Month: July 2013

Para Para Sakura (芭啦芭啦櫻之花)

para para

You may familiar with with the two pint-sized whirlwinds from Essex, Sophia Grace and Rosie, who occasionally do a bit on Ellen Degeneres’s show. These chatty children make notably witty and grown-up observations (see tea time with celebrities and various field reports) to the delight of many. Para Para Sakura is the opposite of that. Two grown-ups try their best to mimic primary schoolers, and it’s questionable who is thrilled by this act.

Aaron Kwok stars as Philip, a dance instructor with little confidence in life and love. This stems in part from a family curse that condemns him to bachelorhood. He is also handicapped by colorblindness and sees everything in grayscale. That’s pretty hard (or easy, depending) to imagine when you consider Kwok’s normal wardrobe.

Things brighten when Yuriko (Cheung) waltzes into his life. Philip knows she’s the one because she appears as a blazing ball of fuchsia in his colorless world. The audience knows she’s the one because they both behave like frivolous children. Though she takes the form of a grown woman, Yuriko giggles nonsensically, as women who populate Hong Kong cinema are wont to do, and teases the bumbling Philip with a schoolgirl’s zing. This causes him to regress to a similarly infantile state, and he is reduced to whining about things like finding a bathroom in time. Kudos to the creative team for their brave stand on equality; Hong Kong men, you apparently act like dolts too.

Luckily though the smitten Philip has stellar dance skills, which he uses to win over Yuriko and to fight off a gang of men in black who are tailing the pair. Yuriko, it turns out, is a wealthy heiress trying to bail on her wedding, so the family bodyguards are sent to retrieve her. It’s not very clear why she doesn’t want to marry her betrothed, except that he seems far too mature for her. Nor does it seem sensible for the flighty Yuriko to take to Philip, who is dull even by his best friend’s (Ah Niu) estimation.

Thankfully character development is not the selling point of this movie. This film takes advantage of Hong Kong’s obsession with all things Japanese and indulges in the para para dance craze. Parts of it play like an arcade DDR come to flash mob life while others simply showcase Aaron Kwok’s elasticity. The one truly refreshing thing about this movie is the earthy Shanghai setting. Rewatching this in 2013, it’s nice to see a Chinese city that doesn’t need to dazzle with the veneer of modernity.

Released: 2001
Prod: David Chan 陳錫康, Li Zhu-An 李竹安, Sasaki Kyo 佐々木享, Patricia Chong 莊麗真
Dir: Jingle Ma 馬楚成
Writer: Susan Chan 陳淑賢
Cast:  Aaron Kwok 郭富城; Cecilia Cheung 張柏芝; Ah Niu 陳慶祥 (阿牛); Han Xue 韓雪; Wong Cho-Yiu 黃祖耀; Tien Niu 恬妞; Kazuhiko Nishimura 西村和彦; Seung Yik-San 湯亦晨; Sueyoshi Rika 末吉里花
Time: 101 min
Lang: Cantonese with Mandarin and Japanese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2013

Tara Road

t road

Maeve Binchy’s novel Tara Road appeared on Oprah’s Book Club list in 1999. Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities is also on that list, and I know which one I’d rather see adapted for tv and film. (Tom Hiddleston as Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay?!) But Maeve Binchy is a less taxing on the audience and the budget so Tara Road it is.

In typical Lifetime movie of the week fashion, it tells the story of two women who brood over man issues, do something wild, and discover their stronger selves. Irishwoman Ria (Williams) has it all – a husband who looks like Iain Glen, two talented kids, and a plush property. Just when she wants to expand the family, dastardly, duplicitous Danny (Glen) reveals he’s going to leave her for that sexpot from Love Actually (Makatsch).

On the other side of the Atlantic, Marilyn (MacDowell) can’t get over the death of her son from a motorcycle accident. She distances herself from her husband (Zirner) who would rather turn outward to deal with the tragedy. Alienated, alone, trapped by memories of her son, Marilyn does what any woman would do in her situation. She rings up a stranger on the other side of the world and proposes to switch houses with her for a couple months.

Off they go, hoping that new environs will provide some clarity and direction. Each woman is aided by the others’ friends. Ria finds a gaggle of loud and nosy but well-meaning neighbors – they are American, after all – who inject some spontaneity and spirit into her life. Meanwhile, Marilyn eases back into reality through quieter interactions with Ria’s charming friends, including restaurateur Colm, played by Stephen Rea.

And you might be wondering, why is Stephen Rea in this frivolous movie? I suspect if you were a woman who’s loved and lost, you would want his dulcet voice to calm you. He also had the more interesting backstory in Binchy’s novel, but that gets cut, to no ill effect. Another difference for fans of the book is a matter of focus; the movie is better balanced by giving equal screentime to the two stories. At least this way, it’s like two Lifetime movies, and all the feel-good lessons about friendship and self-empowerment, for the price of one. If that’s how you like spending a Saturday evening, this movie’s not a bad deal.

Released: 2005
Prod: Miron Blumental, Noel Pearson, and Sarah Radclyffe
Dir: Gillies MacKinnon
Writer: Cynthia Cidre and Shane Connaughton
Cast: Olivia Williams, Andie MacDowell, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Iain Glen, Stephen Rea, Brenda Fricker, August Zirner, Heike Makatsch, Virginia Cole, Sarah Bolger, Johnny Brennan, Bronagh Gallagher
Time: 97 min
Lang: English
Country: Ireland
Reviewed: 2013

Driving Lessons

driving lessons

Like the driving test you just nearly passed except that you nicked the curb, forgot to turn on the blinker, and failed to parallel park. You wouldn’t suspect anything by looking at the cast list though. Julie Walters and Laura Linney are able anchors, Rupert Grint is the most natural if not the flashiest actor of the Harry Potter trio, and Nicholas Farrell is as reliable as he is versatile. But their combined effort can’t rescue the movie from its lumpy plot and weak characterization.

Laura Linney is the most ill-used amongst all the actors, portraying a shrill mother and wife to shy son Ben (Grint) and henpecked vicar husband Robert (Farrell). Laura (Linney) wields her family’s religion with proficiency and uses it for emotional blackmail. She takes advantage of Ben’s learner’s permit and forces him ferry her to and from trysts with the charismatic and handsome new cleric Peter (Milburn) as part of his driving lessons. Linney is capable of playing a witchy antagonist, but the only skill she employs here is that of barking tart one liners. “Mobiles give you cancer!” “When you went with that actress, you left God’s house!”

Julie Walters fares a little better, but her performance as a retired and slightly loony thespian Dame Evie Walton is also given to caricature. It’s no wonder that the socially ill-adjusted Ben, whom she has hired as a personal assistant, doubts their working relationship. He stays on in part because Evie offers him respite from his domineering mother but also because she treats his literary ambitions with seriousness.

Walters takes her usual English quirk act and dials it up a few notches, as if being more eccentric would give this film more personality. It does, ever so slightly. Her crumbling Dame Evie pushes Ben to shed his timidity via spontaneous camping trips and readings in Edinburgh. These herky-jerky adventures culminate in a Bible school drama with Ben as the eucalyptus tree.

The perpetually awkward Grint is typecast but a good fit nonetheless. He does not make much of an effort to break from his Ron Weasley role (as opposed to say Daniel Radcliffe who famously bared his bits in Equus), so think of his character as Ron trying to make it in Muggleworld. He best captures the naive confidence of a 17 year old when he confronts his father about his parents’ relationship. “You should have talked to me. I’d have understood. I’m a poet. I understand the power of words.” Indeed, but even poets must be in want of an audience.

Released: 2006
Prod: Julia Chasman
Dir: Jeremy Brock
Writer: Jeremy Brock
Cast: Julie Walters, Rupert Grint, Laura Linney, Nicholas Farrell, Michelle Duncan, Oliver Milburn, Jim Norton, Tasmin Egerton
Time: 98 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2013