In The Mood For Love (2000)

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

And Happy Valentine’s Day! Hope you all are with people you love. So to celebrate  the most romantic day of the year, I’ve decided to review one of my all-time favorite romance films, Wong Kar-Wai’s magnum opus, In The Mood For Love.

In 1962, Mr. Chow moves into an apartment right next door to Mrs. Chan, and, straight away, the two of them hit it off. And for good reason. They’re young, attractive, intelligent, and most importantly, often without their spouses. Both Mr. Chow’s wife and Mrs. Chan’s husband are frequently away on business, and it doesn’t take long for our heroes to realize that their spouses are cheating with each other. Devastated, the two become close, spending time re-enacting how their spouses might have met, and debating whether or not they should leave. As they do so, however, Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan find themselves falling for each other, but must resist the urge, not simply to prove that they are better than their spouses, but because of the social norms of the time.

In The Mood For Love is pure, unadulterated emotion. There is little to no plot, and 90% of the run-time is just two people sharing a conversation. And yet, it is riveting. You feel so deeply for these characters. You like them. You care about them. You feel their pain. And by the end of the movie, you find yourself longing for them to be together, almost as much as the characters themselves. It is beautiful, on so many different levels. Not only is Christopher Doyle’s cinematography gorgeous, with the use of light and color evoking every ounce of emotion imaginable, but the costumes, particularly the qipaos that Maggie Cheung wears, are exquisite, and the music by Shigeru Umebayashi still gives me chills. And, as if this needs saying, the acting is superb. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung have amazing chemistry, and you really do believe that they care for each other. And for a movie like this, that is vital. I’d actually like to talk about Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung for a minute. They deserve all the credit in the world for this movie, and I’ll tell you why. When they started shooting, the director, Wong Kar-Wai, didn’t have a finished script, and, very often, he’d come up with new scenes on the spot, or just have Maggie and Tony improvise with each other. If they hadn’t been the actors that they are, this film would have made no sense, the characters wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting, and you wouldn’t have cared half as much. In my opinion, they deserve a writing credit on this picture, seeing as how so much of the film is just the two of them playing off each other.

Now, as much as I love this movie, I can understand why some people might not like it. As I said before, there’s almost no plot, and 90% of it is just the two leads talking, and being sad. That could rub people the wrong way. Similarly, there are certain characters, like Mr. Chow’s co-worker who owes money to a prostitute, that get introduced, but never really come back into play. And, finally, for a romance film, there’s basically no romance in this movie at all. What I mean by that is, in most Western romance films, you’ll have characters kiss, and have sex.  Not here. There’s no sex, no kissing, and the most intimate act that gets performed on screen is Mr. Chow giving Mrs. Chan a hug. I personally love this, because, to me, it illustrates a fundamental difference between how “romance” is perceived in China and the West, but I can also understand why Western viewers might feel cheated by this film. Then again, that’s kind of the point. You are supposed to feel cheated, because the characters have been cheated. they’ve been cheated out of their marriages, and cheated out of true love by society’s expectations and taboos. You’re supposed to want more, and not get it. Because the characters didn’t get it either.

Guys, what can I say? In The Mood For Love is one of my favorite romance movies, and an all-around masterpiece. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.


A Flower Of War

She fought like a tiger the day we first met. Or perhaps like a crane. She certainly displayed the ferocity of a tiger, slicing through my soldiers like a hand through water, and yet, the way she moved, the way she dipped, and dodged and leapt through my men’s ranks, was so graceful that I couldn’t help but be reminded of a crane taking flight.

Perhaps that was why, when Colonel Yi and I arrived on the scene, finding her panting over the corpses of no less than 40 soldiers, and the Colonel told our archers to fire, I yelled out “No!”

“No?” he asked, turning in his saddle to face me. I felt my cheeks flush with color, and cleared my throat.

“No. Spare her.”

Colonel Yi exchanged an incredulous look with Captain Zhang before turning back to me.

“Princess–” he began, adopting the condescending tone of a parent addressing a child.

“That’s General, Colonel Yi!” I snapped. “My father left me in command of this Army, so unless you wish to hear from the King of Xia, you will do as I say.”

Colonel Yi wrinkled his nose, as though my words carried some foul odor, but said nothing. He wouldn’t dare say it outright, but, deep down; I knew he resented being led by a woman. And, even deeper down, I knew that if I pushed him too hard, it wouldn’t matter who my father was.  He’d kill me and take command. That’s why, as soon as I saw his expression go dark, I instantly changed my tact.

“I understand your confusion, Colonel.” I said, doing my best to appear calm and level headed. “And I understand your desire to seek vengeance for our brothers. But let’s be pragmatic. We’re outnumbered. The Tang are closing in. And this woman single-handedly managed to kill 40 of our soldiers. We need every warrior we can find, and this woman just might be the secret weapon we’ve been looking for.”

“You’re saying you want to recruit her?”

“Give me three days, and I swear I’ll have her waving the flag of Xia.”

He looked at my face long and hard, as though it were a piece of armor and he were searching it for cracks. I looked right back at him, giving, and saying, nothing. Finally, he nodded, and looked away.

“As you wish. Archers, stand down!”

“Stand down!” Captain Zhang repeated, waving his arm at our men.

Down the line, our archers lowered their bows, and, even from a distance, I could see the shock in her eyes. This brought a smile to my face, and I tapped my heels into my horse’s side, sending it trotting forward. The sight of me approaching caused her to scowl, and raise her sword as though she meant to skewer my steed.

“You want some too?” She snarled, daring me to come closer.

I tilted my head to one side. Being this close to her allowed me to see how young, and beautiful, she was. Even under all the blood, even with her hair inn tangles, she was radiant.

She must have thought my staring odd, because she tilted her head to one side and asked,


I shook my head. Hard.

“Give up, sister,” I called out, “You’re outnumbered, and surrounded.”

“That’s what this lot said.” She grinned, gesturing to all the dead soldiers. Something about her smugness, about the sheer confidence of her delivery, stung my pride, and I found my cheeks again flushing with color.

“But did ‘this lot’ have arrows?” I asked, folding my arms in defiance.

This shut her up good and quick. She looked around at the archers, at how really and truly cornered she was, and then glanced back at me. For a brief moment, I saw fear in her eyes. It truly did last a heartbeat, but that small display of doubt touched something inside, and, before I knew it, I was dismounting and walking over to her. I could hear my men’s murmurs of disapproval, but I didn’t care. She was all that mattered.

“It’s all right, sister,” I said, placing a hand on her shoulder, “No one will hurt you. I promise.”

She looked into my eyes, searching them for hints as to whether or not I was deceiving her. I looked right back, silently preying that my sincerity would be felt through my gaze. For a long while, we stood there, saying nothing. Then, at last, she looked down, and offered me her sword. I took it, and led her by the hand back to my horse. Together, we mounted, and began the long ride back to camp. As we passed Colonel Yi, I gave him a quick, sideways glance. His eyes were as cold as a river at midnight.

Back at my tent, I poured out two glasses of plum wine. I offered her one, but she shook her head, “no.” I shrugged, and took a sip.

“What’s your name, sister?” I asked after I’d set the cup down.

She didn’t respond.

“Why are you dressed like a man?” I probed, taking a step forward. Her eyes flashed with fear, and she quickly backed away.

“What do you want from me?” she snapped, balling her hands into fists.

This caught me off guard. It was a simple enough query, and certainly logical for the situation. And yet, in all the time it took to get from the place where I captured her back to my tent, I’d never once thought of an answer.


“I’m no one important,” she chattered, her words coming out quick and jumbled. “So there’s no point trying to get ransom.”

I laughed, and shook my head.

“Sister, there was never any question of ransom.”

“Then why spare me?” she pressed, taking a step forward. “Why take me to your tent?”

I pursed my lips.

“I… I couldn’t let someone as fair as you just die.”

She stared at me, mouth agape.


Again, my cheeks flushed with color.

“I– Well, what I mean is–”

“You want me?”

I stopped; looked her right in the eye. She nodded, the gears of her brain turning fast.

“Of course, it all makes sense.”

“No! No, nothing makes sense!” I snapped. “I don’t– The fact that you would even imply that I would want–”

“Then what do you want?” she asked, folding her arms.

I closed my eyes, and took a deep breath.

“I want my father to win this war. And the only way we can is if we have warriors like you in our ranks.”

“Is that right?” she chuckled, running a finger up my arm.

“Yes it is!” I snapped, turning my back on her. “And, starting tomorrow, you’ll begin training my soldiers. Understood?”

Over the next few weeks, I did everything I could to avoid her. This proved to be far more difficult than I thought. First, I had to restrain the men, who wanted nothing more than to kill her. Next, I had to find her a place to sleep, since I certainly couldn’t just leave her in the barracks. And, wouldn’t you know it, the only place that was safe for her was my tent. And, finally, I had to keep reminding her that it was not at all appropriate to indoctrinate the men with Tang propaganda. I can’t even begin to count how many times I came upon her, lecturing my soldiers about how the armies of Tang were invincible, and how they were better off surrendering now, instead of wasting their time training. It happened so often that I spent more time chaperoning her than strategizing with Colonel Yi and the others. I don’t think he minded, since it gave him the chance to take command. As a matter of fact, I know he didn’t mind. That was the problem.

As the weeks wore on, I started noticing a change in his demeanor. When I gave him orders, he would either ignore them, or be slow to respond. When I reminded him that, as the daughter of the King of Xia, I was in charge, he would simply smile, and say, “for now.” And on one occasion, I caught him standing outside my tent, surveying it with something close to a buyer’s eye.

“What are you doing?” I barked.

“Just checking on your majesty’s residence,” he responded smoothly. “It would be quite a shame if something were to happen to it.”

I opened my mouth, but he was already gone.

And yet, despite all that, and despite all my efforts to avoid her, I couldn’t help but learn details from her past. I learned that a blind man named Liu taught her how to handle a sword. (This detail slipped out during a training exercise). I learned that she had two sisters. (This tidbit was divulged while insulting one of my men; “My sisters could swing that axe better than you”). And I learned that her favorite fruit was persimmons. (This was made evident by the fact that she devoured at least three of them everyday). But perhaps the most important thing I learned about her was her incredible talent with a needle.

I learned this on a hot day about a month into our relationship. I was training with my bodyguard, Shen, and, as always, he was letting me win. He never said he was, but I could tell. I was lousy with a blade, and Shen had been a professional soldier for over a decade. There was no way in hell that I could beat him in sparring every single time. She knew that, and when she saw us training together, she came over and pushed Shen out of the way.

“What are you–?”

“Giving you a real lesson in combat.”

I scoffed, and looked at my men for support, but none of them made a sound. This caused her to snicker, and my cheeks to burn red.

“Don’t look at them. They want you to learn as much as I do.”

I scowled, and turned my back on her.

“There’s nothing you can teach me that I don’t already know.”

I took a step forward and instantly felt a sharp sting against the back of my head. I whirled around, clutching my throbbing skull, only to find her smirking, and tossing a pebble up and down.

“You sure about that?” she said with a wink.

That sent me over the edge. I drew my sword, and lunged for her. She easily sidestepped, and slashed her blade upward, cutting my arm. I cried out in pain, and clutched at my wound, which, by that point, was bleeding profusely.

“Never let anger rule you in battle.” she said, sheathing her sword.

I groaned, and fell to my knees.

“Oh, come now.” she huffed, turning around. “It’s not that bad–”

She fell silent when she saw how much blood was coming out of my wound. Her whole demeanor instantly changed, and she fell to her knees beside me.

“I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to cut you that deep.”

I didn’t respond. I was too light-headed to speak. She looked to the men for help, none of whom did, or said, a thing. She sighed, and ripped off a piece of cloth from her uniform.

“Someone get me a needle and some thread!” she shouted, wrapping the makeshift bandage around my wound. None of them moved.

“Now!” she barked, and they finally went off in search of medical supplies. At that point, my head was spinning, and my fingers had become numb. The last thing I remembered before passing out was the sight of Shen returning with a needle and thread.

I woke several hours later in my tent. She was sitting over me, stroking my forehead. A few weeks ago, I would have balked at such a blatant sign of intimacy, but, at that moment, it was like a ray of sunshine on the glacier of my heart.

“You’re awake!” she smiled, cupping my face with both hands.

“Yes.” I sighed. “Thanks to you. Where’d you learn to stitch a wound like that?”

“You grow up on a farm, you get injured. And when you grow up poor, the only doctor you can afford is yourself.”

I nodded.

A silence followed, in which both of us pondered how best to say what was on our minds. She broke it first.

“I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have challenged you–”

“No, I’m glad you did.”

She frowned.

“You are?”

I nodded, and stared up at the roof of my tent.

“I’m a proud fool. I needed to be humbled.”

She looked down. I turned to face her, and place my thumb and forefinger beneath her chin.

“Pride’s kept me from doing a great many things. And it’s held me back from admitting a great many more.”

“Oh really?” she asked slyly, leaning forward. “Like what?”

“You know.” I said, bringing her lips to mine.

She didn’t leave my side that night, or any night after that.

“I’ve got it!” I said, after an evening of particularly passionate lovemaking.

“Got what?” she asked, draping an arm across my chest, and burying her face in the crook of my neck.

“I finally found out what you are.”

“What I am?” she laughed, arching her eyebrows.

I nodded.

“The first day we met, I couldn’t decide what you were more like; a tiger or a crane. You were ferocious like a tiger, but graceful like a crane.”

“Oh. So which am I?”

I smiled, and cupped her face with both hands.

“A flower.”

“A flower?”

“Yes. But not just any flower; a flower that only grows in earth that has been soaked with blood and tears; a flower that never wilts, even in the dead of winter. A flower of war.”

She smiled, and gently kissed my lips.

“I like that,” she said. “I think you’re right.”

A week later, she broached the topic of leaving.

“We can’t stay here.” she said. “At least, you can’t stay here.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your men are planning on killing you.”

“I… That’s…”

“The truth, and you know it.”

I looked down, and nodded.


A long silence followed, in which the weight of truth bore down on us like a blanket. I was the first to break it.

“I want to leave,” I groaned. “But, my father–”

“Is dead.”

I rounded on her.

“What did you say?”

“It’s true,” she nodded. “As I was making my way to the battlefield, I learned from some passing Tang troops that the King of Xia had already been killed. All they were doing now was routing out rogue regiments that hadn’t yet been captured.”

I stared at her, uncertain as to whether or not I should believe her words. It seemed plausible. We hadn’t heard anything from father in weeks. It was possible he’d been overthrown. But was it true?

“How do you know they weren’t lying?”

She looked away.

“I don’t want to tell you.”

“Mulan!” I shouted, tears rolling down my cheeks. She sighed, and looked me in the eye.

“They had his head on a pike.”

Her words pierced me like a dagger. I looked away, and covered my face with both hands. She reached out to comfort me, but I shrugged her off. I stayed like that, weeping, for what felt like an eternity. I wept and I wept, until it honestly felt as though all the liquid in my body would pour out. Finally, I could weep no more, and so I stopped, and looked her right in the eye.

“Let’s do it.”

Her face broke into a massive grin.

“You mean it?”

I nodded.

“Yes. Let’s do it tonight.”

We packed as quickly, and quietly, as possible, taking only what was necessary to survive. Finally, we had what we needed, and we snuck out the tent under cover of darkness.

She at first moved towards the stables to steal some of the men’s horses, but I held her back.

“No,” I whispered. “I’ve got a better idea.”

That, “better idea” was the pair of stallions Colonel Yi kept by his tent. It was all I could do to keep myself from laughing as we untied them and led them to the outskirts of camp. By the time we mounted them, and began our long ride off towards the horizon, I felt great warmth seeping through my veins. I had lost my father. I had lost my home. And yet, in that moment, I felt strangely optimistic. I was free; free to do whatever I wanted, and go wherever I pleased. And more important than that, I had the woman I loved–my flower of war–by my side. Our lives would not be easy. Our lives would not be safe. But together, through our trials and our turmoil, we would make the brightest blossoms bloom.

Copyright 2018. Nathan Liu

House Of Flying Daggers (2004)

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

The Tang Dynasty is in shambles. The government is both corrupt and weak, and, every day, it loses more ground to the House of Flying Daggers, a popular rebel group. So, in a desperate ploy to bring the insurgents down, the Tang give two detectives, Leo and Jin, ten days to find and kill the head of the cell. Believing that Mei, a blind dancer at a local brothel, might have connections to the rebels, they arrest and interrogate her. But when Leo decides that they might be able to use Mei to lead them to the group, Jin springs her out of jail, pretending to be sympathetic to the insurgent’s cause. As they travel north, towards the Daggers encampment, however, Jin finds himself growing closer to Mei. So much so that, when they finally find the Daggers, he might not want to bring them down after all.

House Of Flying Daggers is beautifully-shot, and superbly acted. And it’s the sort of film that only makes sense to the eye. What I mean by that is, many things happen in it that work as pure eye candy, or visual representations of character’s psyches–like a scene suddenly shifting from summer to winter. But when you actually stop and think about it, none of the movie makes sense. And I mean none of it. If you consider this movie’s plot or characters even slightly, the whole thing comes flying apart. This all stems from a veritable marathon of twists that get revealed within the last 20 minutes of this 2 hour movie. First, you find out that Mei isn’t actually blind. Next, you find out that the Madam of the brothel where she worked is actually the head of the Flying Daggers. Except, as you learn just a few minutes later, she’s not really. Then you learn that Leo, who’d been using Jin and Mei to track the Daggers, was actually a member of the Daggers the whole time, and in love with Mei. None of these twists are built up to in any manner, and when you stop and think about them, none of them make sense. First, why would Mei pretend to be blind? How does that help her? There are several points in this movie where characters trick her, or sneak up on her, because they know she can only hear them. Except, as it turns out, that’s not true. She can see them. So how would they be able to sneak up on her? Why would she let them sneak up on her? Next, why were she and the leader of the Flying Daggers in a brothel?  What was their goal in doing so? To seduce people? To gather intel? Was it even a brothel to begin with? How did they infiltrate it? Third, if Leo was a member of the Flying Daggers the whole time, why would he arrest Mei? Why would he use her to find the Daggers? Doesn’t he, as a member, already know where they are? These are just a few of the many, many, many questions you find yourself asking when you start to think about this movie and it’s twists. And that’s not good.  A film’s narrative logic should be air tight.

But, you know what? I can forgive logical errors. Those mistakes happen in filmmaking, and, oftentimes, you don’t spot them until you’re done shooting. What I can’t forgive is rape, and this film has no less than three attempted rape scenes in it. Mei’s character is molested by both her male love interests, on multiple occasions. No, they never fully rape her. But they do grope her without consent, and tear off her clothes. Thankfully, each time they do so, someone intervenes. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that this movie has the balls to show her getting molested, on multiple occasions, and then have her fall in love with the assholes who groped her. I find this crude, misogynistic sentiment to be utterly revolting, and I think it’s long past time we stopped using it in our art. No one asks to be raped. No one enjoys being raped. No victim of rape ever falls in love with their rapist. Why, filmmakers, can’t you accept that?

Guys, if it seems like I’m angry, it’s only because I expected so much more from this movie. You’ve got one of the most talented directors in the world, Zhang Yimou, behind the camera, and one of the most talented actresses of all time, Zhang Ziyi, in front of it. And to be fair, they both do their part. The cinematography, costumes and color palate are all exquisite, as you expect from a Zhang Yimou picture. And Zhang Ziyi gives a believable, heartbreaking performance as Mei, also as you’d expect. But the script just isn’t up to the same level that they are. It relies too much on twists that are never built up to, and it’s sexual politics are beyond disgusting. For that reason, I can’t recommend you all see this. Maybe watch some of the fight scenes on YouTube, but definitely don’t buy or rent the whole movie.

Hero (2002)

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

In a period of Civil War, a ruthless king is poised to take over all of China. All that stands in his way are three assassins–Long Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow. For 10 years, they have thwarted his efforts, and personally tormented him, to the point where he can neither sleep, nor remove his armor. Now, though, after more than a decade, a Nameless Warrior claims to have slain them all. To see if this is true, the King summons the swordsman to his palace, and ask to hear how he achieved such an impossible feat. As the Nameless Warrior talks, however, the King starts to suspect that he may not be who he says he is, and that he might have ulterior motives for being there.

Hero is colorful, melodramatic, beautifully-choreographed, and surprisingly philosophical. It is a film that I loved when it first came out, and that I can appreciate even more, now that I know about all the effort that goes into movie-making. From a purely technical perspective, it’s perfect. The shot composition, use of color in costumes and sets, editing, music and fight choreography are all flawless. It holds up after 15 years, and for good reason. Every single earthshaking,gravity defying moment was done by actual stuntmen, with practical effects. Yes, it’s all very heightened, but it all looks real. Because it is real. And that makes it so much better. The movie is also surprisingly thought-provoking. Most people go into martial arts films expecting pretty visuals, but not much else. Hero, however, takes a more grounded approach to its storytelling and characterization, and actually has some pretty interesting things to say. At its core is the question of what is more important, the greater good, or personal loyalty, and I, for one, think it handles that topic with both care and insight. All of this can be found in the relationship between Broken Sword and Flying Snow, played by my all-time favorite screen couple, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung. They are lovers torn apart by that central question; what’s more important to me, loyalty or good? By the movie’s end, both are left (literally) heartbroken, because of their inability to compromise. Their downfall is both a joy and a torment to watch. And, as always, they’re chemistry is effortless.

Now, with all that said, I’m not above admitting that this film has problems. Some are simple matters of personal taste. Others are larger, and story-related. The biggest, for me, is the fact that you don’t know the characters too well. This is due, in large part, to the fact that we see the same story unfold multiple times, from different perspectives, like in Rashoman. In each version of events, the character’s personalities and goals are changed to fit the views of the teller. In one version, for instance, Broken Sword and Flying Snow are petty, jealous and violent. That’s because the narrator wants us to think they are. In another version, however, they are shown as loving, loyal, and willing to do anything to keep the other safe. That’s because the new narrator views them that way. As such, you don’t get to know the characters very well. Or, at least, not until the end. The dialogue is also very on the nose and melodramatic, with no one sounding like an actual human. Yes, that’s to be expected for a martial arts period piece, but still. The third flaw, and the one that matters most to me, personally,  is the way the film treats Zhang Ziyi’s character. She plays Broken Sword’s assistant, Moon. In one version of events, she is his lover.  Or, rather, in that version, Broken Sword is angry at Flying Snow, and so he more or less rapes Moon to make Snow jealous. Yes, the film implies that Moon has feelings for him, and I suppose that’s meant to make his assault of her slightly less awful. But he does still grab her without warning, throw her to the ground, rip her clothes off, have his way with her, and then kick her out. And the movie does show Moon crying after this, so I’m not sure how to feel. When I first saw this film back in 2004, I was only about 9 years old. I didn’t know what sex, let alone rape, was. And yet, even then, when I watched this scene, I got upset. Something about it felt wrong to me, and it still does, all these years later. It’s my least favorite aspect of an otherwise awesome movie, and if you do watch the film, maybe fast forward through that part.

But, all in all, Hero’s visual brilliance, strong performances, epic score and gripping narrative more than make up for its flaws. And they certainly make the picture, as a whole, worth watching. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

Phantom Thread (2017)

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

In 1950s England, Reynolds Woodcock is the world’s most sought after dress maker. He and his sister, Cyril, make gowns for royals, movie stars, and millionaires. Over the years, Reynolds has slept with countless women, all of whom he discarded after they began to get on his nerves. Now, though, he has met someone new; Elsa, a maid from somewhere in mainland Europe. And even though they fight constantly, Reynolds can’t bring himself to leave her. And Elsa, for her part, won’t let him go.

Guys, I’m just gonna go ahead and say it; I didn’t care for this movie. As a matter of fact, at one point near the beginning, I almost fell asleep. This is a very long–it’s 130 minutes–very bland movie where not much happens. 90% of it is characters sitting at a table, eating in utter silence, or fitting people with dresses. And when something does happen, like when Reynolds decides to steal a dress he made back from a client, those things come so far out of left field that you’re left feeling totally perplexed. Now, granted, this is all very much in keeping with the writer/director, Paul Thomas Anderson’s, style. In case you don’t know who that is, he’s a director who made films like Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood. His pictures are notorious for being very light on actual plot, and very heavy on weird characters doing weird things. Phantom Thread continues that tradition. And if you are a fan of his, you will love this movie, and nothing I say will change your mind. As for me, I found this to be one of the dullest films of the year. And unlike other dull films I saw in 2017, like A Ghost Story, or Downsizing, there’s not at least a cool, out of the box concept to at least keep you invested. Here, it’s literally just a dude and a woman trying to have a relationship when both of them are kind of assholes. That’s it.

Now, I wanna be fair and talk about some good qualities in this flick, because there are some. The acting is good, the cinematography is beautiful, and the score is very nice. This is a competently-crafted movie. But the story is so boring, the characters are so bland, and the runtime is so long, that you just don’t care about any of those technical achievements. So, for that reason, I say, don’t go out and see this one. If you like artsy movies, or PT ANderson, you might get something out of this, but not me.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

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

Li Mu Bai has long led a warrior’s life. But now, after years of bloodshed, he’s determined to turn over a new leaf. So, to prove to everyone that he’s done killing, he gives his sword, the legendary Green Destiny, to Yu Shu Lien, a fellow warrior, and unrequited love interest. But when the Green Destiny is stolen, and Yu and Li’s investigation brings them to the home of a government official, they realize that there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a movie I have loved literally my entire life. Not only was it the first film I ever saw, but it was also the movie that made me want to make movies. Seriously. As soon as I watched this back in 2000, I got a camera, and made my own kung fu movie, Crouching Lion, Hidden Eagle. Any picture that can get a six year old who doesn’t even know what a camera is to want to make movies is doing something right. And I’m not the only one who thinks that. To date, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon remains the highest grossing foreign-language film in American history, as well as the most critically-acclaimed martial arts movie of all time; with a record four Academy Awards to its name, and ten nominations, including Best Picture. But why was it so beloved? Why do people still remember it after so many years? What, to put it bluntly, makes this movie so good?

Well, several things, actually. The first is it’s script. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a very well-written movie, with it actually getting nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, and for good reason. Every single character is given depth, personality, and pain. The film is almost three hours long, and it contains many quiet scenes where characters just sit and talk to each other about their dreams and desires. As such, the protagonists of this film are considerably more well-rounded than those in other martial arts movies. The second thing that makes this movie awesome is the camerawork. Crouching Tiger, Hidden dragon is beautifully shot, with every single frame dripping with life and color. Peter Pau, the cinematographer, won an Oscar for lensing this film, and I can totally see why. Every time I watch it, I feel like I’ve been transported to another world, and it’s all thanks to the images onscreen. The third thing that makes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon incredible is the acting. Everyone gives a subtle, restrained performance, not at all what you’d expect from a film like this, and, indeed, many members of the cast were nominated for BAFTA and Hong Kong Film Awards for their work. The standout, easily, is Zhang Ziyi, who steals the Green Destiny, and the whole damn show. She is magnetic on screen. She’s bold and fiery, and yet, vulnerable and sweet. By this point in her career, She’d already made somewhat of a name for herself back in China, but it was her work in Crouching Tiger that catapulted her into the stratosphere of stardom, not just in the East, but in the West as well. For the next five years, she was everywhere, appearing in big films like Hero, Rush Hour 2, Memoirs Of A Geisha, and House Of Flying Daggers. It is extremely rare for an Asian actress to become big in Hollywood, but Zhang Ziyi did, and it’s all thanks to her incredible performance in this movie. The fourth, and biggest, reason why Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is awesome is the action.  It is SUPERB. It’s exciting, well-shot, beautifully-choreographed, and inventive. The fight sequences in this movie hold up after 17 years, and for good reason. They’re real. Every single moment was done in camera, by real stuntmen. And you can tell. In the film’s most famous fight scene, where Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi duke it out in a courtyard, you hear the actresses panting, and see the sweat dripping down their faces. You really believe that this is a hard, brutal fight, and that it’s taking a serious toll on both their bodies. And whenever a film can convince you that a staged action sequence is real, it’s done something right.

Now, as much as I adore Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and, trust me, I could gush about it for ages, there are some aspects of it that I don’t enjoy as much, all these years later. The biggest, by far, is the flashback sequence, wherein we see Zhang Ziyi’s backstory. Yes, it’s necessary, and it helps you understand her character. But it’s also very long, and very, very slow. It goes on for about 40 minutes, and when you watch it, you just feel like you’re in a different movie. The whole thing really hurts the pace, and I honestly tend to fast-forward through it whenever I re-watch the film. Which brings me to another point, the fact that the movie’s plot is kind of scatter-brained. It starts out as a drama about a warrior trying to abandon his bloody past. Then it becomes a mystery, where they have to find the Green Destiny. Then it turns into a romantic drama, wherein Zhang Ziyi wants to escape her arranged marriage and go live in the desert. And then, in the last 30 minutes, it becomes a kind of road movie, where Zhang Ziyi is just roaming the land, taking what she wants and fighting whomever she pleases. Yes, everyone has an arc, and all the subplots do pay off. But, upon re-watch, it does feel like some of those subplots could have been omitted, and the movie, as a whole, would have become more focused.

But those are really the only negative things I have to say about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This is a well-shot, well-acted, emotionally-devastating character piece, with some amazing fight sequences and action. If you somehow haven’t seen this movie after all this time, go out and rent it RIGHT NOW!  You will love it.

Downsizing (2017)

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

To fight global warming, scientists develop the means to shrink humans down. The idea is that, if people are smaller, they’ll produce less waste, use less energy, and, overall, leave a smaller footprint on the environment. It doesn’t take long, however, for people to catch on that there are other benefits to being little, like the fact that money is worth a lot more in shrunken communities. One individual hoping to escape financial woes by “downsizing” is Paul Safranek, a physical therapist drowning in debt. He and his wife visit “Leisure Land,” the most prosperous shrunken community, and decide, “screw it! Let’s get small.” Unfortunately for Paul, however, his wife gets cold feet at the last minute, and leaves him just as he’s undergoing the procedure. And seeing as downsizing is irreversible, he’s pretty much left to fend for himself in this new, miniature world. Will he survive? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Downsizing is a quintessential “idea” movie. What I mean by that is, there are some films that get made solely because of the uniqueness of their central premise, as opposed to how tight their plot is, or how developed their characters are. Probably the most famous example of a film like this is M Night Shyamalan’s The Village, where the whole concept is that there is an isolated community in the woods, where the elders teach their children that it is the 1800s, when it’s actually modern times. It’s a fun idea, with a lot of potential, but the film itself doesn’t really have a lot to offer when it comes to story or character development. That’s pretty much the case with Downsizing. The premise of people shrinking down, and forming new, miniature communities, is fascinating, and original. But when you watch the movie, you can tell that Alexander Payne, the writer/director, didn’t really have a story to go along with this idea. Because after Paul shrinks down, there is a long, long stretch where nothing really happens. He gets a job, starts seeing a woman, only to have her dump him, and goes to a party. None of these things matter in the end, so they’re really just there to pad out the runtime. There’s also a ton of characters who get introduced in the start of the movie, like Paul’s wife, his mother, his wife’s father, and his friend, all of whom just kind of vanish by the end. As a result, you’re left feeling like you’ve just been told a very long, very convoluted joke with no punch line.

Now, all that said, I didn’t hate this movie. In fact, I kind of liked it. It definitely has things to admire. The central idea, as I said, is very original. The design of these new, small communities is very creative. The characters are  well-defined, and the acting is good. The stand-out, easily, is Hong Chau, whom plays Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese dissident who befriends Paul, and pulls him out of his depression. She has the funniest dialogue, she’s likable, and her performance is great. Seriously. Hong Chau has been nominated for a Golden Globe for her work in this film, and I can understand why. She feels very real, which is odd for me to say because, when I saw the trailers, I thought to myself, “Oh god. Here’s another Asian woman in an American movie speaking broken English, and pining after a White dude.” But the movie is actually a lot more sophisticated and sensitive than that when it comes to her character. Her religious fervor, determination to keep going, even when she’s exhausted and in pain, and her brutal honesty really reminded me of Asian immigrants I know, like my grandfather, and my mother’s friend, Mihua. And I’ve got to give the movie props for that.

So, between her performance, the beautiful production values, and a very interesting premise, Downsizing actually has some good things to offer. Yeah, it’s a little bit boring in places, and you can tell the writer didn’t really have a full plot thought out when they started shooting. But, if you don’t mind that, give this flick a look. You’re bound to be engaged on some level.