the edge and lose control, and that’s what makes this an intense ride, that’s why it sells to the film junkies. The gritty truth of human nature shines through, and we are drawn to what we (as a society) collectively fear…

When you watch this film for the first time the plot establishing ‘tragic loss’ is not clear until some time into the film, yet even without this moral factor the film carries itself on the literal intensity that is right in front of us: The chase scenes and the violence, the brutality and the enigmas. If this was a mindless action piece (and trust me it isn’t!) it would still most likely have you sat on the edge of your seat, only to recoil back in shock at the regular interludes of well placed gore.

And the cinematography, the look and feel of the film… That really is the icing on the cake. Jimmy Wong elegantly  sculpts the atmospherics and the emotion of the scenes to gritty perfection with his contributions as the director of photography. Every second of the film is appropriately shot in a responsive style; so the angles are well-considered and the framing sharply envisions every possible feeling or action of the actors and set. The film stock is generally a faded and washed out amalgamation of greys and sepia tones, to suit the downtrodden nature of the film. Fresh, bright colours are used sparingly, as if to imply that these characters live in bleak times, and the ‘good times’ are rare, but memorable.

The visuals are razor-sharp, yet very modest.

Overall this film is, in my opinion a totally unnoticed gem. Most likely overlooked because of its foreign origin, and English subtitles. But I cannot stress enough how much of a mistake it would be if you missed the opportunity to see this film. It’s a well crafted work of a mature culture, with a lot to say about the way we tick. Every passing scene intensifies, leading up to a truly unexpected conclusion.  It’s a recommendation for anyone who can stomach a bit of gore and violence, but it’s a must for those with a taste for the more intellectual cinema. Take my advice on this one, leave your prejudices at the door and treat yourself to the DVD.

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