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Taifuken no onna (1948)
Setsuko Hara as femme
Not the greatest little film in the world, but well worth seeking out if you're - like me - in love with Setsuko Hara. I don't think I've seen her as sexualised as in this film, with make-up, western garb and smoking cigarettes. She's s good girl gone bad, maybe comparable to Claire Trevor is Key Largo. In fact, the latter film has a lot in common with this - not only was it made in the same year, but both are about a bunch of gangsters stuck in a house during a storm. Basically she's the opposite of the 'saint' she often played in Ozu movies, and she looks stunning.
Mr. Soft Touch (1949)
Rare Noir Comedy hybrid...
The credentials for a superb Noir are all there: Glenn Ford has been one of the most convincing (and still strangely unsung) anti-heroes American cinema has produced. The wonderful opening sequence (in which Ford escapes both the police and the mob) is as minimalistic ally brilliant as the seemingly tight budget would have allowed. Yet after only a short while the film's tone changes radically: sweeter music, romantic comedy and a (however underplayed) Christmas tear-jerker emerge from what promised to be a crisp, economic little masterpiece.
I'm not saying the uneven pacing ruin the film completely but my suspicion is, looking at the credits (no, I don't mean the cast which features a wonderfully noir-ish array of characters: Evelyn Keyes, John Ireland, Ted de Corsia) there are TWO directors (one made good noirs with Ford, the other made Rat Pack flicks with Sinatra, Davis Jr, Martin et al), TWO directors of photography...
For what it's worth my guess is the producer got cold feet and hired a second director to save (a lame comedy? a routine noir?) a product he wasn't very happy with. He probably made a mistake...
Wu ji (2005)
suspend your disbelieve on some surgically enhanced CGI effects
The most expensive (around $41.000.000!) ever Chinese film and also the most successful the superlatives don't stop here: it might also be the most loved/hated film of Chen Kaige illustrious career. Whatever you've heard this is an exquisite, visually sumptuous fairy tale with boggling CGI effects (as bold as The Stormriders, but better) and very watchable pan-oriental (China, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan) leads. A flight of imagination and fancy, no less believable or logical than other Martial Arts epics, '24' or even 'The West Wing' (you didn't really believe we were lead by the most intelligent people in the world, did you?). So suspend your disbelieve on some surgically enhanced CGI effects and go with the flow - The Promise can be a magical ride!
Miss Oyu is the story of a tragic triangular love. A young man falls in love with the older woman who accompanies his bride-to-be to an informal introduction. On their wedding night the bride, who has noticed his infatuation and all it's implications, suggests that they maintain their union on a platonic level. This would allow his love to remain pure and stop her betraying her friend, the older woman, whom she suspects to be in love with her husband as well. In the best Mizoguchi manner this is achingly beautiful, subdued and heart felt. The criticism of society is more hinted at than in other films. The experience on a whole is just as emotionally satisfying.
End of an era
Scattered Clouds is no less than the end of an era: Naruse died two years later - it was his last film - Ozu and Mizoguchi had been dead for years and Kurosawa was in the wilderness after the end of his collaboration with Mifune. Like elsewhere in the world newer, fresher (cinematic) ideas took over. Which isn't to say that Scattered Clouds isn't one of Naruse's best and moving films. Yoku Tsukasa must be one of the world's most beautiful women - ever, and a very talented actress as well. In this story of impossible love between a widow and the driver who accidentally killed her husband her restrained performance crowns a career that encompasses work for Ozu, Kurosawa and Kobayashi
Cheung foh (1999)
Johnnie To - Hong Kong's best kept secret
Johnnie To is one of the world's most underrated contemporary film directors. Working in Hong Kong he effortlessly switches between genre flicks (like The Mission, but he's equally at home in rom-coms (like Needing You or Love on a Diet) and weirder though sometimes even better material like 'Running on Karma' (or Heroic Trio is earlier times). The man is just as prolific as he is original, and even if he is derivative he is still a great, effortless entertainer. His Milky Ways production company makes studio and independent films with the same dedication. His latest film 'Election' is actually in competition in this year's Cannes. The Mission is the type of film Jean-Pierre Melville would probably make today. Its a mix of Hong Kong Noir and stylised set-piece. It boasts some of Hong Kong acting heavy-weights (many of which appear also in the Infernal Affairs trilogy). Dialogue is minimal, efficiency is the maxime. The music is so detached that the effect overall is almost hypnotising. The film is not perfect, and the flaws hurt because this could have easily been truly great. Still, it's way above average. Watch this and anything else by To you can get your hands on. It boggles