Right, I know I am a little late with the Year in Review, but then again I didn’t even do one for 2015! So I thought I’d just scribble down some thoughts, give a little personal update, and let you know my top 10 films and music of the year. The Top 10’s will both be asian-related, because otherwise I’ll be here ’till like April. So without more rambling buildup here we go!!
Honestly I just want to write off 2016 as probably the most rubbish of my 45 years on this earth. I could list the people in the creative arts that passed away that had impacts on me during my life, But I’ll leave it as Bowie, Prince, Darwyn Cooke, Garry Shandling, Gene Wilder, Burt Kwouk, Leonard Cohen and Carrie Fisher. There’s plenty of others. And I know it isn’t really statistically worse that any other year, I am just at that age where people I grew up with as heroes and idols are likely to die. But still. Big holes.
On a more personal level, it will have been clear I haven’t been able to give as much time to Gweiloramblings as I have previously. Some of this is down to sheer business at work. Much has been down to a horrible case of writer’s block. I am finding it harder than ever to write my reviews and keep things interesting. I am thinking about ways to rectify this – maybe move to just capsules, or maybe collate some of the reviews to some kind of self published book. fortunately, I was able to most keep up to date with my EasternKicks commitments, which remains a fun community to be part of. I’ve somehow taken over the “EasternKickers Reacts!” articles, which is an interesting and I think popular segment over there – just as the crossovers with the Litterbox were here (hey Miyuki, we have to do one again very soon). There is a part of me that would potentially think about parking Gweiloramblings for a while, or at least changing its focus. I’ll keep my readers up to date, fo now it is all thoughts and ideas, we will see where it goes.
The main reason for my lack of focus here though has been that it has been the busiest year of my working life. The project I am working on has been in a state of disaster for a while, and it sucked all the energy out of me. It wasn’t helped by me being sent to India for a couple of weeks, and experience that I found really tough. I didn’t get a holiday either, so I missed seeing my friends abroad, and didn’t get any new experiences off on my own. And to top it all? Busy or not, I am up for redundancy this year, after around 25 years service. It’s not definite, and in some ways it might be a good thing. But it does leave me in a kind of limbo until around September when everything gets decided for me.
But it isn’t all bad. There have been some changes in my life that are for the good. I finally managed to remove a couple of really bad influences from my life, people who seemed to delight in deceiving me for their own ends, who made me thing they were friends. Both gone now, and I’ll be better for it. And I am healthy (other than my teeth, but that’s an ongoing challenge with evolution), so I mustn’t grumble too much. Anyway, you are not here for me, so let’s go look at some Top 10’s!
Top 10 Asian Movies of 2016
I already took part in the EasternKicks site countdown and spoke again about my top choice, but here is my own selection, without the filter of the group democracy. It’s actually pretty darn shocking how few films I watched this year, and how much my writing for both here and EK has been about the films of the past. The usual rules apply (basically squeezing anything into 2016 if it was released either in the UK or in its home market in the calendar year). Anyways, here’s my top 10, including links to where you can read a little more!
10 Keeper of Darkness. I’m really keen for Nick Cheung to make this attempt to both move into directing and generate a real horror film scene that pushes the edges of Mainland censorship. “Keeper of Darkness” probably only makes my top 10 because of the paucity of reviewed films, but it’s a decent and occasionally highly imaginative film with sequel potential.
9 Weeds on Fire. Regular readers will know I am soft of sports movies, and this effort from Hong Kong was based on a fascinating true story, mixed with a lovely nostalgia.
8 Ten Years. It’s a collection of short films that I found interesting in different ways. However, what it is important for is that it is an example of how independent film makers can tap into certain political sentiments and become successful in all sorts of ways. Have a look also at my interview by proxy (thanks again Jingjing) with the filmmakers.
7 The Handmaiden. I know I didn’t give this one a super glowing review, but it was one of the best looking and acted films of the year.
6 Tunnel. Yes it’s fairly standard genre cinema, but a combination of a great central performance by Ha Jung-woo and it’s political layers mean it exceeded my initial expectations.
5 Your Name. Another film I gave a middling review to, but the somewhat hackneyed plot was balanced out by some gorgeous animated work. Taken in isolation, it’s hard to be too critical of this.
4 Time Renegades. I thought Kwak Jae-yong was a spent force, but this unexpected sci-fi thriller really surprised me. It doesn’t really worry about the “why” of the connection of our central protagonists, and I am not even sure it is very consistent in the rules it sets out, but it all ends up hanging together beautifully.
3 The Wailing. In another year this would have been my film of the year by a country mile (and did indeed make it to the top of the charts at EasternKicks). A properly intelligent horror movie. I had to do some reading and rewatching to fully understand it, but it was worth every moment of extra effort.
2 Train to Busan. The best Zombie film since “Shaun of the Dead” (and best serious one since “28 Days Later”. It starts slow and builds up and up into an orgy of undead violence. The one film on the list I actually HAD to review moments after watching it.
1 Mermaid. Yeah, I know this wasn’t a surprise to you all that I picked this, but it was to me. It really was a year of Stephen Chow for me, so to have this film turn up was a real treat. It’s super funny, introduces a new Sing Girl in Jelly Lin, and shows you Chow can pull it off in Mandarin without having to star in the movie. All this and an unexpected ecological message with pokes at the Chinese entitled classes. Fabulous.
Top 10 Asian Music of 2016
I don’t pretend to follow all genres, but I do enjoy asian music, even with my lack of language understanding. Same way people can enjoy opera without knowing Italian. And this way I can give you Youtube links! And yeah, I know they are all females!
10. Ellen Loo – Imperfections (Album). I’ve enjoyed Ellen Loo’s brand of guitar pop for a while, and her latest album doesn’t disappoint.
9. PiA – I Was Pretty Humorous (Album). Whilst I have been entertained by this taiwanese combo for a while, I have never been completely convinced outside of the off music video. This album finally convinced me, with a dash of playfulness that might of been missing before.
8. P!sco – Being P!sco (Album). I was checking iTunes and Indievox for weeks waiting for this one. Whilst it doesn’t contain anything as vaguley genius as “I Wish You Love” or “How Cried”, this is their most consistent collection of songs yet. They may be a weird collection of individuals, but I challenge you to find a Taiwanese band that are as much FUN!
7. Jia Huizhen – 11 (Album). The Mainland’s Jia Huizhen’s second album eschews a lot of the heavy guitars for a more electronic and experimental sound. And it rawks!!!
6. Joanna Wang – House of Bullies (Album). There’s an unpublished version of this article for 2015 somewhere in an alternate universe. And in it, Joanna Wang’s “Bob Music” was number 1. Now, this album hasn’t quite grown on me so much, but it is still full of little strange things that have escpaed from her disturbed mind. Also check out her EP H.A.M from earlier in the year for an added treat!
5. Scandal – Yellow (Album). For 10 years this Japanese guitar pop 4 piece have frankly been getting better and better. “Yellow” is probably their strongest album yet, and they still had time to release the “Take Me Out” EP that introduced an interesting sub-group. I am not convinced their tunes and riffs bring anything new to the party, but god-damn if they aren’t fun!
4. Jane Zhang – Dust My Shoulders Off (Single). So a decade after being runner up in the famed Supergirl TV show, Jane Zhang somehow reinvented herself. She’s a big deal on the mainland for ballads, but somehow she hooks up with Timbaland, sings perfect english and rounds it off with one of the smartest music videos of the year. Heck, she even got an article on the BBC Website, and made the iTunes Top 20. Could she be the first real asian crossover artist?
3. Waa Wei – Dead Flowers (Album). How does she find the time? Radio Host, Beloved Taiwanese personality-at-large and musician, Waa somehow found the time to put together what I think is her strongest full length album, with a mix of styles that entertained me greatly.
2. CL – Lifted (Single). It was a bad year for us Blackjacks. First 2NE1 become a 3-piece when Minzy decided to go run a dance school. And then the announcment that the band were no more. Meanwhile CL’s snails-pace attempt to crack the american market slowly gathered pace. “Hello Bitches” felt in your face, but “Lifted” got her on James Cordon even though it was clearly an ode to Marijuana.That’s something she could never do back in Korea. Album soon please Chae-rin.
1. Babymetal – Metal Resistence (Album). OK. I came very late to Babymetal. I know they are manufactured. I know they are very devicive in metal circles. But whoever realised the fast beats of death metal were basically the same as Japanese EDM was a genuis. Mix in the Gothic Lolita fashion and.. it just works. They’ll probably never meld as well as they do in “Karate” and “Awadama Fever” ever again, which is probably why the second half of the albu seems to be playing with other musical styles. Su-Metal, Yuimetal and Moametal are simply a phenomenon. You don’t open for Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Metallica and Guns ‘n’ Roses without being legitimate.
So that’s my year. Feel free to comment and make suggestions for the future. Would you like more music to go with the films? Should I do that book? Or should I maybe consider closing down Gweiloramblings?