Category Archives: movie review

Interstellar: A Tribute to 2001: A Space Odyssey?


Spoiler Warning

Following Gravity last year, Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, is another major science-fiction film. Unlike the personal struggle in Gravity, however, Interstellar is of an epic scale. It concerns with the survival of the entire human race, and explores scientific concepts as deep as relativity, worm hole and black holes. No major scientific-fiction film has dared to embark on such an ambitious project since Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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2001: A Space Odyssey: A Film of Music and Mysticism

2001 A Space Odyssey screenshot 1920x1080 (14)

2001: A Space Odyssey is an enigmatic film. It is a science – fiction film that meticulously portrayed a scientifically accurate picture of the space but is also puzzle riddled with many mystic symbols. It starts as a conventional story of space exploration but ends with a mysterious spirit approaching the Earth. It is a film with so many conflicting notions, that I was stupefied at the end of the screening. In Stanley Kubrick’s own ironic terms, this film is a ‘mythological documentary’ or a ‘controlled dream’.

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Orientalism in Lawrence of Arabia

T.E Lawrence and Sherif Ali

T.E Lawrence and Sherif Ali

The East is distant, mysterious and sensual. An archetypical oriental picture would have been an Indian Raj lying comfortably on the soft Turkish carpet, drinking wine in a silver jeweled cup and watching a group of young thinly dressed Indian women performing belly dance. Another typical oriental picture might be a group of Arab nomads ridding on camels in the limitless golden desert. At night, they set – up a little camp fire whose flames compete with the glow of the night’s multitude of stars. The little children surround the fire and listen to the old wise man narrating ancient tales that his grandfather has told him when he was small.

Lawrence of Arabia is a film like this. Its sheer scale is breathtaking. It spans for 4 whole hours, including a 15 minute intermission. Yet, it achieved immense success, winning 7 Oscar Awards and being considered as one of the greatest epic films. Part of the reasons, I believes, lies in its exploration of the exotic Arabia.

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Nosferatu (1922) – A German Expressionism Classic

The Shadow of Nosferatu Climbing Up the Stairs to Ellen's Room

The Shadow of Nosferatu Climbing Up the Stairs to Ellen’s Room

I was never a film connoisseur but the scene in The Artist where Valentin lifted blankets in Peppy ‘s mansion and was shocked to learn it was Peppy who purchased his auctioned effects has left a deep impression in me. Against the backdrop of a flood of light from the door, Valentin cast a long shadow on every objects he found, in his horror, to have belonged to him, including his self – portrait and the three wise monkeys clock. This use of light, shadow and familiar objects, I later found out, is known as German Expressionism.

Nosferatu is a classic German Expressionist movie directed by F.W. Murnau in 1922. The film is created when the new Weimar Republic just survived the Kapp Putsch in 1920 that paralyzed Berlin and was waiting to see Hitler’s Munich Putsch in 1923. In this politically unstable period, conspiracies were rampant. It was no surprise that many horror films like Faust or Dr. Mabuse at the time featured an evil conspirator who contrived for domination.

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Faust (1926) – F. W. Murnau’s Last German Movie

Faust (1926) - F. W. Murnau, Emil Jannings

Faust (1926) is F. W. Murnau last German movie before he moved to Hollywood for good. It was made between the famous Nosferatu, the horror masterpiece that defines the genre, and Sunrise, the last masterpiece of the silent era. It is a loose adaptation of Goethe’s play, which is also based on several variation of this classic German folklore about a man signing off his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and earthly pleasure in his lifetime.
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Skyfall (2012) – When James Bond needs to retire?

‘Take the bloody shoot!’ ordered the MI6 Boss M (Judi Dench). Eve (Naomie Harris), the fellow agent, duly triggered. James Bond (Daniel Craig) fell to the river and flushed to the fall. This is the end. Hold your breath and count ten 

Fifty years since the 1st installment Dr. No (1962),  we are no longer haunted by the Soviet global domination or an immediate nuclear attack. In this post – modern age, we are more at the hostage of hackers who can sift through the iTune store security system and steal our credit card passwords than a band of amateurish scientists building primitive nuclear weapons in Iran or North Korea.

That’s how James Bond has to move with age. This time, a computer hard drive containing the identity of NATO’s  undercover agents was stolen by Silva,  the obnoxious mastermind who is more interested at personal retribution than any old – fashioned world domination idea (Recall Julian Assange.)

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Into the Abyss (2011)

Into the Abyss (2012) – Werner Herzog

During Into the Abyss (2011) Werner Herzog interviewed two men convicted of a triple homicides which occurred in Conroe, Texas. Herzog also interviewed the families and friends of the victims and murderers, whose lives are deeply affected by the case. The interviews were framed and edited in a candid and direct approach, the power of the film comes from Herzog’s ability to penetrate into the psyches of the interviewees, revealing a level of honesty that is both mesmerizing and painful to watch.
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Vincent Malloy (1982) – In Anticipation to Frankenweenie

Vincent Malloy is seven years old. He’s always polite and does what he’s told.

Vincent Malloy is a short 6 minute stop – motion film directed by Tim Burton, telling a story about a young, possibly deranged, boy drowned in daydreams and fantasies.

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The Last Emperor (1987)

Puyi: ‘Do you think a man can become an Emperor again?’
Johnston: ‘Yes’

China after 1911 witnessed a rush of unprecedented optimism that welcomed foreign ideas like republicanism, democracy and freedom. Using the Georgian calendar, driving mobile car and wearing western suit became a sign of culture and modernity – a final victory of the civilized West. In another secluded place, the high red wall insulated an ancient culture from this rush, trying, rather obstinately, to protect the old traditions in keeping the lunisolar calendar, riding horses and wearing Qing robes. This is the Forbidden City.

The Inner Court within this Forbidden City which itself is a city within the Peking city resides a person representing these futile or noble, depending on how you see, attempts. He was hailed as the Lord of Ten Thousand Years but was stripped off any effective power by the age of 6. He was the absolute lord in his own court but a powerless commoner beyond the red wall. He is Puyi – the last emperor of China.

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Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012)

Zhou Xun in Painted Skin: Resurrection

Faust, a scholar, sold his soul to Satan, in return for supernatural power – a German myth celebratedly written in Goethe’s play. Painted Skin: The Resurrection retold this story in the form of a traditional Chinese ghost story, with flowery kimono, aesthetic scenery and most importantly in an intense romantic story.

Eight years ago during a hunting, a black bear tore half of the beautiful Princess Jing’s face, later wearing a golden mask to hide the disfigured face. Her lover, Huo Xin, failing to protect the Princess, was exiled to protect the borders. Eight years after, Princess Jing went to find Huo Xin but met the Fox Xiao Wei who wants someone to voluntarily offer a heart to become a human. Using a spell, the Fox clouded Huo Xin’s eyes to love her self – painted face and to make him distancing from Princess Jing. The Fox began to persuade her to exchange her heart in return for a spotless face that could attract back the beloved Huo Xin.

It seems an open secret that men love the beauty of women, sometimes not only at his own costs but at the costs of million lives; Paris’ attraction for Helen (triggering the Trojan war) and King Zhou (紂王) ‘s indulgence for Daji (妲己) (leading to the downfall of the Shang dynasty) very well demonstrated this.

The popular interpretation for Huo Xin’s love for the Fox and Princess Jing’s spotless face is how the skin (皮相) often overshadowed the essence of beauty that lies in the heart(心相). This reminds me of the words spoken by the Little Prince: Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. (Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye).

Visual beauty presents illusion like moon in water – transient, intangible and unreal. Yet few realizes this but keeps sinking into the quagmire.Consequently, as the Little Prince has remarked, Huo Xin  sees not the essentials, i.e. Princess Jing’s love, but wrongly concentrates on the trivialities.

Interestingly, the deal between Princess Jing and the Fox struck a chord with the Faustian myth. The psychological struggle within Princess Jing and the wider conflicts among her, Huo Xin and the Fox have furnished the traditional short story recorded in the Strange Tales of Liaozhai (聊齋誌異) and also deepened the psychological activities in the characters that are often completely absent in traditional Chinese literature.

At the final scene, Huo Xin no longer needs to see the Princess. He ‘hears’ her. That’s more than enough.

Painted Skin: The Resurrection is directed by Wuershan , starring Kun Chen, Wei Zhao, and Xun Zhou

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