It’s Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Have you ever sat in a big, open space, and found yourself listening to someone else’s conversation? If you have, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect with It’s Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong, a romantic comedy starring real-life couple Jamie Chung and Bryan Greenberg.

The story of two American expats meeting, and hanging out, in Hong Kong, the film doesn’t really have a plot. It’s just an hour and 18 minutes of these two people walking around, taking in the sights, and getting to know each other. Twice. Now, I realize that, with a description like that, this movie probably sounds super boring. But it does have its merits. The scenery is beautiful, there’s some very good dialogue, and the performances of the two leads are very strong. I’d actually like to take a minute to talk about the acting, because, both of these people, especially Jamie Chung, are very underrated. She’s been in a ton of really crappy movies–Sucker Punch, Dragonball Evolution, Grown Ups–where she gets cast as the hot, token Asian. But even when you’re watching her in those bad movies, you can tell that she’s very talented. She’s just not being given the right material to work with. Fortunately for her, other movies and shows she’s starred in–Eden, Big Hero 6, Once Upon A Time–have given her the chance to shine. It’s Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong does so as well, and she really steps up to the plate in it.

But, as I said in my Beasts Of No Nation review, good performances and pretty visuals aren’t enough to make you love a film. And, sad to say, I don’t love It’s Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong. Yes, the acting is good. Yes, the dialogue is believable. Yes, the characters are well-developed. But nothing happens. No one has a goal. No one has an arc. It’s just two people meeting, talking, and enjoying the Hong Kong night life. That’s it. This movie is like eavesdropping on a couple–you learn a bit about them, you hear them say some funny stuff, but, in the end, you’re not given any context, or reason to care. So, overall, I don’t know if I can recommend this to you all. In terms of pure craftsmanship–acting, cinematography, dialogue– I’d say its a 7 out of 10. In terms of story, and keeping the audience engaged, though, I’d say it’s a 5 out of 10. Make of this what you will.

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Finding Dory

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

And if this movie teaches us anything, it’s that Pixar knows how to make great spin-offs. Seriously! Toy Story 2, Monsters University; these are fantastic follow-ups/prequels to classic films. And now, the subject of today’s review, Finding Dory, can officially be added to that noble list of stellar spin-offs.

This is a fantastic movie! It’s beautifully animated, wonderfully acted, deeply heartfelt, and extremely well-written. The writing, especially, is something that I want to touch on. See, I don’t think people give Pixar enough credit for their writing, which is always superb. Nearly all their films–Inside Out, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Up, Toy Story--have been nominated for Best Original Screenplay. There’s a reason why their movies are always able to move us; they’re incredibly well-written. Pixar’s superb writing skills are especially evident in Finding Dory, where several new characters–including Dory’s parents, an Octopus named Hank, a Whale Shark named Destiny, a Beluga named Bailey, and two sea lions played by Idris Elba and Dominic West–get introduced, and you are still able to remember, and care about, all of them. That’s a true testament to good writing; when you are able to introduce no less than seven new, important characters, and yet, you are able to give them enough personality, and things to do, to the point where the audience cares about, and remembers, them all.

But enough about the writing. What, you’re probably asking, is this movie actually about? Well, Finding Dory picks up a year after the events of Finding Nemo. Dory, Nemo and Marlin are all living together happily. Marlin has gotten slightly less protective, actually letting his son go to school, and Dory even works as a teacher’s assistant. But something’s not right. Dory starts getting fragmentary memories of her parents, and her life before she met Marlin. She realizes that they’re still out there, and that she needs to find them. And thus, she, Marlin and Nemo set off on a great adventure, which takes them across the ocean and through some of the most fantastic landscapes and scenarios imaginable.

As I’ve already said, this is a fantastic film. It’s very exciting, very funny, and extremely fast-paced. The fast-paced nature of the film is something that I quite enjoyed, because, as much as I love Finding Nemo, it does drag in some places. Finding Dory, by contrast, never stops moving, and has some of the most spectacular action set-pieces ever put to celluloid. Another thing that I quite like about this movie is that, there really is no villain. There’s no wicked stepmother, evil dragon, or mad scientist that needs to be defeated by the end. The situation might be described as the antagonistic force, but that situation isn’t really anyone’s fault. A final thing that I want to praise this movie for is the fact that everything Dory does, or remembers, is justified. A common complaint regarding Finding Nemo was that Dory’s poor memory was inconsistent; that she was only able to remember things when it was convenient to the plot. Not with this film. Every time she remembers something, it’s because something she saw, or something someone said, triggered that memory. And I love that. Nothing is out of the blue here. Everything is within context, and logical.

So, all in all, Finding Dory is a great movie. It’s fast-paced, beautifully-animated, and very well-written. Does it have the lasting, emotional message of its predecessor? Maybe not. But it’s still a terrific film, and one that I think you should go see. It’s a 9 out of 10.

I hope you all are having wonderful summers. If you like what you’ve read, please like this post, and follow my blog.

Original Versus Remake: OldBoy

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Remakes–they’re everywhere nowadays. Sometimes they’re interesting improvements over the original films, like the Coen Brothers’ interpretation of True Grit. And sometimes they’re incredibly pointless and stupid, like Jan De Bont’s take on The Haunting. Either way, remakes have been around for as long as there’s been cinema, and they don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

But what causes a remake to succeed or fail? Why did Martin Scorsese’s remake of Infernal Affairs win Best Picture, and William Friedkin’s re-imagining of 12 Angry Men go completely unnoticed? Why do most people regard John Carpenter’s The Thing as superior to the original, black-and-white movie, and Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes as inferior to the film that came before it? To find the answers to these, and several more questions, I’ve decided to introduce a new segment on my blog called Original Versus Remake, or OVR. In it, I’ll compare an older film to it’s remake, and try to unpack why one is regarded as superior to the other. And what better film to start this new segment off with than OldBoy, a movie that has not only been remade, but I’ve also already reviewed here on this blog? (Well, okay, there are probably several others that would be just as good, but this is my blog, and I want to begin with OldBoy.)

Anyway, in case you haven’t heard of it, OldBoy is a 2003 South Korean revenge film. The basic plot goes like this; a drunken businessman is kidnapped on his daughter’s fifth birthday, and imprisoned in a cell that resembles a hotel room for fifteen years. During this time, he learns that, out in the real world, his wife has been murdered, and the police believe he’s the one who killed her. Then, after more than a decade behind bars, he is released, and sets out on a quest to prove his innocence, and find the one who locked him up. His searching leads him to a former classmate, who explains that he locked the businessman away because, when they were in high school, the businessman saw him having incestuous sex with his sister, and told everyone about it. The sister killed herself because she couldn’t endure all the slut-shaming she was being put through, and this, in turn, caused her brother/lover to go crazy with revenge. The businessman apologizes for what he did, but says that the classmate should kill himself, as he’s had his revenge. The classmate then reveals what his true revenge was, getting the businessman to unwittingly commit incest with his daughter. See, while searching for the man who locked him up, the businessman met, and slept with, a young woman, who was actually his daughter. This revelation shocks and horrifies the businessman, who cuts out his own tongue as a sign of penance. The film ends ambiguously, with the businessman getting a hypnotist to alter his memories so he doesn’t know the truth, but the audience not being able to tell if the procedure actually worked.

OldBoy was a critical and commercial success when it came out back in 2003, grossing $15 million against a $3 million budget, and many American newspapers and critics hailing it as the greatest Korean movie ever made. So, naturally, with Hollywood being the soulless money machine that it is, an American remake was inevitable. And, wouldn’t you know it, in 2013, one such remake came out. Directed by Spike lee, and starring Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen, the American version was a failure in every respect, making a mere $4.9 million against a $30 million budget, and critics slamming it as a pale, shallow imitation of the original. But was it? Well, let’s compare the two films, and find out.

First off: the acting. Both the Korean and American casts do superb jobs. They convey the rage, sorrow, confusion and anguish that these characters are enduring beautifully. I honestly don’t think there’s a bad actor in either film. But, in the end, the acting in the Korean original does stand slightly above that in the American remake, and for one major reason; the portrayal of the main antagonist. In the Korean version, the villain is played by Yoo Ji-tae, who’s performance can best be described as suave, yet deadly. He always seems calm and in control, constantly talking with a smug little smile on his face. He really seems like he’s ten steps ahead of you, because, guess what? He is ten steps ahead of you. He never loses his cool, or flies into a stereotypical villainous rage, except for one time in an internet cafe, but, even then, it’s brief, and he quickly regains his composure. All in all, Yoo’s smugness and icy exterior make him a more formidable opponent, because he does seem like a guy who’s got his shit together, and won’t slip up and let you win. That’s the kind of guy who’s got enough control and foresight to plan something this elaborate and devious. That’s a worthy opponent. The villain in the American version, by contrast, is emotionally unstable, whiney, and kind of cartoonish. He’s portrayed by South African actor Sharlto Copley, who screams, cries, and twitches a lot. Also, he does a really bad British accent, which just gets annoying after a while. His version of the character does seem like the type of guy who’d lose his shit and give you the chance to win, because he kind of does that in the movie. He doesn’t seem like he’d have the foresight to plan something as elaborate and devious as what’s portrayed in the film. He doesn’t seem like a worthy opponent. And that’s the main reason why the acting in the original OldBoy is superior to the acting in the remake, the villain is played in a more subtle and nuanced manner.

But acting is just one part of a film? What about the directing? Well, both versions of OldBoy were helmed by established directors with distinct visions and artistic styles. 2003’s OldBoy was directed by Park Chan-Wook, a man famous for making ultra-violent, morbid revenge films, usually on small budgets. His movies have immaculately framed shots, dark color pallets, and elements of black comedy mixed in with all the bloodshed. 2013’s OldBoy, by contrast, was directed by Spike Lee, a man most famous for making movies about race relations, and issues within the Black community. His movies tend to have exaggerated color pallets, over-the-top acting and dialogue, lots of slanted shots, and perfectly centered extreme close ups. I was honestly quite shocked when I heard that he was going to be directing the new OldBoy, because, none of his movies, before or since, have been as dark or violent as Park’s film. The closest he’s come to anything like it is his movie Inside Man, which is a crime thriller. But, even then, the whole conceit of Inside Man is that everything is a ruse. No one actually gets hurt or killed. So how was he supposed to remake a movie with some of the most gruesome fight and torture scenes ever? But, hey, just because someone hasn’t done something before doesn’t mean they can’t be good at it. Martin Scorsese hadn’t made a kid’s film before Hugo, and it turned out to be great. So, who was I to say that Spike Lee wasn’t up to the task of making an ultra-violent revenge film with themes of incest and child abuse? Someone who was absolutely right in that assumption, because the way he directed his film doesn’t hold a candle to the way Park directed his movie. 2013’s OldBoy feels very much like a Hollywood movie, with complicated, moving shots, elaborate sets, and highly choreographed fight sequences. It also tones down, or flat out removes, lots of the original’s odder moments. If you’ve ever seen 2003’s OldBoy, you know that there’s some weird shit in it, like people eating live octopus, people fantasizing about riding the train with man-sized insects, and people getting down on all fours and acting like dogs. You don’t see any of that in Spike Lee’s film. And while I can understand the desire to get rid of the weirder elements that wouldn’t play well to an American audience, shooting the movie the way he did, and removing much of the darker, more bizarre content, kind of undermines the story. OldBoy is supposed to be really dark, really gritty, and really weird. Park was able to achieve a greater feeling of realism by having whole scenes be shot in one take, and using lots of hand-held camera, and his inclusion of those odd scenes really helped set OldBoy apart from other, generic revenge flicks. And while I don’t usually like hand-held camera, because I think it makes the movie hard to watch, it served a purpose here, and I believe that, by removing it, and using more elaborate, hollywood type shots, Spike Lee removed much of what made OldBoy unique to begin with. So, all in all, the directing in the original is also superior.

But what truly makes or breaks a movie is the story; how its told, how it ends, etc. You can have a great idea, but execute it in a horrible manner, just as you can have a horrible idea, but convey it with enough style and wit to make it great. Both versions of OldBoy have the same basic plot; asshole gets locked up, seeks revenge, unwittingly commits incest with daughter, etc. But these films tell that story in two drastically different manners. And the manner in which 2003’s OldBoy tells that story is unquestionably superior. For starters, it presents the protagonist in a more positive, and, by extension, relatable, light. He’s still an asshole, but not as much of an asshole as in the 2013 version. The only real scene in which he behaves like a jerk is at the beginning, where he drunkenly acts out in a police station. But, even then, the dialogue in this scene makes it perfectly clear that the reason he’s acting out is that he’s trying to get home to celebrate his daughter’s birthday. So, already, we have a reason to care about him. Yes, he’s a drunken buffoon, but he’s a drunken buffoon who loves his daughter. This makes it easier for us to care about him when things go wrong, and give us a reason to want to see him prevail. In 2013’s OldBoy, by contrast, we aren’t given any reason to like, or care about the protagonist. The first fifteen minutes are just a series of scenes in which he acts like a dick to everyone. He insults his boss, hits on his client’s wife, refuses to go to his daughter’s birthday, and calls the mother of his child a “bitch.” By the time he gets locked up, we really hate him, and it’s kind of cathartic to watch him get his comeuppance. We don’t want to see him prevail, and are therefore uninterested in watching the rest of the plot unfold. Another poor storytelling choice that the American version made was to change the villain’s motivation. As I said before, the reason why the villain in the Korean version locked the protagonist up was the fact that, when they were younger, the protagonist saw him having incestuous sex with his sister, and told everyone about it. The sister then committed suicide, and the villain vowed revenge. This explanation makes sense, because the villain was in love with his sister, and was therefore heartbroken to lose her. We can understand this. We can understand someone being angry over losing a person they love. What we can’t understand is the explanation the villain gives us in the American version. There, rather than have the protagonist see the villain having sex with his sister, he sees her having sex with some random dude. The dude, as the villain explains, was their father, who was having sex with both of them, and who eventually decided to kill everyone in his family to avoid potential embarrassment. But this explanation doesn’t make sense. The protagonist didn’t know who the man was. Why, then, would anyone care if he told people about seeing some random girl having sex with some random guy? There’s nothing scandalous, or worth committing suicide over in that statement. It’s a lot less interesting to say “hey, I saw so and so having sex with a random dude,” than to say, “hey, so and so is banging his sister.” Plus, this explanation barely includes the villain, and fails to give him a valid reason for acting. He’s not the one the protagonist saw. He’s not the one in love with the girl who died. Why, then, does he hate the protagonist so much? This new explanation is so complicated, and so flimsy, that if you stop to think about it at all, it collapses in on itself. But by far the worst storytelling choice that the American remake made was to change the ending. In the Korean version, the protagonist gets a hypnotist to alter his memories. He embraces his daughter, who says that she loves him, though we’re not sure whether she means that as a father, or as a lover, and the protagonist smiles, only to have his expression change to one of sorrow, leading us to question whether or not the procedure worked. It’s powerful. It’s ambiguous. It’s the perfect way to end a twisted and warped story, where we’re constantly questioning what’s going on. What isn’t perfect is the ending in the American version. There, instead of consulting a hypnotist (because, lord knows, that’s way too silly for an American movie), the protagonist pays the same people who locked him up to do so again, so that he never has to tell his daughter the truth. The final shot is of him smiling contentedly. He’s not traumatized. He’s not insane. He’s genuinely happy. This ending has none of the ambiguity, or tragedy, of the Korean original, and is the final, and conclusive, piece of evidence proving that the story is told better in that film.

Thank you all for reading my first installment of OVR, or Original Versus Remake. I’ll have my reviews of recent releases, like Finding Dory, and The Neon Demon, up very soon.

I hope you all are having wonderful summers. If you like what you’ve read, please like this post, and follow my blog.

To The Nostalgia Critic, Regarding Your Video On White-Washing

While you do make some valid points about audiences being complacent with height washing (casting non Little People To Play Little People), and various other forms of impersonation, the crux of your video is both flawed and troubling, and I don’t believe that you are aware of this.

First of all, the title, “Is White-Washing Really Still A Thing?” Yes. It is still very much a thing. That’s why Gerard Butler got cast in Gods Of Egypt, Christian Bale got cast in Exodus: Gods And Kings, Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone got cast in The Last Airbender, and why Emma Stone got cast in Aloha. Hollywood, like you said, is a business looking to make money. And in their eyes, White actors, even character actors with no charisma, are more likely to bring in audiences than actors of color. White-washing is still very much a practice, done out of fear and unwillingness to try anything new, and when you frame the issue as a question, you make it sound like it isn’t a problem. You make it seem as though this is a topic for debate, which it is not. It’s a problem that needs to be solved. This kind of framing the issue as a question is what allowed people, for years, to say that “climate change isn’t real,” or that, “smoking is no more unhealthy than eating twinkies.” So, yes, White-Washing is real, and a problem, whether you want to believe that or not, and when you frame it as a question, you diminish its significance, and the opinions of those arguing against it.

Second, your claim that no one gets upset when White characters are played by actors of color just isn’t true. I don’t know where you were when Michael B Jordan was cast as the Human Torch, or when Quevenzhane Wallis was cast as Annie, but there was a lot of angry White backlash. People threatened to boycott the movies. They sent the actors and directors death threats. People went nuts. So, already, one of your major arguments, that people who hate White-Washing are somehow hypocritical because there’s no backlash when actors of color get White roles, has no substance to it.

Third, you say that people shouldn’t get upset over the White-Washing in Ghost In The Shell, because there have been numerous instances, as with Seven Samurai, Infernal Affairs, and OldBoy, where Asian films were remade with White actors, and no one got angry. What you fail to realize is that, in each of those cases, the stories were not quintessentially Japanese, or Chinese, or Korean. They were universal stories that could be told anywhere. OldBoy was actually an adaptation of a Japanese manga series, which, in turn, was a re-telling of the myth of Oedipus. Infernal Affairs was just a cop movie about two moles chasing each other. And Seven Samurai was a simple tale about a group of mercenaries being hired to protect a small town. None of those films requires a distinctly Asian backdrop or cast to be told.  Ghost In The Shell is different. It, along with Akira, was one of the first anime films to bridge the cultural gap between America and Japan. It contained many stylistic, thematic, and social elements that were new and unheard of in the States. There’s a reason why so many filmmakers–James Cameron in Avatar, The Wachowskis in The Matrix, Jonathan Mostow in Surrogates–were inspired by it, and sought to emulate its style and ideas; that style, those ideas, aren’t universal. Americans simply wouldn’t dream up stuff like that on their own. What made Ghost In The Shell unique was its distinctly Japanese look and feel. The futuristic Tokyo landscape, the themes of identity and technology going too far, and the rather bleak tone, all are byproducts of Japan’s post-war psychology. Of course Japanese people would write stories in which technology was frightening, they’d seen the horrors of modern technology first-hand in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course Japanese people would make movies dealing with a search for identity, they’d had their old way of life destroyed and reshaped by a foreign power (seriously, Douglas MacArthur wrote the new Japanese constitution ). Everything about Ghost In The Shell is Japanese. A live-action adaptation therefore requires a Japanese cast and crew.

Fourth, you employ the “slippery slope” argument for why people shouldn’t get upset over White Washing. If we actually give leading Asian roles to Asian actors, then, my god, we’ll have to give leading Gay and Disabled roles to Gay and Disabled actors too! What’s wrong with that? As both a Chinese-American, and a person who is physically disabled, I want my story to be told by people who have had the same, or at least similar, experiences to me. And, the truth is, there are so few roles written for Asian, Disabled, Transgender or any non-White, non-male actors, that your irrational fear that, somehow, we’ll have to come up with a person who’s had a sex change and become a lesbian is patently ridiculous. The “slippery slope” argument is always a bad one to use. It’s the same argument that was used to fight ratification of the 13th Amendment, “if we free the slaves, we’ll have to give women the vote,” and to fight desegregation in Brown V Board Of Education, “If we let Black students into our schools, then we’ll have to let disabled students in as well.” Do you really want to be remembered like those people, idiots who fought against progress and the inevitable?

Finally, you spend most of your video criticizing people who want more diversity in their entertainment for not taking a stand against height washing or other forms of impersonation. Yes, height washing, refusing to cast actually disabled actors, and various other practices are awful, and need to be addressed. But the assertion that we shouldn’t get angry over White-Washing, unless we get angry over everything, is beyond ridiculous. You sound like an NRA member saying, “Well, unless it can get rid of all murders and violent crimes, gun control shouldn’t be implemented,” or an idiot writing off the Black Lives matter movement with the statement that “all lives matter.” Yes, all lives matter. Yes, all groups deserve to be represented respectfully and accurately. But some groups have a greater need for representation, or for protection. Asians are virtually invisible in Hollywood, with less than 5% of leading roles going to them. Police brutality is disproportionally aimed at Blacks and Latinos. Saying that people shouldn’t get angry over something because there are other things to get angry over doesn’t achieve anything. We need to focus on each issue individually, work to change it as best we can, and then, when we’ve made progress, move on to the next issue.

I understand that you probably aren’t trying to sound racist, or dismissive, or any of the other things that you came off as in your video, but I felt it was necessary to point out the troubling nature of your arguments. As the type of person not being represented in the media, both racially and ability-wise, I don’t want the discussion surrounding me, or people like me, to be dictated by a guy who has no idea what he’s talking about. Because, this election year, especially, that’s happening a lot.