Chico And Rita – A Spanish Animation Film Of Love And Music

A Spanish animation film

The 8th Spanish Film Festival in Singapore is ending soon.  See if you can catch Chico & Rita (2010) at The Arts House today.  Admission is free on a first come basis.

Chico & Rita is a Spanish animated feature-length film.  The first that was nominated for the Oscar.  The artwork is beautiful.  Each frame could well be made into a wall painting.  The soundtrack throughout the film is equally beautiful, especially for the jazz music lover.  Set in Cuba, a pianist called Chico meets a singer called Rita.  And they have fallen in love.  However, circumstances seem to often get into their way.  Chico & Rita is a journey of love and music from Cuba’s Havana to New York and Las Vegas in a span of five decades.  Due to the rich history behind Chico & Rita and the fact that many of Havana’s pre-revolutionary buildings had decayed, the filmmakers have looked into the photograph archive in order to recreate the era and the mood.

This story is rather dark.  So is the mood.  Perhaps it is the pain the gives forth such beautiful music and inspires such exquisite artwork.

The drawing of Chico & Rita is exquisite.

Tapas And The 8th Spanish Film Festival Here In Singapore

Tapas (2005) A Spanish Film

Cynthia and I were invited for the opening of the 8th Spanish Film Festival at The Arts House Singapore.  Before the main movie Tapas (2005), a 18 minutes short animation called Tadeo Jones (2007) was played.  Now that I have watched the animation.  It does sound like a reference to the Western version of Indiana Jones.

The main character Tadeo was at home when from his window, he saw a cute dog being thrown into a garage by a delivery man, together with boxes after boxes of mysterious packages.  Feeling the urge to save the dog, Tadeo ventured into the house and discovered a bizarre cult in the mist of an animal sacrificial ritual set in a quasi-Egyptian backdrop.  Not the sort of top quality animation as you would expect from a Hollywood movie of the same era.  The story is entertaining nonetheless.

Tapas (2005) is a mix of characters with individual plots that intertwined with one another.  In a Barcelona suburb, a wife of a self-centered restaurant owner cannot take his husband’s unrealistic demand anymore and has decided to quit being a chef.  And quit being his wife while she is at it.  Meanwhile, a Chinese chef who knows kung fu is happy to take up the job vacancy (and the abuse).  He is in Spain because he wants to be with his love.  A lady who sells chickpeas – among other cooking ingredients – has been in a separation for two years and now being in a cyber relationship with a man from Argentina.  Two young teenagers work at the same supermarket.  One of them is obsessed with Bruce Lee and girls of different nationalities while the other one has fallen in love with the chickpea lady.  Finally, there is an old couple with the woman selling drugs to the young and the man dying of lung cancer.

This film is raw, as in, there is little attractive about the characters and their living conditions.  Yet, it feels so real.  Ordinary people going about with their ordinary life dealing with real life challenges while learning from them.  Of all the sub-plots, I enjoy the story of the old couple the best.  It is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.

The 8th Spanish Film Festival is starting from now till the end of the month.  Every day at 19.30.  Admission is free and the location is at The Arts House.  Check out their website for further information.

8th Spanish Film Festival in Singapore

One Piece Film: Z

A film originated from manga.

I have not heard of the manga One Piece until I watched a movie adaptation of the manga.  Naturally, I love anything that is Japanese.  When I first saw the gigantic promotional poster displayed at one of our beloved cinemas, I said to our buddy TK, “Let’s watch this!”  To that he replied, “On!”

Apparently, One Piece is a very popular manga series in Japan, for a very long time.  In this particular movie One Piece Film: Z, there are pirates the supposedly protagonists (I think).  There are the marines who hunt down the pirates.  And there is Commander Z who was a marine, went rogue, and now rages war against the pirates as well as the marines that get into his way.  Each pirate, meanwhile, seems to possess at least one unique power (think X-Men).  As you can imagine, there are tons of combat scenes between the characters.  More or less like a video game.

Unlike other more artistic Japanese animations Cynthia and I have seen, One Piece Film: Z does not require too much thinking.  Just sit back and enjoy the humor and the action.  I am not entirely convinced that the English subtitles convey the original essence well.  I wish there were Chinese subtitles as well.  Usually, for Japanese animation, Chinese subtitles work better than the English ones.

One Piece Film: Z is not a story exploring the abstractness of nature or the emotional vulnerability of character.  It is a film with a decent amount of humor and action that entertains.

A Royal Affair – A Danish Film Of A Mad King, A Lonely Queen, And A Visionary Physician

A Danish movie

The title says it all.  Set in the 18th century, Danish King Christian VII was mentally unwell.  Caroline Mathilde from Great Britain was married to Christian at the age of 15 and became queen.  German physician Johann Friedrich Struensee had attended the king’s sickness.  In the mist of it, he had become the king’s trusted friend and later on, an affair with the young and lonely queen.  As the king’s close friend, the physician played an essential part in shaping the country’s policies, which until now, had been mostly ruled by the Council due to the king’s sickness.  As the queen’s lover, the physician risked throwing away the political progress he had gained, which was ultimately the progress of the country.

I love watching European films inspired by historical events.  The plot is less formulaic than, say, a Hollywood movie.  European filmmakers tend to take their time in giving the film a treatment it deserves.  A Royal Affair is a 137 minutes long movie.  The story is engaging so much so that I wish the ending could have been expanded in some ways, rather than a paragraph of words or two on the screen.  The cinematography is beautiful.  Each frame’s composition is an art.  The music score is good too.  It goes well with the plot’s development.

Mads Mikkelsen’s role and the fact that he can act is a surprise to me.  He is often seen in Western movies as a villain (like many foreign artists come to think on it).  In A Royal Affair, he could well be a hero of the country.  He has a set of visionary policies based on his freethinking ideals.  Unfortunately, he was ahead of his time.  His policies were  implemented only by the next generation.  This prompted TK and I to reflect upon our local political atmosphere. We joked that the reason why A Royal Affair is being rated M18 in Singapore  is due to its anti-establishment sentiment.  There is very little blood and gore, equally little sex.  The most I would rate is a NC16.

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander looks really young in this movie.  Having read the history, I can understand why.  It is pretty hard to act mentally unstable.  All credit to Mikkel Følsgaard’s boyish performance.  He is funny to watch but not without inducing a sense of pity from the audience.  At times, I could feel the king’s internal struggle as he threaded between the line that separate sanity from insanity.

Royal affair is a messy business.  But at least, for this historical story, there was something good coming out from it.

The Grandmaster – A Film On The Life Stories Of Yip Man And Gong Er

An art house type of movie

To fully appreciate this Chinese movie, you probably need to understand the language, the culture, as well as the martial arts within.  It is not unusual for the olden day Chinese to speak in metaphors.  My dad still does too.  The English subtitles can be quite misleading at times.  What if you don’t understand Chinese but you are curious about The Grandmaster?  I suppose even if you can only get the essence of it, it may still be worthwhile provided that you enjoy watching art house type of movies or you are a fan of the leading actor and actress.

The backdrop is enticing.  A story told from Yip Man’s perspective (he who was Bruce Lee’s teacher).  From Yip Man’s age of 40 till his old age.  Upon the then-grandmaster’s retirement, while the northern China’s grandmaster title was given to Ma San, it was of the old grandmaster’s wish to pass the southern China title to a southerner.  Hence the introduction of Yip Man.

Tony Leung is quite possible one of the best actors I have seen.  He truly can act with just his eyes.  That heighten alertness in face of a real challenge, confidence with a hint of playfulness during a friendly duet, that moment of being mesmerized by the opposite sex, pain and despair, heartache and resignation, or simply that pair of weary eyes having seen too much in life.  It is a real treat to see him act as Yip Man.  This movie has provided him much opportunity to shine.

Zhang Ziyi plays the role of Gong Er, the daughter of the then-grandmaster.  While the range of emotion given is not as wide as Yip Man’s role, Zhang Ziyi has certainly chilled me with her coldness, pained me with her rare tenderness.  Her acting too is convincing.

The martial art scenes are pretty impressive.  With modern technology and the extreme slow motion close-up playback, the action is exciting to watch.  But here lies the problem.  The director Wong Kar-wai has cast this film in an art house setting (like his last movie My Blueberry Nights).  Take away the breathtaking action and the engaging acting is a series of artistic shots such as water peddles and street scenery, Buddha statues and candles.  The gaps can be extremely slow.  I found myself wanting to see the next action or acting scene and skip the excessive artistic frames.

One good example is the character Yixiantian “The Razor”.  The film has devoted quite a bit of airtime to develop The Rezor.  He has absolutely zero contribution to the main story except that one interaction he has with Gong Er on a train.  Even that does not materialize into anything.  The story goes on telling more about The Razor – humorous I must say – whereby taking all in, I wouldn’t miss a thing if the director has decided to cut this character away.  Maybe I am missing something significant here.  I don’t know.

Also, the resolution between Yip Man and his wife (played by a Korean actress Song Hye-kyo) appears to be fuzzy.  Is it because there is a lack of real life documentation of his marriage?  Or is it the director’s intention to have us thinking?  I thought for a bit.  Then I gave up.

Another of his movie that is low in entertainment but probably high in artistic value.