Capsules – Monkey Goes West, Nana to Karou, My Black Mini Dress

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Too many films.  Too little time.  As always you have heard these excuses from me before.  I thought however, despite earlier protestations from me not to do these anymore, that I really ought to get some of these out there.  As always, you might get fuller reviews later, as capsule form is not always an indication of a film’s quality.

Monkey Goes West

I really cannot get enough of these little explorations into the Journey To The West adaptations.  This one is from the great Shaw Bros. studios, and is a glorious, if flawed gem.  The great thing about the whole JTTW idea is that the source text is just an episodic set of stories, leaving them open to adaptation as slavishly or as free form as the makers wish.  This one has three broad storylines.  In the first we encounter Triptaka’s first meeting with our friend the Monkey King, and his setting him free from imprisonment.  We then get an extended take on the first meeting with the corpulent Pigsy.  And we end on a tale of the group being seduced by spirits dressed as seductive sisters.  This one really does have it all, nascent special effects that maybe do not quite hold up so well to the modern audience, stop motion, songs, even a little bit of female nudity.  I really liked the portrayal of the Monkey King himself in this one, you really get some sense of his Simian nature, plus he feels both playful, and maybe a little pig-headed, rather than ignorant and cruel which can be the case sometimes.  The film does lack some coherence to the non-initiated in the middle section (it really makes very little sense), and there is a feeling of disappointment at the film’s sudden ending once the gang finally gets together.  It is an artefact of its time though, and is possibly not one that will play well to a broad Western Audience.  However, there are three more films in the series that I am just going to have to track down, and that makes this one Recommended.  Added highlights include a tiny cameo from Pei-Pei Cheng.

Nana to Karou

This one is not really my thing, but actually I enjoyed it far more than I thought.  Adapted from a popular Manga, this is the sweet little tale of two young Japanese school kids finding love via BDSM (look it up if you have to, just maybe not at work).  Nana (Maho Nagase) is the young girl who has it all – class vice-president, popular with all, but has a real problem relaxing, and her grades are slipping because of this.  Karou (Rakuto Tochihara) is a bit of a slacker, obsessed like the rest of his classmates by pornography.  Although they were childhood friends (and neighbours), their friendship has left then on opposite ends of the clique ladder.  However, a small bit of accidental experimentation (things kind of steamroller) brings them closer together.  We might have a little issue with this as a Western audience, as it does somewhat sexualise the 17 year old Nana, but it is actually rather well done.  Maho Nagase is actually rather good in this difficult role, although sadly Rakuto Tochihara is not up to her standards (he overacts a little too much for my liking).  But it is all done much more tastefully than it could have been, and manages to get the broad ideas explored in the stories other published formats (as well as a Manga, there is an Anime) – and actually ends up teasing us with a rather sweet little love story.  It maybe lacks a satisfying ending, but if you can stomach the general concepts at play here, there is much to enjoy.  Mildly recommended.

My Black Mini Dress

An exercise in pointlessness, and my new standard for calling a film average.  There is nothing wrong with the cinematography, not much wrong with the acting, its just the story and characters that equate to a whole bucket load of meh.  Four 24 year old girls graduate from Theatre School and we follow a year in their lives.  Sadly, all four are pretty vacuous and uninteresting.  That would be bad enough on it’s own, but their actually stories are so dull (one wants to be a writer, one wants to learn English, one is a party girl who becomes an idol, the last can’t get that acting break), and occasionally portrayed on screen so lacking in depth and examination, that the film is a struggle to get through.  I suppose I could say that the storyline of Park Han-byeol’s character has a nice element of meta about it (as she appears to have become famous by merely posting her photographs on the internet), but I suspect I am giving the film too much credit.  Ironically, it is the storyline of a fifth character which is ultimately most interesting, touching on some themes of beauty, success, plastic surgery and suicide.  The main characters, well I felt nothing for.  The really sad thing is that all four girls have a germ of a movie in their storylines that could have made a much better film than this ensemble piece.  It isn’t horrible and offensive, it just is a long 2 hours of nothing.  To see this done in a much more interesting and frankly better acted way, go hunt down “Take Care Of My Cat”.

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