After one too many glasses of wine my girlfriend has decided to start the new-year in typical fashion, so while she lies dying on the sofa it gives me the chance to reflect on another year of Asian cinema. There have been both ups and downs of course, that goes without saying, but the UK has seen some great films released in 2011. Hard to believe after the events that took place in Enfield last August, but things are on the up again and 2012 looks set to be an incredible year for Eastern film fans. So lets take a look back now at the ten films that rocked my world in 2011…
10/ The Detective. Release Date: 11th April
Aaron Kwok stars as Tam, a dim-witted private detective who doesn’t have what it takes to become a police officer. The Chinese title of the film translates to C+ Detective, which pretty much says it all really. The Pang Brothers are set to infuriate me until the end of days, I know that, but that doesn’t mean I wont be watching. The Detective isn't quite up there with the best of their back catalogue, but it's certainly a reminder of their talents behind the camera. Offbeat, unconventional and brought to life by a director free to escape his horror-infused comfort zone, Oxide has delivered a highly enjoyable detective thriller, a ride you’ll be more than willing to take.
09/ Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zhen. Release Date: 31st January
Was there ever a chance I might not like this movie? Not only does it star the biggest action hero in the film industry today, but my favourite leading lady puts in a to-die-for appearance as well. Add further support from the ever-reliable Anthony Wong, a sprinkling of over-stylised direction from Andrew Lau and come on, seriously - was there ever a chance I might not like this movie? Andrew Lau’s direction feels empty at times, but if you’re ever in need of a man to fill that space, Donnie Yen’s the go-to guy for kick ass candy covered confectionary. The action choreography is first class, and even though Legend of the Fist won’t change the world, there’s a good chance it will kick it out of shape for a while.
08/ Gallants. Release Date: 25th July
With Gallants, Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng invite you on an old-school Hong Kong martial arts journey with a 21st century twist. Gallants brings together a winning cast of old and new, featuring Shaw Brothers veteran Chen Kuan Tai (The Tea House), Bruce Leung (Kung Fu Hustle), and a scene-stealing turn from Teddy Robin. Overflowing with references, subtle nods and attention to detail, you don’t have to be an expert in old school action movies to appreciate Gallants - but it sure helps. Despite a cluttered opening, the breezy innocence and uplifting charm shines through, packing an almighty punch along the way. Gallants will best be remembered as a love letter to action cinema that demands your full attention.
07/ Cold Fish. Release Date: 27th June
From Sion Sono, the critically acclaimed director of ‘Love Exposure’, comes the deeply disturbing tale Cold Fish. Cold Fish clocks in at just less than two and a half hours, but the leisurely delivery does nothing to detract from this thoroughly disturbing drama. Blessed with a slow, deliberate and absorbing pace, Cold Fish reels you in with its offbeat characters, dire situations and curious relationships. Despite the subject matter, Sono’s picture remains suitably restrained, and it’s only in the final act that all hell breaks loose, erupting in an orgy of violence, vengeance and bloody retribution. Extreme cinema without a doubt, extremely good that is, and indisputably one of the films of the year.
06/ Dream Home. 28th March
Dream Home isn’t just about blood, guts, badly timed sex and a nice sea view. Chronicling the frustrations of an average Hong Kong citizen trying to buy property in the city's out-of-control real estate market - made all the more apparent by the film’s opening statement - Dream Home is as much about murder, and as much about dark comedy, as it is about angry indictments of contemporary Hong Kong. Pang Ho Cheung has pretty much crafted the first intelligent slasher movie, a film that digs deeper than your average horror vehicle. It’s violent, darkly comic and gleefully twisted, but it also comes with an intelligent subtext that might impress your partner. I said might.
05/ Suicide Club. Release Date: 19th September
54 high school girls, one subway station and a southbound ticket to hell. Suicide Club is blessed with one of the most memorable openings of recent times. Suicide fads, subliminal messages and social commentary provide Sono with another opportunity to enthral the masses. Suicide Club touches on current themes and fears, but Sono’s film will best be remembered for it’s harrowing tone, twisted humour and startling set pieces - washed down with a catchy pop number or two. Flawed yet fearless, Suicide Club will forever remain a sign of things to come from an unmistakable talent.
04/ The Man from Nowhere. Release Date: 11th April
The Man from Nowhere brings with it one of the coolest action heroes of the last ten years. It’s a simple concept - a mysterious agent goes to desperate lengths in order to save a girl - which makes way for stylised action and emotional drive. The Man from Nowhere successfully combines violence, bloodshed, heart and soul, courtesy of two pitch-perfect performances, noteworthy support and stirring direction. Action-thrillers don’t get much better than this, and even though you didn’t see it coming, there’s a good chance you wont forget Won Bin’s man from nowhere in a hurry.
03/ I Saw the Devil. Release Date: 9th May
Helmed by Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life), one of Korea’s most successful directors, I Saw The Devil is an action packed thriller, both disturbing and brilliant in equal measures. Lee Byung-Hun (A Bittersweet Life) and Choi Min-Sik (Oldboy) play a deadly game of cat and mouse over the course of two hours soaked in bloody retribution and twisted revenge. Choi Min-Sik is his ever-reliable self as the psychotic killer of the piece, and Lee Byung-Hun impresses with a ruthless efficiency that slowly unravels as he loses his way in the darkness. There are plenty of twists along the way and once I Saw The Devil finds its feet it doesn’t stop running.
02/ 13 Assassins. Release Date: 9th May
Prolific. Just one way of describing Japanese director Takashi Miike, one of the hardest working filmmakers in the industry today. Takashi turns his attention to swordplay epics with 13 Assassins, a remake of the 1963 Kodo Eiichi film of the same name. The harrowing opening makes way for a measured build up that leads to one of the greatest battle sequences of all time, held together by quality lead turns and a director that knows no fear. For a director who has already blessed us with the likes of Ichi the Killer, The Happiness of the Katakuris and Audition, 13 Assassins is arguably his greatest achievement yet.
01/ Confessions. Release Date: 25th April
Based on the award-winning novel by Minato Kanae, Confessions (a.k.a. Kokuhaku) is a beautiful, tragic and deeply affecting drama about a teacher's terrifying plan to avenge her daughter's murder. Writer-director Tetsuya Nakashima is best known for candy-covered voyages and bubblegum bounciness, taking tragic tales of darkness and drowning them in vibrant colours and sing-along pop numbers. With Confessions he takes a significant step, shifting his attention to the blues and greys of modern Japanese society. Confessions also provides us with the most breathtaking scene of the year, a sublime tribute to the filmmaking prowess of Tetsuya Nakashima. It’s an explosive end to a deeply affecting movie, a film that wilfully ignores the demands of modern theatre audiences. If that’s Yuko’s revenge, then I like it.
AND THEN THERE WAS…
Ninja Girl. Release Date: 10th October
Limited locations, a blink and you’ll miss it screenplay, ninja assassins and mediocre action choreography – looks like Seiji Chiba’s back in town. Ninja Girl is the latest ‘film’ from writer/director Seiji Chiba, and it has but one trick up its well-worn sleeve. That would be 19-year-old karate sensation-turned-actress Rina Takeda (Karate Girl; High-Kick Girl). With lethargic action punctuating the tiresome exposition, even at 65 minutes Ninja Girl feels like a chore. Isn’t it about time somebody pulled Seiji Chiba to one side and had a quiet word in his ear? Some would have us believe he’s a pioneering director of ninja action movies - others would say he’s lazy. Worst release of the year? You better believe it. AW