This blog? Best. Idea. Ever. One of the things I look forward to is the generation of individualized film rankings. For example, what is a "good movie" for Marcus compared to Paul? How might they comparatively rank a particular film? Our blog blurb says that there are 10,000 films produced every year and this blog might winnow it down some--but the reviews will probably still outpace any of our attempts to actually watch everything. So, I'd like to introduce my own ranking system vis-a-vis a smattering of Asian films (and yes, virtually everything good in the film world is happening in Asia). Most of these films is of the fightin' variety, just to provide some thematic unity.
I will be using a 5 star ranking system. 4 stars doesn't provide enough evaluative force. And I'll start with a film most people have seen:
5-star. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Beautiful cinematography, bold special effects that accentuate rather than dominate the film, great dialogue (in Mandarin and English, actually), a nice story, and someone dies in the end. In my mind, this is the standard bearer to which all other films in this genre must match up against.
4-star. I would suggest that Hero fits the bill for a 4-star movie. Complicated, multi-threaded story that is doing something quite unique narratively compounded by some great imagery and use of color.
The Vertical Ray of the Sun is a 4 star movie that most people haven't seen but should. This is one of the more visually stunning movies you will see; capturing Vietnam's colors better than probably any other post-Vietnam war film. The nice thing about this film is that nothing comes out the end like it should--we are initially led to believe there are romantic relationships that will shock us, but the film instead surprises us with the complexities of human relationships. Sorry, can't say more.
The Twilight Samurai is actually more of an anti-Samurai film. Seibei Iguchi isn't particularly interested in being a samurai, but he is, and he happens to be a damn good one (specializing in the 'short sword style'). If you don't like samurai movies, but like the idea of feud Japan, then this is the film for you. Very little fighting (and even less shown on-screen) and very much a story of human drama.
The Scent of Green Papaya is a sensitive portrayal of a young Mui--a servant girl in 1950s Vietnam. Not as visually stunning as The Vertical Ray of the Sun, there is a lot more aural pleasure in this film (not including soundtrack, which TVROTS is the clear winner here.)
Musa the Warrior is a Zhang Zi-Yi film (she of CTHD, House of Flying Daggers, and virtually everything else that comes out of A-S-I-A). Sort of a "poor person's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," but worth seeing for the cinematography and a couple of great fight scenes.
The Returner is Terminator-cum-Asia. You can totally see this as a summer blockbuster in Japan. A solid if conventional storyline accentuated by some delightful special effects.
A Better Tomorrow I & II signal Chow Yun-Fat's arrival on the film-making scene, but little more. I guess these could be considered the Hong Kong Scarface.
The Duel is a buddy film gone samurai. A "Hong Kong-style flick," this film is like a Jackie Chan flick gone native: eye candy only.
Purple Butterfly contains approximately 8.2 words of dialogue. A moving film that provides lots of emotional lost on a Western audience...I hope you can finish the film, because I could not. Too many sad goodbyes in train stations, too many quivering lips and forlorn stares. Clearly a "good film" that this movie-goer couldn't stand.
The Princess Blade. Netflix's summary: "It's the era after the apocalypse, and Yuki, a female assassin (Yumiko Shaku), is stunned to discover that her mother's murderer is her gang's leader. When she confronts him, she's forced to go on the lam, and the only person willing to help her is a former terrorist with whom she eventually falls in love. But can he keep her safe? Can she save herself?" This is clearly the setup for a winner.