Friday, March 21, 2014
The setup of the plot may seem like the beginning of a bedtime story for a five-year-old which sounds like this: in a postwar era in Chicago, the society is divided into five factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Each teenager take a personality test at the age of sixteen and the test result indicates which faction he or she fits the best. Once one joins a faction, the decision is final and no refund or exchange. If the test result is inconclusive, however, the person is called a Divergent who is regarded as a threat to the harmony of the society and must be eliminated.
The film's heroine, a likable girl Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), is about to take this life shaking personality test. Dressing like Amish people, Beatrice and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) have been living with his parents Natalie (Ashley Judd) and Andrew (Tony Goldwyn) in the Abnegation faction, but deep inside she always dreams of becoming one of the Dauntless. If you are young, the Dauntless do seem to have their appeal when they dress in black and roaming the streets like a bunch drunk fraternity guys after bars are closed on a Saturday night.
Regardless her troublesome test result, Beatrice joins the Dauntless and begins her new life under a new name—Tris. Led by the inked and pierced mean Eric (Jai Courtney), the brutal training process seems like a never ending hazing cycle for the new recruits in a fraternity. Besides enduring the harsh competitions among the new Dauntless members, Tris must conceal her Divergent identity in order to survive. Even her environment has no privacy, compassion, or humanity in sight, sensitive Tris manages to connect with her handsome commander Four (Theo James) and develops a romantic relationship.
That relationship is proven to be crucial later in the film because it becomes the life line for her survival, as well as for winning the battle over an evil conspiracy by Erudite leader Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet).
Although the film belongs to a sci-fi genre in the post-apocalyptic future, the director Neil Burger adds little imagination to the implausible original plot. The film is indeed thrilling, if you are acrophobia, like the bravery Four is. But after repeated shots looking down from a railroad track, the film runs out of tricks. Thus, it let Tris and Four climb to an abandoned roller coaster ride, so they can see further and feel more thrilling by looking down. No kidding. The chair for Tris to sit in to take a test is no different from a dental office. Is it the best the film's production can do?
Like the five factions, many things in the film don't make any sense. For example, when chemical induced personality test takes place and a test person is wired to a computer, unlike the NSA, the computer doesn't collect crucial personal data such as the test result. Even the test finds a potential threat like a Divergent, unlike the TSA, it doesn't alert the authority. Really?
Despite all the flaws in the film, the film stays afloat, thanks to Shailene Woodley, who always has a convincing presence and sympathetic persona on the screen. She can easily become the next Jennifer Lawrence, if she is given a better script and direction. Perhaps her next personality test will take her to a different faction—the one that makes sense.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Same as last year, the festival only contains 40 feature-length films. The festival also includes 8 shorts programs, as well as a few musical and foodie events.
While several films from China made big headlines at last month's Berlinale by winning several top prizes, surprisingly, there is only one documentary comes from China at this year's festival—"The Road to Fame" (成名之路), which is terrific and you do not want to miss.
CAAMFest 2014 takes place March 13-23, 2014 in San Francisco at Sundance Kabuki, New People Cinema, Castro Theater, and Great Star Theater, in Berkeley at Pacific Film Archive, and other venues around the Bay Area.
Here are my picks in this year's program. As always, each film's title is linked to the festival program, where you can find the film's showtime and venue information. Each film's still image is linked to a film's official Web site if it's available. In random order :
- The Road to Fame (成名之路 | China 2013 | in Chinese | 80 min. | Documentary)
- Zone Pro Site: The Moveable Feast (總舖師 | Taiwan 2013 | in Chinese | 145 min.)
- Ilo Ilo (爸媽不在家 | Singapore 2013 | in Chinese/English | 99 min.)
- The Great Passage (舟を編む | Japan 2013 | in Japanese | 133 min.)
- Cold Eyes (감시자들 | South Korea 2013 | in Korean | 118 min.)
- Pee Mak (พี่มาก..พระโขนง | Thailand 2013 | in Thai | 115 min.)
The Road to Fame
(成名之路 | China 2013 | in
Chinese | 80 min. | Documentary)
Being part of the post '80s (80后) generation in China can hardly be a bragging point, partially because the one-child policy makes almost everyone in this generation the crown jewel adored by two parents and four grandparents. They grow up with the mindset that they can have everything they want and they are spoiled with the every resource available. Failure is never an option. If any of them from this generation is admitted into the prestigious Central Academy of Drama (中央戏剧学院), whose notable alumni include Gong Li (巩俐) and Zhang Ziyi (章子怡) and whose admission rate is less than 1%, the lucky one can be regarded as having a bright future and being almost half way to a stardom.
But, in the rapid changing China, it turns out not to be true anymore. Even as students at the Central Academy of Drama, these impeccably selected ambitious and talented young men and women struggle everyday with their anxiety, doubt, disappointment, reality, and potential fading dreams.
Once a Bay Area resident, the director Hao Wu's fascinating documentary "The Road to Fame" (成名之路) tells an engaging story about a musical production of a senior class at the Central Academy of Drama. The film provides an intimate snapshot of the mentality among the post-'80s generation through the experience of several in-depth characters.
As a graduation project, a reproduction of a Broadway musical "Fame," collaborated with an American director, is underway in a senior class at the Central Academy of Drama. Over an eight month period, the film follows the production process from casting to rehearsal, and then to the final performance on stage. It introduces us a group of candid characters with strong personalities, tremendous talents, and high drama.
The road to the fame seems quite bumpy, even for gifted young men and women inside a prominent institution. Being part of the post-'80s generation only makes matter worse.
Pro Site: The Moveable Feast
(總舖師 | Taiwan 2013 |
in Chinese | 145 min.)
After a successful run at last fall's Taiwan Film Days presented by San Francisco Film Society, Taiwanese director Chen Yu-hsun (陳玉勳) brings Taiwan street food back to San Francisco in his mouth-watering comedy "Zone Pro Site: The Moveable Feast." (總舖師) The film perfectly reflects one of the main themes of the festival—food, along with Ang Lee's (李安) "Eat Drink Man Woman" (飲食男女 | Taiwan/USA 1994).
This foodie film blends comedy and melodrama into a giant pot and transcends the aroma through its visual and storytelling. Do not come to this film with an empty stomach.
- Ilo Ilo
| Singapore 2013 | in Chinese/English |
Winning this year's Golden Horse Award for Best Picture, Anthony Chen's (陳哲藝) impressive feature directorial debut "Ilo Ilo" (爸媽不在家) gently tells a story about a boy's unlikely bond with his family's Filipino nanny.
The Asian recession in the late '90s causes tremendous hardship to the middle class, including 10-year-old boy Jiale's (Koh Jia Ler) modest family. Jiale is a trouble maker both at school and at home. Even the money is tight, Jiale's pregnant mom (Yann Yann Yeo) hires a Filipino nanny Terry (Angeli Bayani) to help out and to take care of Jiale. Jiale first resents Terry, but he and Terry gradually grow closer.
The film realistically displays the culture and daily lives in Singapore and terrifically crafts a few memorable characters. The lead actors deliver a solid performance.
The Great Passage
(舟を編む | Japan 2013
| in Japanese | 133 min.)
Selected as Japan's submission to compete for the Best Foreign Language Film Award at this year's Oscar, Japanese director Yûya Ishii's (石井裕也) old-fashioned drama "The Great Passage" (舟を編む) quietly tells a story about the making of an old fashioned dictionary.
The film's protagonist is a shy and nerdy linguist Majime (played by Ryûhei Matsuda 松田 龍平, the young boy in "Taboo" (御法度)) who is obviously lousy at selling books. But his opportunity arrives in 1995, when he is spotted by his extrovert coworker Nishioka (Jô Odagiri オダギリ ジョ). He begins to work on a grand new project—compiling a new contemporary dictionary called "The Great Passage" (大渡海) that contains even slangs used by young people. The painstaking dictionary-composing process lasts more than 13 years into 2008 when smart-phones and other portable electronic devices become available at finger tips. Despite being buried in endless words and mountains of papers, Majime's romance with a sushi chef Hayashi (Aoi Miyazaki 宮﨑 あおい) unexpectedly blossoms.
While the film is satisfying with likable characters for the most part, it often gives a subdued feeling and cries for some excitement. If an omission of a word during the read proof process is considered a dramatic event, the plot might just sound as dull as a dictionary. The word collection process is more comical than convincing.
South Korea 2013 | in Korean | 118 min.)
Although numerous films have been made about persistent cops chasing bank robberies, this type of films are continued to be told over and over again by changing locations, techniques, spectacles, choreographies, actions, and actors. Or just remake a previous film.
That's exactly what Korean directors Jo Ui-seok (조의석) and Kim Byung-seo (김병서) did in their last year's South Korean blockbuster "Cold Eyes" (감시자들), a remake of the Hong Kong film "Eye in the Sky" (跟蹤 | Hong Kong 2007).
It certainly feels incomplete at the festival without watching a dazzling action sequence on the streets of Seoul, and on the giant screen at Castro Theater, no less.
Thailand 2013 | in Thai | 115 min.)
Remember Mario Maurer (มาริโอ้ เมาเร่อ), a heartthrob who is the love interest of a teenage boy in "The Love of Siam" (รักแห่งสยาม | Thailand 2007)? With a stylish new hairdo and blacken teeth, he is returning to the festival in Thai director Banjong Pisanthanakun's (บรรจง ปิสัญธนะกูล) hilarious smashing box-office hit "Pee Mak" (พี่มาก..พระโขนง) which tells a well-know Thai folk tale.
In the middle 19th century, after fighting in a war, Pee Mak (Mario Maurer) returns home to his wife Nak (Davika Horne ดาวิก้า โฮร์เน) and his new born son. His four best friends Shin, Ter, Aey, and Puak come with him and try to alert Mak that his wife Nak may be a ghost, but Mak remains faithful and hopeful to his love.
Although this tongue-in-cheek comedy doesn't spoof all the way like the "Scary Movie" (USA 2000) franchise, it never stops poking fun about pretty much everything. Yes, there is ghost in the film, but it only scares the film's characters and generates goofy laughter. The film's over-the-top performance works effectively on providing ample entertainment. However, the film seems running off steam while unfolding the story, in spite of the laugh-out-loud opening scenes.