Special to The Dagger
To start the third installment of the Netflix queue, I thought I would take some space to discuss the intent of this column. Several months ago, over the course of several beers, the discussion of my obscene obsession with lesser known films was brought to my attention. I believe that I was told my queue was going to melt down the Netflix server when the computer tried to process my requests.
That conversation, in turn, led to the discussion of how to get more people interested in lesser-known movies. At the time, I had begun writing short reviews for the Netflix site. Recently, Netflix decided to put an end to the “community board” feature that hosted user reviews, killing my short-lived career as a film reviewer.
Undaunted, I approached the staff at The Dagger and asked if they would be interested in a few short reviews about films I had seen. Ecstatically they informed me: “Sure. Whatever you want to do, dude. We need something to break up the Ironbirds coverage anyway.”
So, to you the reader. I hope you find these columns informative and allow you to expand your movie repertoire. As best I can, I will try to stick with films available via Netflix or other on-line movie services. Feel free to make this column interactive. There is a comment board at the bottom. Interested in a certain genre of film? Never saw any foreign films? Ask. I’ll find something for you to watch.
Full Disclosure: I do not work for or own stock in Netflix. Thanks to The Dagger staff and Adam for their assistance.
Director: Stephen Chow
Let’s start with something for the kids this month! Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer) brings us an E.T. reminiscent parable with all the charm of his immense comedic skill.
The film revolves around the relationship of Dicky, a boy played by female lead Xu Jiao, and his father Ti, played by Chow. Living in the poorest of slums, next to a hazardous waste dump, Ti struggles at his construction job to provide for Dicky and send him to an upscale private school. Unfortunately for our protagonist, his living conditions have given him a reputation at the school amongst his peers and with the staff. Only the beautiful Miss Yuen sees the unkempt adorableness of Dicky.
Amongst his peers, Dicky is teased for not being able to afford the newest of toys; in this case a robotic dog. Ti, in wanting the best for his son, comes across a discarded toy ball while scavenging in the junk pile next door. Yet, a toy ball it is not to be. In turn, it is discovered that this toy is the title character CJ7, an alien with an unlimited ability to be whatever the owner desires.
What is a boy to do with unlimited options at his fingertips? (Sorry Milhouse; no one goes crazy broadway style) Dicky finds himself attempting to fix all the broken parts of his life only to discover that CJ7 is rather ordinary and not the godsend solution wished after.
In anger and with the uncontrolled emotion of a child, Dicky discovers the moral of the story; don’t say things you don’t mean. The parable of forgiveness is brought full circle via a surprisingly dark turn in the plot. However, all is set right again and as all good kids movies go, everything works out in the end.
Perhaps the greatest debate in regards to the film is not about the content, but rather the intentions of the film. Most criticism revolves around the marketing machine that pumped out toys in conjuncture with the films Asian release. While rightfully questionable, CJ7 when held on its own merit is superb on many levels and does not appear to be based solely on an exercise in marketing sales. Besides, we in America love our capitalism. Take that communism!
Most significantly is the comedic styling of Chow. Familiar to American audiences via Kung Fu Hustle, expect more of the same over the top, cartoon-ish gags and slapstick comedy. This is the spark that elevates what would be a run of the mill kids flick to something special for kids and adults. This comedic style is played to perfection by both the leads and makes CJ7 worth watching for this reason alone.
Much of the slapstick comedy involves the characters abusing poor CJ7 to no end. At times, one wonders why the little alien doesn’t just run. Like a good sadomasochist it just keeps coming back for more beatings, stabbings, and burns. Perhaps not the best message to send to the kids. Hopefully they’ll be laughing at too much to attempt any of the mayhem on the family cat.
In contrast to the comedy, CJ7 delves very deep into kids fears about the world around them. Life and death, social hierarchy, and single parenthood are all addressed rather frankly. This is an intense movie in this sense and as such may not be suited for very young audiences or sensitive children.
*** SPOILER ALERT ***
The dark twist on the plot involves Ti dying on his job site, unbeknownst to his young son. Alone and scared, Dicky reacts as a real child, not an imagined story element. Miss Yuen while attempting to help the abandoned child is just as helpless as he in the face of disaster. That adults can be as helpless as themselves is not something all children are prepared to face. This plot point is resolved happily at the end of the film, but could still be difficult to digest.
*** SPOILER ALERT OVER ***
As a final note, be sure to check that the version you watch has an English soundtrack, especially if watching with the kids. The Cantonese version has English subtitles, but no one wants to read the entire movie to their short friends.
Director: Chan-wook Park
The middle film of Park’s three part series on revenge, Oldboy, while simplistic on the surface, shows a depth of interpretation and cinematic skill that sets it apart.
Beginning with the story of a businessman Oh Daesu (Min-sik Choi), who is framed for murder and kidnapped and then imprisoned in a single room for 15 years. One day he is set free with no explanation on why he was abducted or suddenly released. So begins the cycle of revenge as Oh Daesu attempts to discover why his life was taken from him.
With only a television to keep him company, training becomes Oh Daesu lifeblood during his captivity. This developed skill leaves Oh Daesu with the desire and ability to extract vicious and exacting revenge upon enemies perceived and real. Brutal and stylistic, the fight scenes are alone worth the price of admission.
As the story unfolds we are subjected to the crueler and more tragic reason for Oh Daesu’s imprisonment. The final scenes and the great reveal is truly shocking and merciless. As if that isn’t enough, the final cut from the movie will leave you with questions rather than answers in regards to the resolution of Oh Daesu’s future.
Choi performs an amazing transformation from an overweight business man to a lean fighting machine. His mastery of the insanity of his characters plight is unprecedented.
To praise this movie as a stylistic thriller is not nearly enough. Films in the vein of Sin City fall more into that category. Oldboy is something deeper, harder, and far more unsettling. Park does not hold back anything and literally leaves everything on the table. Shocking does not begin to describe some of the scenes. The best analog is to compare Oldboy to classic Greek tragedy. Men do hideous things for love and morality is relative to the protagonist.
As stated above, this is the middle part of a three part series on revenge by Park. The other two films Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance are worth watching, but Oldboy is certainly the star among the three.