Thursday 27 December 2018

Defending Cinephilia 2018 (9) - Asian film aficionado John Snadden reminds us of overlooked pleasures and more

There were a couple of genuine surprises in my Cinephilia journey this year. Not surprisingly, Hollywood's big guns disappointed with dull, lack lustre releases such as The Post, All the Money in the World, Chappaquiddick and Ready Player One. But I did thoroughly enjoy two major studio pics, and another which was nearly 80 years young.

Ryan Gosling, Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049
Although a 2017 release, I just saw it early this year. It's a major achievement for Canadian director Dennis Villeneuve (Arrival) and, IMO, a sequel which was better than the original. A visually stunning film which follows a Future Cop cum Blade Runner (Ryan Gosling) uncovering a series of inconvenient truths. Villeneuve paints a more than dystopian picture of a world not too far ahead of us. This film will look good on just about any platform – but does deserve at least one big screen viewing. 

Black Panther
The best Superhero flick since The Dark Knight. An intelligent and entertaining widescreen version of a 1960s Stan Lee comic book. The design of a benign dictatorship in the mythical land of Wakanda actually works well, until the outside world wants a piece of the action.

It was disappointing to see most of Black Panther's cast, literally, disappear into the ether in the film's semi-sequel, Avengers: Infinity War

Joan Fontaine, Rebecca
I watched this classic for the first time and on the big screen via the ongoing Alfred Hitchcock retrospective, which is still showing in some capital cities. Rebecca was Hitch's debut Hollywood feature and his second picture based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel. Much of the story takes place in the Cornwall mansion, Manderley, where the pain of loss and the corruption of innocence are played out by Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. And how could anyone forget the “woman in black” played superbly by Dame Judith Anderson.   

Asian Cinema
Monster Hunt 2
Asian cinema was again well represented in the multiplexes and Melbourne's Chinatown Theatre. Unfortunately, commercial Mainland film-making has hit a wall of late, and only two movies released during Chinese New Year are worthy of mention. Monster Hunt 2 and Operation Red Sea were excellent Mandarin language pics, although both were helmed by Hong Kong talent, Raman Hui and Dante Lam.

Incidentally, where is Wolf Warrior 3?

Operation Red Sea
Instead, it’s been South Korean cinema which has had a bumper 2018. Audiences in Oz have been lucky enough to see a first-rate selection of Korean genre cinema. Some titles received repeat screenings at the annual Korean Film Festival, now a well-attended staple on the local film festival calendar. 

The Spy Gone North
An espionage thriller The Spy Gone North and a crime drama Believer were clever and entertaining big screen dramas. In hindsight, Min Gyoo-dong's Herstory marked peak cinephilia for me this year. 

Kim Hee-ae, Herstory
Was a dramatization of the Gwan Bu trial which began in Japan in the early 1990s and ran for nearly a decade. This semi-documentary film follows the stories of a group of Korean survivors who during WW2 were imprisoned by invading Japanese troops and used as Comfort Women. It's both a sobering and heartfelt narrative, and where many viewers will find it impossible not to be outraged by the willful ignorance of the Japanese government, then and now. The closing scenes are genuinely cathartic and helped make Herstory the highpoint of my cinema year.

One scene this year – for some reason or other – did stick quite humorously in my mind. It was from Herman Yau's HK action-drama, Leakers. The scene unspools at night outside the highly secure Centre for Disease Control in Darwin, where we watch a dark clothed figure easily scale a wire fence and quickly pick the lock of the main entrance and disappear inside. Within a minute, the thief returns clutching a small metal container holding the deadliest bacteria known to man. Only in the movies....We hope!

Esther Eng
On a concluding note, congratulations go to Hong Kong academic and film-maker, Louisa Wei, who in early December was awarded the Best Documentary prize at the prestigious Festival of Chinese Cinema in Paris. Her film Golden Gate Girls examines the life and times of Esther Eng, the first Chinese-American film-maker who made ten feature length movies in an up until now forgotten career. Louisa was also a longtime colleague and trusted friend of the late Frank Bren.  

Best wishes to Geoff and the Film Alert crew for a Happy and Prosperous 2019.

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