Friday, March 11, 2011
Friday, November 19, 2010
Sunday, July 04, 2010
Director; Johnnie To
Starring; Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Nick Cheung, Simon Yam, Suet Lam, Roy Cheung
Set on the island of Macau in 1998 'Exiled' tells the story of five friends who grew up together in the gangs of Hong Kong. One of these five, Wo (Nick Cheung), has been in exile for many years after attempting to assassinate the crime boss of Hong Kong, Boss Fay (Simon Yam), but now Wo has a family and is tired of running, so he moves to Macau to make a new life for himself. Unfourtunatly, Boss Fay has not forgotten Wo's transgressions and sends another of the five friends, Blaze (Anthony Wong), to see Wo dead. However, while Blaze and his partner Fat (Suet Lam) must follow orders and kill their friend Wo, the remaining two friends Tai (Francis Ng) & Cat (Roy Cheung) are intent on protecting him, even if it means going against Boss Fay and becoming exiles themselves. This predicament and the decisions than the five friends must make provide the films intrinsic themes; brotherhood, honour, loyalty and friendship, themes not at all uncommon in the HK action genre.
Likewise, there's a great sense of familiarity across the board here. Actors such as Anthony Wong, Simon Yam and Francis Ng are all veterens of HK action films, and Johnnie To's direction itself recalls the hey-day of HK action with numerous nods to Tsui Hark and John Woo. But despite this film evoking a sense of deja-vu at almost every turn, it's a fantastically paced movie that's all the more better when regarding the sum of it's parts. Anthony Wong & Francis Ng provide stalwart performances as the films two leads and they are supported by a fantastic cast; Suet Lam and Roy Cheung as their stoic partners in crime, Simon Yam as the crazed, bat-shit insane mob boss, Richie Ren as a sharpshooting police sergeant and Eddie Cheung as bizarre deal-broker and pimp. Meanwhile, the setting, cinematography and soundtrack all conspire to create a wonderful backdrop for the convoluted plot. Also, Macau is presented as an idlyic sort of place, always in the shadow of Hong Kong, and the cinematography and setting only help further this idea with many outdoor shots and vibrant yellows and oranges and greens employed throughout. Macau was a Portugese colony for much of it's history, which I believe To alludes to through the films soundtrack which at times sounds almost like a spaghetti western and serves to immediately set 'Exiled' apart from To's previous films and those of his peers, many of which star the same actors.
Overall Johnnie To's 'Exiled' is a film at odds with itself. On one hand it's a stylish, over the top Hong Kong gangster film, on the other it's a melancholy movie about friendship and the past, but for the most part these two sections perfectly compliment each other. Some may find the plot somewhat confusing, but it's brilliantly presented with a veteran cast, some amazing action set-pieces and a few moments of inspired direction. Also, 'Exiled' left me with a good number of things to consider afterwards (for instance; what appeared to be a continuity error actually ended up providing another facet to one of the characters that I had not previousley considered) which is more than I can say for most action films.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Director; Johnnie To & Wai Ka-Fai
Staring; Lau Ching-Wan, Andy On, Ka Tung Lam & Kelly Li
Johnnie To & Wai Ka-Fai's Mad Detective is a film that turns the Hong Kong crime genre upon it's head. Based around the simple concept of a man that can see everyone's hidden personas, Mad Detective is anything but formulaic and right from the very start disuades any notion that this is just another flashy HK crime flick. Lau Ching-Wan stars as the eponymous Mad Detective, Inspector Chan Kwai-Bun, a brilliant detective forced into retirement when his methods and actions become a little too bizarre. Alongside him Andy On plays young Inspector Ho who tries to enlist the aid of retired Inspector Bun to solve a complex murder case involving a missing police officer and a suspect with multiple personalities.
What follows is a highly ingenious, highly inventive and above all, highly entertaining piece of cinema. Paced perfectly, this viewer sat on the edge of his seat, intrigued and enthralled in equal measure and delighting and the simple, unrestrained freshness of this film and it's premise. Lau Ching-Wan plays his part exceptionally well as the oddball Inspector Bun, throwing all semblence of logic out of the window as he investigates the case, but it's a straight faced performance; there's no comedy here as the plot and it's characters take themselves very seriousley. However, despite this it's hard not to find humour in some of the scenes involving multiple personalities, and whether this was the directors intent or not, it does provide a handful of light hearted moments that help to break up this complex and down-right weird film into more palatable pieces.
Overall, if you're looking for a crime film that's as inventive and intriguing as it is enjoyable, you can't go wrong with Mad Detective. See it now before Hollywood does a shitty remake with Leonardo Di Caprio.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Staring: Mads Mikkelson, Maarten Stevenson
This seems to be quite a divisive movie - on the one hand, it's a breathtaking work of cinematography and the director creates a wonderfully dense and opressive atmosphere through the stark enviroment that plays backdrop to the films chaotic events, the sparse and suspensful dialogue and the droning martial industrial soundtrack. On the other hand, this is an experimental film marketed as an action movie - on more than one occasion I saw it mentioned in the same breath as 2007's Beowulf or the recent remake of Clash of the Titans. I can only assume that anyone viewing the film under a pretence of similarity with those aforementioned movies would be greatly disapointed, and even though I largely enjoyed the movie at home I have to question whether i'd feel the same after viewing it in the cinema.
You see, nothing much happens in Valhalla rising. The film ostensibly tells the story of One-Eye, a savage mute living a life of captivity among the pagan tribes of Scotland and forced to fight in brutal deathmatches. He eventually wins his freedom and joins with a group of Christian mercenaries intent on reclaiming the holy land, but once their voyage begins things take a turn for the weird and they find themselves stranded in a strange land seemingly untouched by civilisation. Although the plot is fairly straight forward, the manner in which it's handled is decidedly experimental and vague and leads one to believe that there's a deeper subtext to be found.
The film is broken into a number of sections, each labelled in a religious tone as much of the movie seems to be a comment on the differences between the pagan religion of old and the invading Christian beliefs - the protagonist himself recalls Odin, with his solitary eye and cryptic visions of the future, and while the Christian characters stumble blindly towards their fate, pleading and begging for mercy, One-Eye heads unflinchingly into the fate laid out for him, just like the pagan chieftans at the beginning, knowing their days were numbered in the face of the relentless tide of Christianity.
Overall i'd reccomend Valhalla Rising - it's certainly not a movie for everyone, not a movie i'd ever watch with company and certainly not a movie i'd try and sell as an action blockbuster, but Nicolas Winding Refn has succeeded here in creating a deep and intriguing world with this film and on a relatively meagre budget. There are some fantastic performances from the cast, a handful of vicious and bloody fight scenes and beautiful, arresting imagery throughout. It's a film that has left me contemplating it's meaning long after I had finished watching, and while it's not an experience that may appeal to many, ultimately it's films like this that inspire and intiruge that are the one's worth watching.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Director: Masahiro Andō
Staring: Tomoya Nagase, Yuri Chinen, Kōichi Yamadera
Set during Japan's feudal period 'Sword of the Stranger' tells the story of a young orphan boy named Kotaro who finds himself pursued by ruthless group of soldiers in the employ of China's Ming Emperor. With no idea as to why he is being chased Kotaro desperately enlists the help of a mysterious ronin named Nanashi (literally meaning Nameless or No Name) who has the curious habit of fighting with his sword sheathed, although this doesn't appear to make his skills any less lethal. As the reasons behind the Ming's pursuit become apparent Nanashi finds himself having to relive and face up to the past that has for many years haunted him if he is to have any chance of saving Kotaro from his would-be captors.
Directed by first-timer Masahiro Andō and produced by Bones 'Sword of the Stranger' is a real visual treat. The high-octane fight scenes are lavishly animated and expertly choreographed with a visceral sense of speed, but that's not to say the scenes without action aren't just as beautifully presented. The artwork and animation remain consistently excellent throughout and while some may find the colour palette subdued, the scenes of wanton bloodshed provide a stark contrast against the almost ethereal depiction of the landscape.
In terms of the story 'Sword of the Stranger' does nothing you won't have seen before, but has the definite virtue of not trying to do too much. The film is expertly paced, never once dragging or out-staying it's welcome - a pleasant suprise considering this is Masahiro's directorial debut. The characters will seem pretty standard to most, Kotaro is initially standoffish and reluctant to show his vulnerability while Nanashi attempts to hide his wounded past through humour and an anti-hero attitude straight out of a Clint Eastwood western. Ultimately events force both Kotaro and Nanashi to open up and trust each other, but the point is never forced home and feels like a natural progression for the characters.
Overall 'Sword of the Stranger' is a spectacular achievement and not just for the superlative animation. The characters are believable and more importantly likeable, the story is entirely engaging without ever feeling bloated, the music is suitably epic and the visuals are thoroughly intoxicating, the end result is a highly enjoyable anime feature that remains entertaining from start to finish.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Knytt Stories is the in-direct sequel to freeware game Knytt developed by Niflas. The Knytt series (and to an extent Niflas' other games like Within a Deep Forest) feature beatiful 2d landscapes, atmospheric music and sound effects, and addictive gameplay thats part adventure, part platforming, and 100% awesome. While the original Knytt had a story, it wasn't integral to the gameplay, and the games only downside was the relatively short ammount of time needed to complete it - Knytt Stories fixes this by adding a level editor, enabling players to design and create their very own levels set within the Knytt Universe. I'd highly reccomend this game to anyone with a PC, it's free, it's addictive and theres multiple types of gameplay on offer - whether you like to explore in a scenic and ambient enviroment, solve logic puzzles on your way to success, or negotiate challenging platforming obstacles, Knytt Stories provides this in spades, and the level editor should ensure that you're playing and sharing yours and others creations for a good while to come.
Here's my first full level made with the editor entitled 'House Hunting';
To install just load up Knytt Stories, go to Intall Level and then drag the .knytt.bin file into the Knytt Stories window and the game will automatically install the level for you.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Episode 1: Part 1
Episode 1: Part 1
Episode 2: Part 1
Episode 2: Part 2
Thursday, June 07, 2007
When Valkyrie Profile launched near the end of the PS1's life-cycle not many people took notice, they were too busy playing Dreamcast or waiting for a PS2, but if they had paid attention they might have not missed one of the most underated JRPGs to appear on Sony's debut system. Now with the franchise resurected on PS2 Square-Enix have released the original Valkyrie Profile here on the PSP, but does it stand up to the test of time? Is this a faithful port, or have Square ruined a classic? Of course not - this games awesome, here's why...
In Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth you play 'Lenneth' a Valkyrie (collector of souls of the dead) who is charged by Lord Odin the All-Father (God of the Gods) to leave Valhalla (Heaven) and return to Midgard (Earth) in order to recruit Einherjar (brave warriors who have died in battle) for the great final-battle Ragnarok (aka the End of the World). You start the game on the map screen, flying high above Midgard. From here you can innitiate spiritual concentration that heightens Lenneth's senses and enables her to locate nearby pain and suffering - thats a smart way of saying you press the start button and it adds new locations on to your map. There are two types of locations you can visit; Towns, and Dungeons - these take place from a 2d side scrolling view. Dungeons are where you level up your characters while Towns are where you'll progress the storylines of certain characters, and eventually recruit new characters.
The game is divided into eight chapters - each chapter is comprised of 24 turns, when you visit a town or a dungeon you use up one turn. One chapter represents an entire generation on Midgard so once you progress to the next chapter time will have moved on - this means that you may not be able to recruit a character you wanted because you wasted too much time visiting unimportant places but it also means that new characters and locations will become available. At the end of each chapter you are evaluated on how many Einherjar you have recruited, their levels and skills, their personality and any special items you have returned to Odin - Valhalla will then give you advice on what they require of you for the next chapter and won't hesitate to inform you if your warriors aren't up to scratch.
Innevitably as a characters storyline progresses they will die and Lenneth will recruit them to become Einherjar - you can have a maximum party of 4, so you must level up your 3 Einherjar and transfer them to Valhalla before the end of the chapter - it is your job to train these Einherjar and make them worthy of fighting at Ragnarok. But here's where it gets complicated - not only do you have to train the Einherjar in terms of their level and their fighting stats, or what spells they learned; you have to train their personalities too. Many of the characters you meet will have gaping flaws in their psyche, some will be arrogant, suicidal, or vain etc - it's your job to eliminate these traits from their personality and replace them with positive traits such as courage, heroism, fearlessness etc - you train personality traits by using CP (Capacity) which you obtain as you go up in level, to level you find dungeons on the world map and combat enemies for XP.
On top off all that you have EXP (Event XP) which you are awarded for completing specific events, this goes into an EXP orb which lets you distribute EXP to specific characters. Sound complicated? Well it get's worse - your characters must also be adaquatly armed before you send them to Valhalla or they'll be slaughtered at Ragnarok. To properly equip your characters you'll need to make them some weapons and armor - this is where the Divination system comes into play. As the game progresses Lenneth will gain MP (Materialize Points) and these will allow her to Divine weapons, armor and items for your characters however doing so uses up MP but luckily you can convert old items and equipables into MP.
Also, items can be transmuted into other items but this too consumes MP. Not every item has to be created, you'll still find items in chests or from fallen enemies in dungeons. Some items you find will be considered Atrifacts and you have a choice to either transfer the item to Valhalla for EXP or to keep the item but suffer a rating loss at the end of the chapter, you can however release the item to Valhalla before the end of the chapter but using it will decrease the ammount of EXP you are awarded for it - the game also introduces a nice platforming & puzzling element with Lenneths Ice Crystal abillity - by pressing the sqaure button you can fire Ice Crystals at solid objects to make platforms, if you fire at the same ice crystal you can increase the size of that crystal but the crystals will collapse after time. The ice crystals have other properties too - exploding them will cause the crystal to shatter into dust that Lenneth can float on for a period of time, also you can fire the crystals at enemies to freeze them and then move them to use as platforms and finally crystals can reflect beams of light which is used in one instance where you have to place 4 crystals at different points in the room to refract the beam of light into the specific place to unlock a door.
The combat is a bizzare mix of Turn-Based and Real-Time combat, and works suprisingly well. As in most turn-based RPGs you'll wait your turn to give out your orders, but unlike most turn-based RPGs you then control the timing and order of how your characters attack as each character is assigned to a different face button. The advantage of this is that it lets you pull of different combinations between your characters and different attacks will have different effects. For instance, you could be facing an ememy that has incredible defence when guarding - 3 of your 4 characters attack with melee weapons but none of their weapons are of a high enough level to perform a guard break, so you use your 4th character who is a magician and cast a explosion spell which knocks the enemy off their feet - wait for them to hit the floor and then attack with your 3 melee characters before the enemy can get up. However, you must be aware of TP (turn points) which are expended when a character performs an action - when you've used all the turn points your turn is over.
If you perform a continuous attack using all of your party members you will build up your special attack guage which allows you to select one of your character to perform their special abillity - however, each character can only perform one special attack per battle and this has an even bigger effect on magical characters as using special attacks will add to your CT (Charge Turn) which governs how many magical attacks that character can use per battle. So effectivly by using a magical characters special attack you are limiting the ammount of normal magical attacks they can perform for the rest of the battle.
Story - I really like the Norse influences in the game and it's a totally unconventional storyline made up of multiple stories of multiple characters.
Gameplay - Most JRPGs are quite linear so the freedom offered in this game was a shock to me, and it can be hard at first to get a hang of what you are doing while under the constraints of the time limit, but ultimatly it's really challenging. The combat is great too and is a good twist on the usual turn-based style battles. Also the platforming and puzzling elements were really welcome and offered a break from levelling up.
Presentation - The presentation of this game is a big factor, with beatiful landscapes and character designs - plus theres animations for practically every action which shows the time and effort put into the game. Battle animations are really where this game shines with some exceptionally crazy spells and skills at later points in the game that deal mass damage - also the only major change between this version and the PSX original; beatiful CG cut-scenes that are integrated really well into the original and add a lot to the dramatic effect of the story.
Sound - The sound is pretty good, while never being really exceptional or memorable it's not annoying either which is more than I can say for some RPG music.
Replayability - Valkyrie Profile is pretty huge, but also it's pretty intimidating too. You may feel lost at first, but if you percivere you may just become adicted - and if you do, you'll probally want to play through it again...which is handy as by increasing the difficulty level you open up new weapons, new characters, new storylines and new endings.
Overall - Get this if you're looking for a huge RPG that will last you ages. It's quite a complicated game and not for the feinthearted (and certainly not for anyone whose never played a JRPG before) but it's a hugely rewarding game that advocates discipline and tough choices. If you're a JRPG fan, you should feel right at home and before you know it you'll be 50 hours in and about ready to restart on a harder difficulty level