mayoraasei: There is no such thing as coincidence (Default)

Chiisana Kyojin (Little giants) -- Hasegawa Hiroki, Okada Masaki, Kagawa Teruyuki, Yasuda Ken
Synposis: as the protege of the serving director of the "first division", Kosaka thought he had the director position in his pocket until he was all of a sudden demoted for a small mistake. The more he tries to find out why, the deeper he seems to become entangled in the web of corruption and lies.

The police version of Hanazawa Naoki? )

Kizoku Tantei (Aristocratic detective) -- Aiba Masaki, Takei Emi
Synposis: an aristocratic man moonlights as a free PI because he likes it, and he is helped along by his 3 servants. He goes up against a female PI in her cases.

That was about how much I understood from the first episode )

Kinkyu Torishirabeshitsu 2 (Emergency Interrogation Room 2) -- Amami Yuki
Synposis: Amami Yuki returns to her best as a no-nonsense policewoman in a small group specialising in interrogation.

Almost like BOSS )

(PS: I kept getting very confused because Tanaka Tetsushi appears in both CRISIS and this one)
mayoraasei: There is no such thing as coincidence (Default)
In contrast to last season dreary selection, there's a host of more interesting dramas out this season, starting from CRISIS, which has screened at Cannes, and Kizoku Tantei starring half a dozen "main character level" actors. Will it save the Jdrama world from its seemingly unstoppable decline?

"CRISIS" Poster

CRISIS -- Oguri Shun, Nishijima Hidetoshi
Synopsis: A group of people with troubled pasts are assembled in a new team of anti-terrorism specialists.

Much of the drama's promotions have centered around the fact it has screened at Cannes. It stars none other than Oguri Shun in probably his last serious role before ruining his image forever in Gintama (ひどい).

CRISIS Screencaps

It also has Nishijima Hidetoshi, who has the dubious honour of being the first ossan I liked even though I think I've only seen him in Strawberry Night. Even though he has a playboyish role in that one, I somehow have it imprinted in my memory that he's a 憂鬱型帥大叔....why.

Apart from the girl, the other 2 team members are all reliable actors who play side roles regularly.

So far, the first episode was...good but disappointing. I think the expectations given it keeps pushing the "we've been to Cannes!" slogan was too high. The episode does not break out of the usual Japanese police drama mold. It drops you straight into the action to introduce the 5 main characters, then without a pause, goes onto another case. The sum is you get a vague idea of each person's specialty, a hint of their quirks, but nothing you can get your teeth into about their personalities or back stories. As far as introductions go, it's good but not as memorable as the tight, tense and occasionally quirky first episode of BOSS, which gave a much stronger impression of each of the weirdos that made up the team.

Almost every Japanese police drama these days seems to open with a (literal) bomb so I'm getting pretty immune to it. Where this first case is concerned, there was not a lot of deduction involved, nor was there much sympathy for the Victim-of-the-Week. When you take those two elements away, you need a villain with a strong presence to really rack up the tension (because to be honest, I would have totally not felt sorry if the guy died, and neither would the main character judging by his own words) but the series has decided to keep the antagonist as a nebulous force or group behind the scenes.

It was an otherwise well-written and well-produced episode, with some good action (fairly rare in J-dramas), good natural acting (except for the guest victim...seriously kiddo) and good pacing that didn't let up until the end. But in a way, as a series pilot that is supposed to draw audiences in, I feel it just scraped past because the case of the week wasn't able to give the audience any emotional connection, either to the victim or even to the main characters. Presumably there is some big conspiracy overarching all of this but the episode doesn't give enough away to really build up the suspense. If it weren't for the quality of actors and the fact I know the production team have come up with some solid works, I don't think I would continue watching.

"Reverse" Poster

Reverse -- Fujiwara Tatsuya, Toda Erika, Koike Teppei
Synopsis: Based on the eponymous novel, Fukase is an ordinary man without much luck or excitement in his life, until he meets the girl of his dreams. Just as he begins to enjoy this blossoming romance, an anonymous note arrives in his girlfriend's hands: "Fukase is a murderer". 10 years ago, Fukase had gone on a car trip with his best friend Hirose Yuki and 3 other mates. Hirose never returned and they promised between themselves to take the secrets of that night into their graves. What happened to Hirose? What are they hiding? Who is hunting them down now?

So...I don't know if anyone else does this, but I'm the kind of person who always reads the beginning, the end, before reading the middle....

So obviously, after watching the first episode, I rushed onto Google to find out "what happened to Hirose?!" "Who killed Hirose?!" "What is the meaning of Reverse?!"

I confess the answer will be much less underwhelming if you read/watch the story for what it is.

This drama was promoted as "a 11 year reunion of Death Note actors Raito and Misa-chan!" which...I didn't know that was a thing until this season (see below and the up and coming Code Blue 3). Fujiwara was first known - and probably best known to western audiences - as the protagonist of the somewhat uniquely Japanese dystopian bloodfest known as Battle Royale. Both he and Erika (and Matsuyama Kenichi who was L) have gone on to forge fulfilling careers spanning a rich library of interesting and varied characters. Koike Teppei I have not seen onscreen for so long that I didn't realise how much I miss his cute ageless face. Every time he smiles it makes me sad at knowing this heart-warming character already died. Apparently in the original story, Hirose is supposed to be a big burly bear-like man who is a sweet and gentle giant. But Koike just screams 暖男暖男 in every scene that I don't think the difference will bother fans of the original work.

Minato Kanae's novels are known for their rational but cutting expositions on the failings of humans and the innate selfishness in all of us. The tone of this particular novel is said to be much warmer than her other works, and will probably be more palatable to the audiences. Fujiwara manages to make the clumsy, ordinary and painfully submissive character into someone for whom we can have some sympathy. Definitely worth watching for anyone interested in the interplay of human selfishness.

"Boku, Unmei no Hito desu" poster

Boku, Unmei no Hito desu (I am the destined one) - Kamenashi Kazuya, Yamashita Tomohisa, Kimura Fumino
Synopsis: Masaki is a guy without much luck with girlfriends. Kogetsu is a girl without much luck with boyfriends. One day, a mysterious man appears in front of Masaki and proclaims he is God, and the reason that Masaki has been failing in his relationships is because he is destined to marry Kogetsu so that their child, 30 years later, can save the Earth from a meteor. Thus starts Masaki's arduous task of wooing Kogetsu for the future of Earth...!


So this one is touted as "a 12 year reunion between Nobuta actors Shinji and Akira!" A lot of politics and arguments came following this casting, which I won't go over here, except that Yamapi is noted down more as a special guest rather than a "secondary main character" judging by the way his name is arranged on the official cast page.

I thought it was joking about the "God" bit, but he does appear out of and disappear into thin air, so...

How do I put it, it's hard not to think about the ugly politics that runs on in Johnny's Entertainment when you see Kame and Yamapi appear together. To their credit, both Kame and Yamapi are much more mature actors compared to their Nobuta days, and the scenes where they appear together were surprisingly impressive by how much presence both of them have.

The role is fairly natural for Kame, and he's always been pretty good at these clumsy but cute characters much more than he is at extroverted or expansive characters like Yamaneko (which I'm still impressed he pulled off). Yamapi, on the other hand, is much closer to what he's like in Nobuta than his more recent 面癱 main characters. I know a lot of people call him 死魚眼 (dead fish eyes) and 面癱 (facial paralysis) and 木頭君 (Mr Wooden), and I'd agree with most of them in his usual roles. I think a lot of people say that he's more suited to the cool roles, but personally I find him much more likable in these expressive roles where he makes use of his surprising sense of comic timing. With introspective roles, he's really not able to emote a lot with his eyes, but here his eyes are twinkling and his smirks are endearing, and there's a strange sense of camaraderie in his scenes with Kame. I have a fondness for Kimura, who I think is amongst the few in her generation who puts a lot of effort into her roles and holds her characters well.

The script is light, humorous and self-aware, which is perfect for the ridiculous premise and the tone of this series. It's one of the few rare romances that actually makes me want to keep watching, at least for the laughs.
mayoraasei: There is no such thing as coincidence (Squeak?)
Maybe it's my stuffed nose or my week of sleep deprivation, but it was quite possibly the most unexciting 2 hours of entertainment I've sat through in the last year.

I've been fond of Eddie Redmayne since Les Miserables and the rather stunning (?mouth-gaping) The Danish Girl, but he managed to hit the awkward and anti-social Newt on the nail...because he's just as forgettable and charmless.

The two women are equally forgettable yet also manage to be grating in addition. The main girl (whose name I swiftly banished out of my short term memory as soon as I finished watching, might have been Louise or Tina or something) must be one of the most annoyingly useless female inspectors in a major role to grace the big screen.

The only one who had any real charm was the Muggle. The fantastic beasts and the fantastical world in question took too long to appear. Newt's suitcase reveal should have happened at least 30 minutes earlier, and not after a 1 hour trawl through an exposition-heavy introduction.

Because of how long the movie was, it hadn't been clear from the outset that the orphans were going to be a major plot point, I failed to develop any sympathy for the kids, who managed more creepiness than innocence.

Without wishing to waste any more words on this movie, it was a decent optical spectacle but the fantasy came too late and the emotional core was curiously absent. And there's Johnny Depp being Johnny Depp...
mayoraasei: (Jdrama)
When did Fuji's golden chicken of Gekku start laying turd piles? And when did Johnny's golden boy become a turd magnet?

Probably around the same time.

Kimura Takuya used to be the guarantee of golden ratings, but his last few dramas have been disappointments to the channels. To be absolutely fair, the ratings for all dramas have been going downhill in the last decade. In recent years you'd be lucky to find 3 dramas that rate above 20% in a year, or 3 dramas to rate above 15% in a season. With that in mind, the fact that Kimura-led dramas have still been able to pull in audiences of close to 15% is actually not that bad, until you consider that the supporting cast all consist of main star quality/popularity actors, then the rating appears mediocre against their combined star power.

The thing is, I never really understood the appeal of KimuTaku or his acting. His posturing isn't as obvious as many of the other JE graduates, and he manages to emote adequately for every scene, but his characters are never sufficiently different from each other.

But this time, more than any other year, KimuTaku needed this drama to do well. Still floundering in the aftermath of SMAP's messy breakup (it's embarrassing enough without the government coming out to apologise because they had hired you for the Olympics), KimuTaku is really putting his eggs in this basket. Never known for being the most easy-going person to work with, this time he reportedly splurged 1 million yen on buying the entire cast and crew...custom made jackets?

The supporting cast has such stellar names as Asano Tadanobu (you last saw him in Thor, unless you saw Silence), Takeuchi Yuko (a shade of her commanding presence in Strawberry Night), Matsuyama Kenichi (you've first met him in Death Note and you'll know he's a formidable young actor in his own right), Kimura Fumino (a rising young actress who has enough presence to hold her own), Nanao (a decently popular actress who unfortunately gets typecast in anego roles), as well as a string of respectable older supporting actors. As you might see, if you know anything about Japanese dramas, these are all people who would at any other time be leading their own series.

Then it's a wonder how the script manages to take these photogenic actors with likable personalities, and write them into a story about the most gratingly immature and unprofessional doctors you'll ever have the misfortune of watching.

As the story goes, Okita (Kimura) has spent the good part of the last 5 years in America, learning amazingly advanced surgical procedures. It turns out his best friend Masao had gone behind his back and suggested to the hospital president that he be sent to America. With him out of the way, Masao married Okita's ex-girlfriend-or-crush-or-just-some-girl-he-liked-practising-sutures-with-Danjo Mifuyu (Takeuchi), who also happens to be the president's daughter, so then Masao climbed into the vice president's role. It's quickly clear that Mifuyu is Desdemona with her head in the clouds, and Masao snuggles with the hospital's medicolegal solicitor at work but sleeps in a separate bed to Mifuyu and their daughter.

Rounding up the cast is an uncaring surgical director, Matsuyama's hot-headed young doctor Igawa, and Kimura Fumino's refreshingly feisty (and smart) scrub nurse.

If I didn't know that Matsuyama and Takeuchi (and Asano) are more than capable of holding down amazing characterisation, I would have blamed the jaw-hurting ensemble on their acting. Asano brings a complexity to Masao's jealousy, but Matsuyama and Takeuchi manage to have a combined IQ of a squirrel, and I blame that on a terrible script that has characters spew out stupid things to create conflict only for the sake of conflict.

For example, the storyline of the first episode was Mifuyu's father (i.e. the president) needed a valve replacement, but developed a severe post-op complication. While Okita tried to find the surgical solution to fix it, Mifuyu yelled at him that she doesn't want any more surgery because "you promised it would be okay!" and "I'm saying this as the next of kin!" Then the next day when Okita interrupted the surgical department meeting, requesting to go ahead with the surgery that he has worked out, all the of the surgical department opposed him but all of a sudden Mifuyu stands up and asks Okita to save her father. What was the whole point

Then the second episode was about a man who had his thoracic aortic aneurysm stented, but developed a post-op complication due to a (rare) aberrant right subclavian (i.e. the artery that supplies his right arm came off the "wrong" side of the aorta), and his right hand was affected because the stent blocked off the supply.

When Okita put forward that they should go in and fix the problem, the surgical director overruled him based on the fact that "this will amount to admitting to a medical error and they'll sue us" because "we are a top hospital providing top quality medical care so we can't do anything that suggests we have made a mistake".

What. The. Actual. French.

Let's not even go remotely into the ETHICAL issues of KNOWING there is something you can fix and KNOWING there is a solution but choosing not to do it. I'm pretty sure that LEGALLY you can be dragged through the court and beyond for NOT DOING IT. In fact, I am pretty sure that is what MEDICAL MALPRACTICE is, given that there is CLEAR INTENTION and CLEAR HARM.

I'm sorry, that's the moment I decided this drama was too retarded to be worth my time. Any doctor or nurse standing in that room should go read the Hippocratic Oath and get their licence revoked.

This drama is clearly written by someone who have no idea how health professionals actually think and work. It's also written by someone who has a terrible grasp of character, and you have two major characters (Mifuyu and Igawa) whose personality switch dizzyingly from scene to scene, depending on whether the director needed them to be whiny rats or tail-wagging sidekicks.

I'd like to say you can watch this if you like the actors, but I feel like I'm angrier because I know what they're capable of, and the script has not been kind to anyone except the golden boy who's already lost his halo.
mayoraasei: (Gundam 00)
Firstly, congratulations on surviving 2016 and welcome to 2017.

2016 was certainly an interesting year, not just because of the number of shock celebrity deaths (RIP). It showed us there are flaws to every form of government, including democracy, and it gave us a world that proudly preys on our fear of "them" and "those people".

“There is a curse.
They say:
May you live in interesting times.”
---Sir Terry Pratchett

But my subject is actually much more mundane. I recently watched The Martian and following that, because it's still touted as a masterpiece, Interstellar.

I'm beginning to think I'm not really a sci-fi fan.

They were both nice movies, though Interstellar felt about 1 hour too long. The pace was slow, perhaps to give the audience time to absorb the beauty of space and the gravity (hah) of the situation. I liked that Murph (and Brand) was a strong female who was pivotal to the plot (and to solving humanity's plight) without serving a romantic role. The trouble was, as clever as the conceit was, there was too much gobbledygook going on towards the end that, given how realism had grounded much of the movie, came to its undoing as it gravitated (hah) too close to fantasy. The snippet where Cooper enters the black hole and transmits the secret quantum message to his daughter was particularly gobbledygook. Nolan has authored some clever stuff, and you're much better off appreciating his genius in something like The Prestige or Inception, both of which were also better served by their pacing and atmosphere. The music was starting to really grate after 2 hours and 50 minutes of ominous swell of strings chorus, and again (?) you have Hans Zimmer to thank. As usual with Nolan's movies, the quality of the cast was superb, especially in the actresses for Murph.

To its credit, Interstellar's slow pace gives the audience pause to think about what humans are doing to Earth, about the moral dilemma of a world crises - do we choose to turn a blind eye and hide in a shell of ignorance, or do we take the higher intellectual ground of saving the species, or do we bank on our empathy and fight for those we care for? The movie seems to support the last option, and we like to believe that it's empathy that makes us human - but as it questions even in the movie, so often an individual's empathy is short-sighted, given only to those we have contact with. Is saving the species, rather than the individual, the real moral high ground?

Space, the final frontier, said Star Trek, but Interstellar suggests that there is another frontier out there, beyond the three dimensions, that the humans will conquer. Time, the one thing that has always been constant in our existence, the one thing we cannot escape nor alter. But Cooper suggests that humans conquered time to deliver him the message for him to save mankind.

The Martian is a much lighter film in terms of its mood but also philosophy. Quite a few of the same cast appears, supported by a bunch of MCU veterans (especially the two who've recently appeared in Doctor Strange). Like Interstellar, it's a story of survival but on a one man scale. It's a movie of optimism, not only in the old Chinese adage that "the heavens will not give you a road that ends you", but one that also believes in a world where people will come together to save one man. It's a story that empowers nerds and scientists, if that needed to be done, although it is a bit incredible the amount of knowledge Matt Damon's character possessed to survive on his own. Reacting hydrogen with oxygen? I don't think I learned that in biology.

And at the birth of another year, let's commemorate the passing of the last with the poem endlessly referenced in Interstellar.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
--- Dylan Thomas
mayoraasei: (Reflective)
In a movie that draws heavily from Oriental philosophy/ideology, and in fact has multiple parallels to the Dreamworks panda story, it's only appropriate to use Master Oogway's icon to represent it.

I actually ended up watching this movie twice, more out of circumstance than because I felt particularly compelled to, the first time in 2D and the second time in 3D. I don't know if it's because 3D glasses never fit me very well but although the visuals were indeed a tad more impressive in 3D (it would be much better on IMAX, I'd imagine), you miss out on the nuances of the actors' expressions, in particular Tilda Swinton.

I think people have already said all that's needed to be said about this movie. It's a par performance by Marvel, upping the bar for imagination and visual representation, and barely clearing it from a plot and character point of view.

Unlike his incredibly popular turn as Mr Holmes in Sherlock and (for me at least) a riveting presence as Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness, Benedict Cumberbatch's Stephen Strange is just...par. I mean, from where I stand, there's definitely humour in the familiar caricature of awkwardly narcissist surgeons, but whether it's the slightly distracting almost-American accent (he sounds much better than RDJ sprouting British, so there's that) or the failings of the story, Strange is unfortunately not as charismatic as Tony Stark or Thor, not as funny as Peter Quill, not as morally straight as Steve Rogers, and not as personable as Scott Lang. Marvel's leading men had always led the story, the plot there only as an embellishment to display their best qualities. It's not as though Benedict hadn't pulled his weight, and it certainly isn't that he is incapable of doing great or lovable, but unfortunately Strange is neither, and that is this movie's greatest misstep.

There were some great acting from everyone involved, which unfortunately only further highlighted the thinness of the plot. Rachel McAdams did what she could with 15 minutes of screen time for a warm and compassionate ED doctor (where do you find one of those these days? LOL), and was a lot less grating than the last token girlfriend *cough*Nat Portman*cough*. Mads Mikkelsen also did what he could with a largely 2-dimensional villain in Kaecilius.

I think my greatest frustration is that the stems of the plot are there, but the story wasn't allowed to develop into a rich canopy. To draw on the Kungfu Panda analogy - if a cartoon could make you shed a tear at a doddery turtle's ascent to the stars, there's no reason it couldn't have done the same here. Similarly Kaecilius and Mordo were both short-changed in terms of their character (well, in terms of character even Stephen Strange was short-changed, so I suppose all that's not surprising). The betrayal these 2 students felt, and in particular in the case of Mordo, if the movie had given a little back story to explain why he was so fiercely adherent to the idea of "rules", then Marvel would have created one of their best antiheroes next to Loki, but alas.

There was a lot of controversy about the casting of Tilda Swinton. It's ironic to call it "not whitewashing when the character was white to start with" when the original character was Asian and much of the movie's imagery and even some of its philosophy draws on Asian culture. To her credit, Tilda Swinton makes the Ancient One great, but I have no doubt there are equally capable actors of Asian descent that could have done this. That said, her portrayal of the Ancient One with a mischievous twinkle and fleeting moments of vulnerability certainly made her the most interesting character in this movie.

She also has the best quote - "We never lose our demons, we only learn to live above them." - neatly foreshadowing perhaps not only her students' downfall but also her own.

I am very fond of Benedict (and also of Rachel and Chiwetel), so I do want to see more of them, but while this has been a stunning visual experience, I really hope the story gets much better by the second time round.

As an aside, I've seen a few sites talk about when Doctor Strange was set, and one of the makers came out and said that the movie started in 2016. Without arguing over how long Strange would take to master sorcery - just from a medical point of view, the guy was in a car accident (it's amazing how he managed to get out of it without brain injury when his face is all smashed, but hey, creative license). Then we see him wake up with external fixators, then he flips through 3 hand X-rays, representing a progression in time - the first one when the ex-fix's were in, the second when they were out, and the 3rd when more pins were removed. Following that, at least one major surgery was depicted, followed by a period of rehab. The impression you get from the movie is that he had more surgeries (likely with rehab in between) before everyone had given him up and he had to search out Pangborn.

In the "leanest" case scenario, we're talking about: accident - ex-fix - ex-fix out - pins out - rehab - surgery - rehab. This is a process that would have taken at very minimum 3-4 months, though if I were to factor in other surgeries and in real life terms, I'd be estimating a year or even two. This does still give enough time for Strange to arrive at the same chronology as Thor: Ragnarok by 2017. To be honest I think it doesn't really affect the Marvel continuity if he had been around earlier because he would have been immersed in training, and may not even have heard about Sokovia or whatever.
mayoraasei: (Geek)
A few months ago I went to New York, and as often happens on these 20+ hour flights, I caught up on a few movies. As often happens when you are sleep-deprived, cramped into a tight space and struggling to hear the dialogue over the drone of engines, these are usually not the best circumstances to meet a movie (or anything/anyone) for the first time. Sometimes I wonder if airlines should change the name from "entertainment" to "procrastinator" or perhaps more aptly, "sleep replacement therapy" - for those moments in life when you're too uncomfortable to sleep, too tired to read, and...well, there really isn't any option apart from trying to raid the galley for the 5th time for biscuits.

By the way, JAL has some really amazing snacks. Definitely worth the raid...ahem.

Strayer's Chronicle
This one I actually watched last year on our way via Japan. It's the sort of dystopian science fiction that Japan seems to love churning out - ala Gantz, SPEC and Shin Sekai Yori. Perhaps a little too similar to X-men than it intended to be, but much smaller in scale. In the near future, scientists have worked out a way to create "superhumans" via one of two methods. The first group "Team Subaru", to which the main characters belong, were born from mothers who had been placed under prolonged extreme stress during gestation. This group has heightened senses and perception, at the price that when they reach "adulthood", they undergo an abrupt breakdown and die - that process occurring at any point after they reach teenage years.

The second group "Team Ageha", are Magneto's team the antagonists, having been created from recombinant technology that spliced animal DNA with humans. Their DNA had been coded so that they were unable to live past the age of 20 (I can't remember if it was this movie or another that talked about telomeres, but the concept is similar).

The result is painfully akin to a watered down version of X-men, where the two groups of children meet as enemies and eventually unite in the common cause of preserving their line. Unfortunately, a recurrent flaw of these dystopian science fiction stories is that the final reveal, the big boss's motivation, the cruel hand that drove their incredibly uninspired and underwhelming. Think Death Note and its nihilistic "after death there is nothing" message, or SPEC and its ludicrous retconning.

What it does differently to the much glossier X-men, and in no small part due to the young age of its cast, is the sense of family between its characters. Japan seems to be able to do the tenderness of a family a lot better than Hollywood, but it may be more due to the cultural structure than scripting. The adoration the younger kids have for their big brother Subaru, and the responsibility he feels towards his charges, the bickering between the Ageha members while always watching out for each the end you feel bad for them, because these are vulnerable kids who should be coming into their prime, and are yet faced with the imminence (and certainty) of death.

I wouldn't have placed Okada Masaki as an action hero, but he did a fair job here, having enough presence to pull off the thoughtful big brother and a keen fighter who can predict other people's moves before they make them. The kids all turn in on par performances, though this was probably an item that should have stayed a book where morals and social values could be explored without undermining an action-packed climax.

Kung Fu Panda 3
These days, everything must have a sequel, and when things have a sequel, they must be a trilogy. Hollywood logic *eye roll* Franchises that have so far been undone by the need for trilogies include and are not limited to The Hobbit, Iron Man, Pirates of the Caribbean and....Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon.

In this perfunctory and forgettable final entry, we meet Po's (real) dad and a village of similarly fat and silly pandas. I don't really understand the logic of "we almost got killed because we knew kungfu so let's hide in a place where no one can find us...and purposely not learn kungfu". I'm pretty sure they'd kill you even faster....

Anyhow, I've seen talks on the net complimenting the climax on the way it portrays the importance of attaining inner peace, of looking within, of letting go of the attachment of life and death...but that's giving the movie way more credit than it deserves.

Funny and colourful, but unfortunately no longer as impressive as when the first movie was released, though to its credit, it's still much less hamfisted with the "be yourself" message as most other Hollywood animations out there...

This was the movie that won the Oscar. I feel watching it on the plane really didn't do it justice. Set in 2000-2001, a group of columnists expose the long-standing child abuse perpetrated by church priests(?) and protected by a society that did not want to know it.

It's really a sad movie that passes such keen criticism on the damaging inertia of society. People, involuntarily or not, protect the perpetrators and cast out the victims, because to do otherwise - especially in this case but also in other circumstances - would be to defy some part of their own beliefs.

In the end there was no powerful corporation, no scheming villain, no unscrupulous thugs...just lots of embittered and angry people who tried to make things right, and on their way discovering that the barriers that had prevented them were so insidious and institutionalised that they almost could not pinpoint it.

I think the most poignant scene was when Rachel McAdams' character tried to calm Mark Ruffalo's character down, and as they sat outside in the dark fuming, McAdam's character says in a sad, wistful tone, "You know...I used to go the church, then life got busy...but I've always thought I'd go back one day, you know, when I get older. But now that I've read all these...I don't know. I don't know if I can sit there, knowing what they've done."

For a lot of people who still have a belief, it's a very sacred, pure thing, whatever the religion. That moment after the newspaper was in wide release and McAdams' grandmother reads it, then puts a trembling hand was terrible, not just what the perpetrators did to the victims, but to do so from a position of trust, and what it meant for the masses who had turned to them for purity and purpose.

Jurassic Park
I hadn't been meaning to watch this, given how reviews had been, and how scathing dear Joss Whedon had been about its use of regressive gender tropes.

What can I say? I think my brain had been pretty numb by this stage of the trip, which meant this was the perfect combination of running-screaming-shooting-and-rinse-and-repeat to engage your time without needing a functioning brain to actually process any of it. The CGI was nice, the main characters were gorgeous, there were predictable but not altogether too stupefying ebbs and flows of tension. Did someone die? I think someone did, but frankly I can't remember, so can't have been important.

I liked Chris Pratt from GotG, and if I had time I'd watch Parks and Recreation, but somehow Jurassic Park took an all-round fun and charming guy and turned him into a sour bore.

So it was fortunate I watched this in a state of stupor that I would forget it before GotG 2 rolls around, I suppose.

That was not a review.
mayoraasei: (Gundam 00)
Starring the amazing opposed to The Amazing Spiderman.

It's only just opened so I'll start with the non-spoilerific version:

It's not hard to see why it's scoring above 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. It has its flaws - I'm not a fan of the shakycam, and if you had time to think about it, parts of the plot do seem forced and crowded, and it certainly counts somewhat on the audience to already be invested in the characters.

My biggest trepidation going into the movie was how it would handle the conflict. Would it lean too much towards Cap because he's the main character, or too sympathetic towards Iron Man because of RDJ's star power? Would the justifications be forced? Fortunately, the movie does an impressive job of giving each key character a consistent, logical and sympathisable reasons for choosing the side that they do, and while the events leading up to the two big showdowns are a bit contrived, the complexity of emotions and loyalties (as well as some highlight quirky moments) certainly make those flaws easier to overlook.

Unfortunately, I feel you have to already be invested in this universe, not necessarily as a diehard fan, but having at least watched and appreciated the character arcs throughout the Iron Man, Captain America, Ant-man and Avengers franchises. Then, does it make sense that Tony would take an accusation so personally, that Steve would question the judgement of those governed by ulterior agendas, that Natasha would choose the most utilitarian route.

Without those movies, it's hard to grasp how much Tony's parents and their sudden deaths had shaped his behaviour prior to him maturing into Iron Man, and how desperately he needed closure. Without those movies, it would also be hard to grasp why Captain America is drifting further and further away from the role of a "model" soldier, and why he would put so much on the line to protect a criminal. I've said before that while Steve is a soldier and understands the misfortunes of war, Tony fights for very personal and sometimes very egocentric reasons, and it's never been more painfully obvious than here. He fights because he wants to be a hero, he wants to do good things, he wants to save people, and he doesn't have Steve's capacity to take it in his stride when his mistakes have a name and a face and an erased future. The story gives them time to explore what they believe in and what their bottom line is, but they bring into the argument a respect for each that by the time Tony says that iconic line, "But so was I [your friend]", you believe him, and by the time you see that iconic 3-way fight, it hurts to watch them.

The characters new to the roster include Black Panther, Spiderman and Ant-man (where do the hyphens and capitals go, anyway?) and they are a delight in an otherwise heavy, unrelenting chase. This is practically an origins story for Black Panther, and despite being only on the sideline he manages to have a complete character arc in one movie. The bug bros (as opposed to the science bros? XDDD) similarly had an amazing introduction into the greater MCU, both with their wide-eyed fanboyism, and Spiderman finding time between his excessive chatterboxing to fight cool.

I don't think I spoil anything by saying that the villain is Baron Zemo. I think reviews are quite divided on him: not "the Mandarin" divided, but there's a camp that say he's the usual boring Marvel villain, while another says he's the next best thing after Loki. Personally I think I agree with the latter - he has one of the better motivations in the stream of drab villains after money (Obediah Stane, Darren Cross), power (Ronan, Red Skull), petty revenge (Whiplash, Aldrich Killian) and whatever the heck was Ultron. His role was relatively light, but (without any spoilers) his story bears strong parallels to what several other characters in this movie experience, no one could fault him for doing what he did or the way he's decided to execute it (even though from a plot perspective, his plan was a bit too contrived). I mean, couldn't he have just emailed the video to Tony?

It's a movie I think that will have people take away different things. Is it complex and profound? Not really, it's certainly less about politics this time around and more about character-centric things like personal beliefs and family and modus operandi. But it is a beautifully constructed ensemble piece, where each character gets a moment to shine, and several of the major ones get a fully fleshed character arc.

And for me, I think it will stay one of my favourite MCU movies to date, even if it ends on an oddly disheartening note.
mayoraasei: (Reflective)
I've watched about 9 episodes of this projected-to-be-16 episodes saga.

I actually didn't want to watch it based on the synopses (又用這個藉口不累嗎) - a soldier and a doctor? So many things could go wrong, but then a nurse at work kept pushing me to watch it, so surely it can't be too bad.

I'm really not into K-dramas, but I understand the central characters are all pretty famous? And this is Song Joong-ki's first drama since returning from military conscription.

There's a good reason I try to avoid medical drama but I like stuff with suspense (but preferably not a convoluted plot that resolves over 50 episodes) so it's almost always police procedurals or medical dramas on my watch list.

Fortunately, Descendants of the Sun doesn't pretend to be a medical or a military-based thriller, and so I'm far more forgiving of its mistakes. I think the wonderful thing about this show is how perfectly balanced it is between the romance and the drama, humour and angst.

I was so busy laughing at this scene (basically the doctor is 花痴ing over the guy's "only photo") to notice the dextrocardia situs inversus totalis the first time I saw this. Then when it popped up again in an MV, I thought, "Hang on...not only is the heart deviated...the gastric and colonic gas are also on the right."

SO MAYBE HE HAS HIS APPENDIX ON THE LEFT SIDE AFTER ALL. I mean, excuse my 職業病 but it looks like the bronchus on the left is also more horizontal than the right? So it's likely that he has the total inversion of the organs. The text on the Xray is not flipped, so it just remains whether this is going to be a plot point or just...some random mistake trivia.

Also, just for the record, the only X-rays that make surgeons go 花痴 (yes, even female surgeons) are the ones of people who are not walking out of hospital the same day.

Anyway, back to the story, because I didn't know Song Joong-Ki when I first started watching (and I didn't see any posters...) I seriously thought Seo Dae-young was the main character until the scene in the hospital where the two main characters gaze upon each other as the curtain glides in slow motion between them while a love song croons in the background.

Hey, it is a Korean drama after all.

Which brings me back to what I mentioned a few days ago in the Sungkyunkwan post. Don't get me wrong, I love Song Joong-Ki in this role, and my lack of knowledge of Korean stars aside, I can't imagine someone else doing Yoo Si-jin. He manages to subvert his character as Yeo-rim, despite both these characters having a playful streak (okay, there are one or two scenes where his mischief overlaps with Yeo-rim). Whether 2 years of service did this, who knows, but his air is much more mature, more confident, and more manly. In a way, I think Joong-ki tries to play Yeo-rim as aesthetically pleasing as possible, which is in keeping with the character but also with a lot of idols of that age. Yoo Si-jin's expressions are much less...picturesque, if that's the word, his smiles and grimaces and snarls and shock can all contort his face into odd angles, but makes him feel more like a working man than an idol.

That said, Song has a very boyish face, and coupled with his leaner physique, his perpetual slouch, and the character's playful mannerisms...I seriously thought Seo Dae-young, who exudes much more discipline and the manly virtues of not having an idea of romance assurance was the main character. Or at least, the higher ranking captain. It's not that Song can't do serious, and some of his best scenes are when he's serious, but on occasions, depending on the lighting and which uniform he's wearing, standing amongst other soldiers he looks like a cornered high school student....

Kang Mo-yeon and Yoo Si-jin especially are impossibly perfect characters, written in a way that makes it hard to dislike them. I like how mature and rational they approach their vocation and their relationship. I like their level-headed discussions, where they acknowledge each other's values without compromising their own. Their discussions about the different and potentially contradictory commitments of a surgeon versus a soldier is interesting for two jobs that deal with injury and death on a regular basis. Fortunately I don't think the drama tries to preach any lessons about which side is correct, though it did have a rather painful side plot about a doctor who ran away from a building (leaving a trapped patient behind) during an aftershock and was then, despite the patient surviving, guilt-ridden for 4 episodes with many scenes of really grating mopiness.

First rule of emergency medicine: check for danger and keep yourself safe. You can't save the patient if you become a patient.

Without trying to nitpick, that entire plot was written poorly - certainly some junior doctors can be left quite unsupported in the field, but that is not characteristic of the medical team shown in the drama. They're a good cohesive team who work well together, so it was incredible that the senior doctors didn't try to mediate at all. Secondly there was no good reason that the junior doctor was in the ruins looking for survivors, he's not trained in that sort of retrieval, and when he found the trapped patient, he should have called for help first rather than trying to drag him out on his own. Third, while it's true that you shouldn't be changing treating doctors on a whim, when the therapeutic relationship has clearly broken down, it's to everyone's benefit to change the treating doctor.

Aigoo...let's stop talking about the medical aspect, because otherwise I won't stop.

I like how the relationship between Yoo and Kang plays out, even though it might feel a bit drawn out. I think Kang's prolonged misgivings about entering the relationship are perfectly justified, because not many rational people want to commit to a relationship where the other person might get sent on a job and never return. I like how Yoo is usually playful, but when questioned about his expectations and hopes for the relationship, he always approaches the discussion like an adult.

However, I think Yoo is too perfect, to the point where his biggest flaw is his job. He's perceptive, and so he's always playful when the mood needs to be lightened and serious when situations demand respect. He's smart, skillful, disciplined, responsible, brave, pragmatic, humanitarian...........He knows exactly what to say to make a girl's heart flutter (seriously, stuff like "You don't have to feel defeated just because your feelings have been exposed. Just remember that I love you more and you always have that advantage over me." - many kudos to Song Joong-ki for somehow able to carry all these sappy lines without making the audience cringe). He's the sort of character that only exists in fiction, matched with a female character who is similarly smart, strong and stoic, even if she keeps grudges for a little too long and is sometimes a little too fierce - but she's a surgeon, so that would be totally in character XDDDD

The secondary couple of Seo Dae-young and Yoon Myung-ju is a pleasant surprise. In fact, one of the best things about this drama is its general lack of people backstabbing each other (at least, not in seriousness XDDD). There's no multi-angle relationship, just two couples trying to iron out their own massive problems. Seo and Yoon's relationship is perhaps your much more traditional Asian problem of class difference. Yoon's dad is the general, Seo is unlikely to get much further past a sergeant major. Yoon's dad prefers Yoo - despite this, Seo and Yoo are still good friends, Yoo and Yoon bicker like siblings, and the romance between Seo and Yoon teeters between tragedy and hilarity. I like Yoon's forwardness, and her tireless efforts to be somewhere close to Seo despite his and her dad's efforts to keep them apart. I like Seo, or rather, I love Jin Goo's portrayal of Seo - probably one of the best 面攤 (blank faced) acts I've seen (YAMASHITA TAKE LESSONS FROM THIS MAN YO). Unlike Yoo, he is a man of few words and few expressions, but despite that it's still obvious from the way his eyes narrow, or the way his brows furrow, or the way his jaw tightens or relaxes exactly what Seo is thinking, and that is the epitome of 面攤. I like how there are several long conversations where Yoon practically talks to herself while he remains silent and unsmiling...but it still somehow felt like one of the richest conversations between two star-crossed lovers.

But what keeps audiences watching is how well the scriptwriter has balanced and juxtaposed scenes that are completely emotional opposites. After a tense gunfire or a stressful mass trauma event, there's always something sweet, something funny, something mellow, something cute to soften the pain...and just when things are in danger of getting too sappy, the tension starts building again.

Because I'm someone who always preferred thrillers to romances, I think the pace is perfect, but I wonder how people who only watch romances are able to sit through the gunfights? I know my mum runs away every time that comes on...

Really hoping for a happy ending, but somehow with their occupations that seem rather difficult....
mayoraasei: (Gintama)
The previous post was getting too long, so I thought I'd leave the rest of my babble in another post.

Moving onto the characters - I admit I've always been someone who preferred side characters to main characters, but there's something particularly...uninteresting about the courtship between Dae-mul and Ga-rang, even in spite of how natural the relationship seemed to be. In fact, each character, on their own, are quite interesting and well-written, even Dae-mul (except in the previously mentioned moments where male characters are required to be Knight in Shiny Armour). Dae-mul and Ga-rang, when with other characters, are perfectly interesting to watch...but when it came to Dae-mul and Ga-rang together...I don't know how many times I hit skip. I suspect it's also a K-drama thing, but they spend so much time staring at each other with tears in their eyes for no good reason that...skip.

Dae-mul reminds me quite a lot of Kou Shuurei, in good ways and bad. They're exactly what the plot requires them to be, cute, strong, kind, vulnerable, smart, reckless, to the point their characters have everything but also nothing. Everyone loves them, except those who unjustifiably (or for selfish reasons) despise them. Park Min-young does a decent job - she makes Dae-mul cute and likable, but never convincing as a male (except in the rare moments where the script allows her to be cool), but I suspect that's a directorial decision rather than poor acting.

Ga-rang is a rather bland character amongst all the interesting people surrounding him, but there is comic relief in the juxtaposition. Not much expression is required of Yoochun, which is not to say he did a lazy job, because I felt he was still on point for most of the scenes. His character arc is the most straightforward, and as a result, the least interesting, which is a real shame. He's not a flat character, and he's the sort of person we should all aspire to be (though preferably with better people skills). He is principled and fiercely defensive of the same, and though he is someone who rarely speaks up in public, when he does he can tear people to shreds. In real life, he would make a terrible politician but an excellent public prosecutor, and maybe that's the sort of story where he could have really shone.

The two seniors - Geol-oh and Yeo-rim were (to the detriment of the 2 main characters) the highlight of the piece. Geol-oh's character is written in a way that makes it very hard to dislike him. At first he appears to be just your typical burly and surly guy who is anti-authority, with more brawn than brain, but as things progress you find he's surprisingly caring and perceptive, has surprising mastery of literature, and is surprisingly conservative and "proper" in his conduct. Once all that is taken in consideration with his gruff appearance and curt words and his rare but really quite boyish smiles...I think he hits the "moe" button for a lot of girls. I'm not sure Yoo Ah-In was good at portraying the actual character, but he certainly gave Geol-oh enough charisma to make him everyone's favourite big brother rather than just creepy. Having a secret identity is definitely brownie points for any character, and when his secret identity drives the political plot and the main tension of the series, that certainly makes the audience more interested in him than the budding romance of our two leads. I particularly liked the bit where he pours alcohol on his clothes before going into the room he shares with Dae-mul and Ga-rang - he was introduced as a violent drunkard, but the more we see of him the more layers we find...and that's the sort of character you want to act.

Song Joong-ki's Yeo-rim, on the other hand...I'm not sure what to say. I concede he's extremely pretty, but never (at least not for me - though everyone's tastes differ) to the point of cringeworthy girliness, but his mannerisms are so flamboyant and effeminate that...what I said prior to the comma doesn't matter. I somehow can't be convinced that he's a playboy, because seriously his mannerisms are girlier than some of the girls. I a way, I don't think Song Joong-ki is too pretty for the role, I think appearance-wise he's perfect (hey, I could look at that face for hours XDDD). But at the same time...when he's not smiling, he naturally looks vulnerable and helpless (this was a problem in Descendants of the Sun as well), so his Yeo-rim always seems a little less assured and less...expansive than I feel his character should be. Yeo-rim's character is interesting, but a bit messy. He's the perpetual prankster, but also someone who's clearly more perceptive and intuitive and aware than everyone else, which makes it difficult to understand how he could risk Dae-mul's reputation (sad fact: in ancient Asian societies, the virginal reputation of a woman can be more important than her life) by all his pranks, especially after he joined their friends circle. I feel Yeo-rim is a very popular character because (apart from his face, ahem) of his very high EQ and IQ, as well as his penchant for having fun at other people's expense. I like both these sides of Yeo-rim, but unfortunately I cannot be convinced that they're compatible with each other.

There's a lot of Geol-oh X Yeo-rim going around, so I thought it was actually a thing, and I think towards the end, the fandom made into such a thing that the series felt like fanservice was deserved. To be honest...maybe my gaydar is broken? The interaction between Geol-oh and Yeo-rim is certainly some of the cutest stuff that brings a smile to your face even if Yeo-rim is cringe-inducing in his exaggerated PDA, and I suspect that's why they're a more likable couple than the main one, which had a lot less love. But I don't feel there's anything beyond friendship, even if Yeo-rim gets dangerously close into Geol-oh's personal space. Sometimes their relationship seems a bit unequal, because Geol-oh rarely acknowledges Yeo-rim, even though Yeo-rim does so much for him...but then you realise Yeo-rim's good intentions is the only one that Geol-oh would guiltlessly easily accept. When Ga-rang stepped out for Geol-oh, Geol-oh told him to never do it again ("Or I won't talk to you again" - LOL srsly you in kindergarten?), but Yeo-rim tidies up after him time after time, saving him when he's wounded, hiding him despite threats from Ha In-Soo, etc...and Geol-oh doesn't even bother thanking him. Their give-and-take relationship just seems so natural for Geol-oh that I'm surprised that Yeo-rim always gets a 受寵若驚 face when Geol-oh acknowledges anything he does.

I think theirs...and their relationship with Ga-rang is a nice friendship, the sort where you just let your friend find their own way and do what they believe in, and when they fall, pull them back on their feet, and maybe help bury the dead body.... It's the same sort of relationship between Dae-mul and Cho-sun. If only the author/scriptwriter could have kept that in mind that that is how friendship works when writing their storylines involving Dae-mul...rather than make the 3 other guys keep having to jump out to protect her.

To cut the rest of the babble short, the other characters are all surprisingly well-rounded and...surprisingly, no one was purely evil. I even have a soft spot for baddie Ha In-Soo and his unwavering adoration for Cho-sun, but again that relationship bothers me because how could he accept Cho-sun being a prostitute and not turn his anger on his father until the end...?

I particularly like how there were no evil female characters in this one. I feel, in drama particularly, women are greatest enemies to each other, sometimes for the weakest reasons. I liked how silently supportive Cho-sun was - to be honest, her personality was more manly than a lot of the guys. I suspect she knew Dae-mul was female somewhere around the middle of the story, so she didn't look surprised when she was told in the end. I liked how she just quietly rooted for Dae-mul from the sidelines, not interfering, not helping (except at the end when Dae-mul's life is on the line), but also not striking out because Dae-mul was female.

Similarly, Ha In-Soo's sister was amazingly naive, and for the first time, I can call use this word positively. She had the purest adoration for Ga-rang, and she chased after him with all the innocence of a girl who didn't know a thing about cynicism. She wasn't needlessly jealous, and in the end when she realised she had lost, she didn't try to make Dae-mul or Ga-rang pay for her own unhappiness, and instead tried to help them out.

The characterisation and relationships really brighten the story, and as I said previously, the themes and underlying class conflict creates enough tension and thoughtfulness to make this more than a silly school comedy. Unfortunately, the central relationship is too bloated and the central premise too protected by its own tropes, and in the end the sum is much less amazing than its parts.
mayoraasei: (Gintama)
As far as terrible excuses go, I went and watched this because I felt I should fatten up my K-drama tag a little...

Actually the real reason is yes, I got on the boat that's Descendants of the Sun and seeing that it's yet to hit the obligatory!k-drama!angst part (i.e. last 3 episodes), I thought I'd dig this out.

I've always been a bit wary of watching actors/actresses I don't know, especially in stories that need to be carried by charisma rather than plot, which was why I never started watching Sungkyunkwan despite really liking Rooftop Prince a few years ago. Also, frankly, the poster that's been used around the net for this drama has really not inspired an interest.

I admit I started watching it for mainly Yoochun and curiosity about Song Joong-Ki. In a way, the first episode was one of its best episodes, because thereafter a series of poor writing made you lose sympathy for the main character "Dae-mul" bit by bit until you were sick of her stupid face.

To be honest, the drama had a lot going for it, and was unfortunately sunk by its central romance. The most interesting parts were everything else - the rigid restrictions brought on by class (and gender) inequity, the importance of an education system that protects the students against partisan interference to foster free thinking, and how different parenting styles create different thinkers.

Unfortunately the central romance and the main plot point of "cross-dressing girl studying in an all boys' school" (wait...where have I seen that before...HanaKimi) is its weakest link because of its shallowness between the meatier plot lines raised above., but to say that would be unfair to its premise.

Sungkyunkwan is meant to be a crossdressing school drama exactly in the vein of HanaKimi and Ouran Koukou and others such silly shoujo things, but set in the ancient times...but if it were only that then it would have sunk into oblivion. It's both fortunate and unfortunate that it's propped up by these pertinent themes and subplots, as it makes the central story of "crossdressing girl in boys' school" really quite...bland.

What makes it more disappointing - and perhaps because it had such an intelligent approach to highlighting class inequities - is the Mary-Sue misogyny that is so painfully unavoidable in these crossdressing stories (perhaps except Ouran Koukou, I still think Haruhi was one of the best done crossdressing heroines).

Even given the grace of "main character protection", she still comes across in her actions as passive and uncertain, until the plot calls for a Mary Sue moment in the end. It's really quite disappointing, because in the first episode she was an admirable (albeit foolhardy) girl who could face down threats of unequal marriage and rape, and take on the risk of potential death by entering Sungkyunkwan. But from episode 2 to 19, the Asian Main Female Character syndrome takes over. She's helpless and quivering when threatened by Ha In-soo and his cronies. She's speechless and keeps trying to run away when teased by Yeo-rim. Despite this, she retains her Mary Sue achievements and clinches several competitions that require real skill and experience, of which it was made obvious she did not have.

This all culminated in a frustrating showdown in episode 18 where she runs (without checking her surroundings or notifying her friends) into a temple, and her 3 friends each paid a terrible price to bail her out - Geol-oh was injured trying to distract the troops, Ga-rang surrendered himself in order to protect Geol-oh, and Yeo-rim - trying to save all three - was forced to publicly acknowledge his falsified heritage. All throughout this, Dae-mul stood big-eyed and open-mouthed without trying, for a moment, to stop Ha In-soo from finding Geol-oh or arresting Ga-rang or publicly humiliating Yeo-rim.

Does this mean that the main character is stupid and useless? She's not - because she's supposed to be one of the smartest in her class, and when the plot calls for it she's more than able to hold her own against a barrage of threats against her poverty and her gender.

What it says, unfortunately, is the perpetuation of gender roles in our modern society, where even a script that has Dae-mul preach several times about "western standards of gender equality", still sees this strong, smart female character as someone who must nevertheless fit the traditional female role of needing to be protected, as not having the ability to stand up and speak out for those she cares for, as being less capable of problem-solving and advocacy than her male counterparts.

Sure, in the end she was the one who led the students in a peaceful protest in front of the emperor, condemning the military intrusion into Sungkyunkwan - but the students would not have been there if Yeo-rim did not abdicate his role to her and if Geol-oh hadn't dragged his wounded body out onto the rooftops to be Hong Byuk Seo. It was, bittersweetly, handed to her on a silver platter for her to enjoy her Mary Sue moment.

I'll talk more about the characters in another post, but Sungkyunkwan is a drama that I think tried to be two competing stories and as a result isn't very successful in either. It has fascinating characters, some beautifully formed friendships, and, as of crossdressing dramas, one of the more natural romances. It has an intriguing political plot line, driven by some well-portrayed class conflict, and its use of Confucius literature is a testament to its intelligence. Unfortunately, all this is undermined by the central premise of a school comedy romance, and all its finer points are sacrificed to uphold this much more banal storyline.


28 Mar 2016 04:13 pm
mayoraasei: There is no such thing as coincidence (Default)
This little dark horse turned out a lot better than I thought.

I have to reiterate that I'm not a huge fan of Disney or Pixar movies. I can't remember the last Disney movie I adored...maybe it was Up!.

Zootopia is one of those rare Disney movies that's full of subtext - that's not about family. I've seen complaints about its simple plot, but really I think the movie has two layers - the plot is for the kids (and to be frank, is probably better than some of the detective crap I've seen coming out of J-dramas), but the underlying message, well that's for the kids too, but it's far easier for the adults to pick up and ruminate on.

You haven't watched the movie if you've only watched it for the plot. I think you would be an extremely fortunate person not to have some experience - first hand or otherwise - of the prejudice that Zootopia unearths. Interspecies tension as an allegory for race, but I think it's more than race - I think it's prejudice of all kinds, against race, gender, ethnicity, culture, skin colour, caste, geography, class, bloodline. You name it - humans have had thousands of years to perfect the ways in which "we" judge "them".

I think there is a danger of reading too much into it (there is a conspiracy to undermine those who are genetically gifted), so it's best to take the movie as a social reflection rather than a commentary.

What I really like about the story is that it's a twist on the traditional "follow your dreams" Hollywood message. Does Judy and Nick attain their dreams in their end? Of course they do. But the difference is getting to the dream is only half the work - Judy is disadvantaged by her physique, so she has to work 50 times as hard as the next hippo to get there, and stay there. Getting to your dream is not hard, but living it is. She has to put up with the contempt and distrust of her superiors. She has to live with the constant nagging from her parents to quit her job. She has to be 50 times stronger psychologically to stick her head down and keep going.

And it's nice how it showed even a well-meaning "truth" can hide deep-seated prejudices. Judy's truthful comment about predators and their DNA is deeply hurtful for Nick. I'm not saying this is a story advocating for political correctness. Rather, it's a story reflecting just how subtle yet deeply ingrained prejudices can be, and just how easily society drives certain people down a path that they didn't necessarily want to take.

A funny and imaginative movie for the kids, and hopefully a thought-provoking reflection for adults.
mayoraasei: (Jdrama)
My entries are getting longer and between.

The endless cycle of sleep-eat-work-eat-sleep doesn't leave much space for introspection on the 2 days of the week you have leave from it.

I've actually been watching a lot of random stuff since coming to Sydney, and this Easter break has been a bit of an unintentional marathon. Some of them I haven't finished yet, but it would be so long until my next entry, that I should at least make the effort.

As a continuation of 4 drama SPs over the last couple of years that rated pretty well each time, it managed to be the top rating drama of the season (not including the long-running shows). Even so, the decline in drama ratings over the last few years have been unrestrainable, with most dramas these days struggling to break even 10%, and even the top rating ones of the season seldom pass 15%.

Is it good? It's not bad. The plot holes are less obvious than some of the other stuff that goes on in Japanese crime thrillers, and the mystery is usually interesting enough to keep you engaged for the 45 minutes run time. But the characters are pretty bland, and the overarching conspiracy was - rather typically of Japanese crime dramas - a letdown. The ending is open, possibly paving the way for sequels later on.

Verdict: a good police procedural, but don't get too attached to the big conspiracy.

Kaitou Tantei Yamaneko
It's been a long time since I could bring myself to watch another one of Kame's dramas, and I'm pleased to say that his acting has improved greatly. Yamaneko is sufficiently brash and burlesque for Kame's public persona not to overwhelm the character.

Yamaneko is an interesting character - sort of like Detective Conan bred with Gintama. Japanese literature (if you count manga/anime amongst "literature") does these sort of characters very well - from Kenshin to Gintoki, the carefree and careless main character who carries a dark and bloody past. He's a "good thief" who steals from the corrupt rich, but previously trained as a spy at the order of a mysterious entity called "Yuuki Tenmei" who came into power during WW2 but still exerts a stronghold on Japanese politics. Somehow, Yamaneko had a fallout with Yuuki Tenmei, and while completing his "side quests of the week", his main mission is to find Yuuki Tenmei and the answer to his existence.

Unfortunately, rather typically of a show of this enormity - e.g. Ouroboros, SPEC - the ending dissolves into ludicrousness. One of the twists was seen a long way coming due to an unfortunate casting. And like many Japanese shows of this calibre, the show is peppered with odd morality lectures and the ending is immensely confusing as to what it wants to say about the world.

Verdict: an excellent effort by all core actors, let down by a disappointing script.

Matsumoto Seicho adaptations
Matsumoto Seicho was one of the great authors of modern Japanese crime literature. Every year, there are multiple adaptations of his works released as drama SP, drama series or movies.

I watched a few of them: "The black forest", "The woman who bought the local paper", "The castle of sand", "The flag of mist". They're slickly produced SPs (well okay, most Japanese drama SPs are quite well done and often better than the series...) which are all well-acted and very atmospheric.

The female characters are...interesting, and really rather pitiable. Apart from "The Black Forest" which quite easily translated to a contemporary setting, the others...I want to say that they're dated, but they're not, because in Japan (and probably many other parts of the world) women are still subject to the same sort of inequity that's put on display there.

For example, the extremely capable and shrewd reporter in "Castle of Sand", who provided multiple clues and ideas to the police investigation, gets transferred away from investigative journalism because she's a woman and should be writing about things like...girly things.

Or the rather tragic female main characters in "The woman who bought the local paper" and "The flag of mist". The first story was extraordinarily...claustrophobic. Here is a woman who was being extorted and raped, who wanted to keep her marriage together, and murdered the two perpetrators because they threatened to continue their abuse. In the end, to protect her husband's reputation, she divorced him before turning herself into police. She had intended to kill herself but one of the other characters stopped her, saying - "the man's (the rapist) children won't get any of his life insurance if you die, because it would be counted as suicide. I hope you can turn yourself in, so that the children know the truth, and they can continue to love their father."

I don't know why I reacted so badly to that. I felt she had already been through so much, and while murder can't be justified, there's certainly extenuating circumstances. I don't feel the man deserved any sympathy and he certainly wasn't portrayed as a good father - he had multiple women and was rarely home to see his wife and children, and on top of that he extorted this poor woman for money and raped her multiple times. I felt she had already paid so much for another undeserving man in her life - the husband, for whom she had an abortion as he demanded it of her, and the botched operation made her infertile. For whom, even when her own honour and security was at stake, she still cut ties with him so that he could be protected. In a way she was a 白蓮花, but she also wasn't, because she became strong enough to take matters into her own hands and kill the perpetrators. I don't think people should commit suicide to avoid facing retributions, but I was very annoyed that the above speech could change her mind - why should she have sympathy for these children, when their dad is such a low life and when she couldn't have children?

Less tragically, in "Flag of Mist", it was about a girl's revenge against a lawyer who declined to be the defense lawyer for her wrongly accused brother. I felt a lot of her hate was misplaced, but yet tragically understandable.

What ties these stories together is that a lot of these women - these women who try to get their way, are not your usual "good girl". They become hostesses, they sell their bodies, and when asked, they sigh and say, "We have to live, somehow".

These days things are getting better for women, but his stories are an oddly painful reminder of how stifling Japanese society can be on the role of women.

ant man

27 Jul 2015 01:16 am
mayoraasei: (Gundam 00)
Of course I've watched Age of Ultron a while ago (twice, in fact, cos Dad wanted to watch it too haha) but the movie was a bit like a bowl of ice-cream in summer - felt delicious while eating, but afterwards felt like you had a lot of nothing.

Antman is a bit like Guardians of the Galaxy. I think canonically he's actually a fairly big presence, but the basis and name seemed ridiculous, which is probably why he took so long to get to the big screen.

Let's start with the broad strokes - the movie is quite well-done, within the limitations. It's a heist movie as promised. It's much smaller in scale than the other heroes, which I think is a good thing. Like most superhero movies, the story is rather simple and linear, though what makes it stand out is probably the multiple central and side characters.

Antman decided to take the second iteration of the character, Scott Lang - a man recently released from jail for corporate theft. Unable to get a job because of the record and desperate to negotiate visits to his young daughter, he gets drawn into a heist to secure enough money to do so. This causes him to cross paths with Hank Pym, the original Antman, who values Scott's unorthodox resume in his own plans to topple a wayward corporation.

That both Scott and Hank were in this film together was a stroke of genius. Apart from being absolutely unique in the last dozen Marvel films to have two superheroes sharing the same mantle, there is an unforced parallel between Hank and Hope, and Scott and Cassie. Family relationships are a sadly neglected subject in the superhero world. The best of it had been in the Thor movies, which was unfortunately bogged down by all the other terrible stuff that was going on. There were some nice parent-child moments in Guardians, but more about the absence of it. The nice part about Antman was the uneasy relationship between Hank and Hope, which brings out my next point.

Hank is the most grumpy old fart next to Yondu LOL

He actually turned out to be my favourite character. I like how flawed he is, despite being in the mentor role. I like that he's arrogant, obstinate, bad-tempered, unforgiving, hamfisted...he's highly intelligent but you would not necessarily call him wise. I like that he keeps a grudge for decades to the point he'd rather employ a thief than enlist the help of anyone involved with Stark. I like that he's awkward with his daughter, that he wants the best for her but didn't know how to tell her that, that he wants to mend the relationship but just makes things worse each time. I like that he's a proud man who's used to achieving great things but the events in the film forces him, bit by tiny bit, to concede that age is catching up and he's no longer quite the capable man he used to be. I also like how even the climax highlighted how single-minded Hank is - that in a way he would destroy something to protect it. Michael Douglas brings a presence to the movie that Anthony Hopkins did to Thor and Robert de Niro did to Winter Soldier, but he seems to - or perhaps the script allows him to - put more heart into it than the former two.

Scott is a likeable character, though unfortunately debuts after Peter Quill and probably overlaps too much with him. They're both criminals who still have a sense of justice, enacted by two people known more or less for comedy or "boy next door" type roles. The difference though is Scott has more justice than scoundrel compared with Quill, and I don't know if it's intentional, seems a much cooler and reserved sort of guy than a lot of the other superheroes. He's someone who lingers and watches on the side before taking a dive, but he's also someone who dives in with relish and works hard at something when he's accepted the task. He's an engineer sort of guy - not the hot-headed type who tries to wing it by ear, but the type that has the minutiae worked out and has multiple backup plans that he can draw from and improvise with on the spot. That said, I'm not sure he can hold a franchise together, and I feel the movie would not have been quite as good if Hank had not been there.

A lot of people have waxed lyrical about Hope and the step forward for representation of women in superhero movies. I'm not too sure Evangeline Lilly was quite on spot for all of her scenes, but Hope managed to distinguish herself from the Black Widow, despite both being excellent fighters and capable sharp-tongued women. I think, after revisiting Winter Soldier, the difference is that Hope doesn't have Black Widow's past - and so she's less aware of herself (e.g. she would never use her sexuality like Black Widow could as a weapon), less cold-blooded but also less vulnerable.

The three of them are probably far more relatable and "normal" characters than others of their ilk.

The movie's strength was its humour, with excellent timing, especially of juxtapositions, and it was a shame this never came through in the promos. The pacing never made you feel like it dragged, despite its small scale, and it prodded the 4th wall at some good places. The villain was again Marvel's weakness, and to be honest there could have been something better from the Darren Cross's (I don't think I'm spoiling anything - it's revealed pretty quickly that he's the villain) interaction with Hank Pym. The imperfect mentor and the frustrated student trying to prove something to his Master - it had been done reasonably well in Kungfu Panda. There were hints of it, and the two actors certainly tried to make something of it, but there wasn't enough to make you care for Cross, which was a real shame.

In all, a decent standalone movie that introduces you to a surprisingly pleasant group - but I'm not too sure about how they would go about making this a franchise. That said, I'm certainly looking forward to Scott's appearance in Civil War, and I'd love to see cameos from Hank and Hope somewhere down the line too.

Certainly was nice to hear the Winter Soldier jig whirring away in the background during that post-cred scene. Speaking of post-creds, they're probably the two most fulfilling post-creds in a while, and worth staying for.
mayoraasei: (Jdrama)
Starring the golden trio of Ikuta Toma, Oguri Shun and Ueno Juri, there's almost nothing that could go wrong...then again, these guys have also been guilty of some pretty mediocre stuff each.

Japanese revenge dramas could go either way. They never tend to rate that well - even my personal favourite Maou only rated about 12-13% all-up, which is explained both by their time slot and also probably by the general audience's preference for feel-good type dramas - but they can range from clever and heart-wrenching like Maou to inanely cheerful like Ryusei no Kizuna to rather bland like Alice no Toge.

Ouroboros starts off well-paced and well-developed, which is always a massive relief when the drama has enough budget to cover its ambitions. It's constructed like a police drama of the day, the first episode focusing on the death of salaryman Nishida which appeared at first like a suicide until it unravelled to reveal the underworld plots and police corruption behind it.

The case of the week is a little messy as it serves mainly to introduce our characters. Ultimately, what shines is the revenge story that drive our two main characters and underpin the overarching plot - their quest to find the people who destroyed their orphanage and their childhood 20 years ago, who had murdered the one person who created a family for them. In this time, one of them has become a well-regarded member of the police force with the local highest arrest rate under his belt. The other has become the leader of the local yakuza.

At the moment, Toma's Ryuuzaki Ikuo seems more like the main character we are all supposed to relate to, while Shun's Danno Tatsuya is the mysterious genius who runs the plot. They're a much more likeable pair than the two in Maou, aided perhaps by the bias of justice and kindness on their side. Their individual gestures of offering the little girl whose parents were killed gifts of solace were both sweet and flags the humanity that remains despite the deep anger they still carry with them 20 years on. What's more interesting is that it's the outwardly heartless Danno who gives the girl a teddy bear, while it's the outwardly harmless Ryuuzaki who smiles and whispers to her, "The bad person is gone...your enemy no longer exists."

Out of all the pretty faces in their ilk, Toma and Shun are amongst the more convincing actors, and now 8 years on having been the main characters for many a drama and movie, they carry their respective characters with a remarkable ease that makes the heightened drama more watchable. Shun always had a nice voice (he did a short stint as a voice actor after all), and it's always a pleasure watching him languidly snark in his velvety cool voice. I'm also less bothered by his lanky hair here than I am in Hanazakari which is a superficial trivia no one needs to know about. Toma makes what is usually a rather bland character likeable (I wish I could have said the same about Mukai in Saigo no Keikan), and Ryuuzaki has enough layers for him to bring out his acting chops.

The most amazing scene in the first episode was when he confronted the corrupted cop, and watching the innocent earnestness drain from his face, his eyes turning hard and unfeeling - it was a scene that could have been interpreted so many ways - anger, judgement, scorn, hatred, righteousness - but I think Toma's interpretation was perfect, just the complete lack of warmth and sympathy as he readied himself to execute a criminal.

There's not much to say at this point about Ueno's character except that she's consistently watchable. I expect that her father will feature quite strongly in this plot, as everything in J-drama tend to link up with each other in some way or another. I have high hopes that we will see some amazing acting from all three of them feeding off each other in a climax somewhere down the line, given how it's started off. And really, these guys are far more suited to doing something gritty like this than the pure love dramas.

As always, I have reservations about how the ending will proceed in a series based off a manga that is yet to end. Bloody Monday and Saigo no Keikan could find somewhere to pause, but when you throw out a bone like this in the first episode, you do expect the last episode to solve the mystery - and traditionally J-dramas have not been very convincing when they deviate from the original plot. Also from experience, suspense-type J-dramas tend to collapse in a heap around themselves in the last 2 episodes when they suddenly realise how much crap they have to build up and explain.

Still, Maou was not without its flaws but it is still one of my favourite J-dramas - and with Shun far more comfortable as the fire smoke-breathing yakuza than Ohno as the wronged lawyer, and Ueno infinitely more useful than whoever that girl was...I think I can accept a flawed drama, though I'm always hopeful for better.


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