HIFF Review Roundup
Nonstop movie buffs Myong Choi and Ed Morita will be screening all kinds of films at this year’s Hawaii International Film Festival. Here are some of the flicks they saw, with a brief review of whether it’s a must-watch or not.
“How to Use Guys with Secret Tips”
Country: South Korea
Director: Lee Won Suk
Stars: Lee Si Young, Oh Jung Se
- Friday, Oct. 18, 9:00 p.m. at Consolidated Koko Marina
- Saturday, Oct. 19, 7:30 p.m. at Dole Cannery
There was a time about 12 years ago when I thought, “wow, Korea is making movies just like Hollywood now!” I was excited that Korean cinema had come so far that films such as “Shiri” could match Hollywood in production value, budget and story. Cut to present time and now I dishearteningly say “ugh, Korea is making movies just like Hollywood now.”
“How to Use Guys with Secret Tips” is yet another South Korean film that borrows its formula from the predictable Hollywood cookie-cutting machine. It follows Hollywood’s romantic formula so diligently that I could predict what was going to happen in practically every scene. There’s the “meet cute.” Then the romance under false pretenses. Followed by the big revelation that puts the relationship in trouble, finally concluding with the couple inevitably making up after a big public confession. There is nothing in this film conceptually that audiences haven’t seen before.
And yet, I still couldn’t help but be entertained despite all of its flaws. All successful rom coms have one thing in common and that’s a lovable female lead. Whether it’s Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock or Kate Hudson, the romantic comedy cannot work if the audience doesn’t fall in love with the star. And Lee Si Young certainly gives a winning performance as the hopeful commercial director Bona who turns from meek to chic after buying a set of self help VHS tapes. I’ve been a fan of Lee’s for a long time and have always found her quirky charms adorable. An amateur boxing champion in real life, she definitely knows how to be tough as well as sweet and vulnerable. There are also many scenes that are flat out hilarious. – Review by Myong Choi
Verdict: Formulaic but funny
“A Leading Man”
Director: Steven Kung
Stars: Jack Yang, Heather Mazur
- Thursday, Oct. 17, 8:00 p.m. at Dole Cannery
- Friday, Oct. 18, 2:30 p.m. at Dole Cannery
After watching the first 30 minutes of “A Leading Man” I was ready to celebrate the film’s attack on Hollywood and its casting of stereotypical Asian characters. Jack Yang plays GQ, a handsome, confident and talented Asian-American actor unfortunately cast as a Chinese caricature in a terrible sitcom pilot. The film shows us the behind-the-scenes camaraderie of the Asian-American acting community as they all battle for the same limited roles and the dilemma they face each time they audition for a role that could be perceived as selling out but also could put food on their table so that they can scratch together somewhat of a living. When GQ finally speaks out against his racist director I had a big smile on my face and was ready to love this film for its bold portrayal of Asians in Hollywood.
But then the film takes a turn for the worse. It turns into a film not about the struggles of Asians, but of GQ and that would have been okay, except that GQ is horribly unlikable. He’s manipulative, arrogant and has an overwhelming sense of entitlement – many of the traits associated with today’s youth. Perhaps that had that been intended as the film’s true message but I don’t believe it is. Somewhere in there is a film about Asian-American struggles in Hollywood but it’s muddled with pointless melodrama. ” A Leading Man” could have been a film to reveal some truths behind the casting curtain but lacks the cajones to really show the truth. – Review by Myong Choi
Verdict: Opportunity missed.
“A Tale of Samurai Cooking: A True Love Story”
Director: Yuzo Asahara
Stars: Aya Ueto, Kengo Kora, Kimiko Yo, Toshiyuki Nishida
- Wednesday, Oct. 16 3:15 p.m. at Dole Cannery
Most real life love stories are rarely love at first sight. In fact, they can be quite complicated at times, happening over a long period of time. That is what happens in this terrific film from director, Yuzo Asahara. Set in the Edo period, “Samurai Cooking” follows a woman named Oharu (Aya Ueto). A talented cook, she marries into the Funaki family who have been prestigious cooks for the Kaga domain for several generations. However, Oharu’s new husband, Yasunobu (Kengo Kora) is a terrible cook and prefers his life as a samurai. As Oharu teaches Yasunobu to cook, their relationship begins with tolerance for each other which soon gives way to mutual respect, and eventually love. There are many great cooking scenes throughout the film that foodies will love, culminating with a grand banquet featuring beautiful food from the period. – Review by Ed Morita
Verdict: Oishii desu!
Director: Yuki Tanada
Stars: Hiromi Nagasaku, Renji Ishibashi, Masaki Okada, Fumi Nikaido, Taizo Harada, Keiko Awaji
- Friday, Oct. 18, 3:30 p.m. at Consolidated Koko Marina
Verdict: Mourning Recipes are also recipes for life.
“Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch”
Country: United States
Director: Angela Sun
Stars: Angela Sun
Showings: Plays as a double feature with the documentary, “Fishing Pono.”
- Thursday, Oct. 17, 6:00 p.m. at Dole Cannery
- Sunday, Oct. 20, 11:00 a.m. at Dole Cannery
- Thursday, Oct. 24, 7:30 p.m. Hilo Palace Theater
- Friday, Oct. 25, 5:15 p.m. Kauai – Waimea Theater
- Saturday, Oct. 26, 2:30 p.m. Kauai – St. Regis Hotel Princeville
Film maker, Angela Sun gives us a, unfiltered look at plastic’s effects have had on our ocean ecosystems. Despite this documentary’s title, Sun goes far beyond the floating garbage of the pacific gyre to examine the persistent organic pollutants threaten our food systems. It could be easy to just blame the companies who produce several hundred tons of plastic annually, which Sun does address in the film, she also addresses the societal aspect of this problem. It seams cliche to say, “if you don’t buy it, they wont make it,’ but it is true. Consumers can effect the industry if enough people take action by shopping responsibly. – Review by Ed Morita
Verdict: Don’t feed the plastic monster.
“Zone Pro Site: The Moveable Feast”
Director: Yu-Hsun Chen
Stars: Kimi Hsia, Yo Yang, Lin Mei-hsiu
- Thursday, Oct. 17, 6:00 p.m. at Consolidated Koko Marina
If you thought that the food pageantry of the original “Iron Chef” shows were over the top, then you won’t believe what goes down the catwalk in this film. The daughter of bandoh (traditional Taiwanese outdoor banquets) chef, Master Fly Spirit, Wan (Kimi Hsia) reluctantly follows in her father’s footsteps after his death. In hopes of getting herself out of debt, she enters a cooking competition to find the best chef in Taiwan. Along the way she acquires a cadre of eccentric sidekicks and an unlikely mentor, which makes this cute romantic comedy a real treat. – Review by Ed Morita
Verdict: Wok this way.
Director: Dante Lam
Stars: Nick Cheung, Eddie Peng, Mei Ting, Crystal Lee
- Sunday, Oct. 13, 4:30 p.m. at Consolidated Koko Marina
“Unbeatable” is one of the better fight flicks to come out in recent years, regardless of country. Despite a slightly disjointed storyline that initially causes some confusion as to whose story this movie actually tells, the performances and especially the fight scenes more than make up for it. Nick Cheung is brilliant as Scumbag Fai, a washed up former boxing champion who owes big money to some gangsters. He rents a small room from single mother Gwen (Mei Ting) who is slightly mentally ill after tragically losing her infant son in an accident and is now taken care of by her spunky daughter Dani (Crystal Lee). Fai also gets a job at a gym where he meets Lin Si Qi who wants to train for the upcoming MMA championship to prove a point to his bankrupt, alcoholic father.
Yes, there are some unnecessary plot points which drag the film out just a bit but the excellently choreographed and directed fight scenes really put you in the middle of the action and gets your blood pumping. Be aware though that some of the action is very brutal and even made me cringe. There was one particular move that literally made my jaw drop. And if you’re a fan of training montages like I am, “Unbeatable” offers some of the best. Very motivating for me personally as I’m scheduled to start Crossfit classes in a week. “Unbeatable” immediately goes to the top of my “must watch again” list. Don’t miss this one. – Review by Myong Choi
Verdict: Flawless Victory
Country: South Korea
Director: Song Hae-Sung
Stars: Park Hae Il, Yoon Je Moon, Gong Hyo Jin, Yoon Yeo Jeong
- Monday, Oct. 14, 3:15 p.m. at Dole Cannery
- Tuesday, Oct. 15, 9:00 p.m. at Consolidated Koko Marina
Jobless and directionless, brothers Oh Han Mo (Yoon Je Moon) and Oh In Mo (Park Hae Il) live at home with their doting mother. One is a former criminal who’s been in and out of prison, the other a recently divorced out-of-work movie director. They are joined by their promiscuous baby sister Oh Mi Yeon (Gong Hyo Jin) and her young daughter Mi Kyung. The three siblings constantly are at each other’s throats, barely tolerating each other’s existence while trying to prove that they’re just a little less worthless than the others. Meanwhile their mother (Yoon Yeo Jeong) plays the mediator, begging them to play nicely. The Oh family certainly is dysfunctional and that leads to many laugh out loud scenes even though some very awkward moments make you wonder if you should really be laughing. But this is standard for Korean cinema – never afraid to push the envelope and always trying to elicit emotions. – Review by Myong Choi
Verdict: Family matters
“Harlock: Space Pirate”
Director: Shinji Aramaki
Stars: Yu Aoi, Maaya Sakamoto, Shun Oguri, Haruma Miura
- Sunday, Oct. 13 8:00 p.m. at Dole Cannery
Anime fans will not want to miss this 3-D re-imagining of the classic “Captain Harlock.” Like all epic scale anime, there is a lot of exposition, which drags a little in the middle of the film, and the “G.I. Joe” style marksmanship is almost comical at times. Yet director Shinji Aramaki definitely delivers with beautiful computer animation, compelling characters and amazing action sequences, which had people at the end of the first screening cheering Sugoi! – Review by Ed Morita
Verdict: Get ready for launch!
Country: Taiwan, ROC
Director: Henry Chan
Stars: Johnny Lu, Tracy Chou
- Sunday, Oct. 13, 8:45 p.m. at Dole Cannery
- Monday, Oct. 14, 4:00 p.m. at Consolidated Koko Marina
- Saturday, Oct. 19, 10:45 a.m. at Dole Cannery
Part “Sweet Home Alabama,” and part “The Proposal,” this sweet romantic comedy about a city boy named Bo Dan (Lu) returning to his small island village for his mother’s burial and learning about the Chinese tradition of having to marry 100 days within her passing is sure to be a crowd pleaser. All of the island characters are memorable and likable, especially the lovely Xiao Wei (Chou) who is Bo Dan’s childhood love but is now engaged to his step brother. The island setting is also majestic yet quaint and serves as the perfect backdrop. This film will have you smiling and holding your date’s hand by the end of the movie. – Review by Myong Choi
Verdict: See it and fall in love all over again
“Ken and Mary: The Asian Truck Express”
Director: Kenta Fukasaku
Stars: Hu Bing, Naoto Takenaka, Zizan Raja Lawak, Kii Kitan
- Saturday, Oct. 12, 1:30 p.m. at Consolidated Koko Marina
Ken (Naoto Takenaka) is a father who is willing to do whatever it takes to get to his daughter’s wedding in Kuala Lumpur. After being stranded at a Malaysian airport due to a hurricane, Takenaka meets a truck driver named Mary (played by Hu Bing). At first, I found the film cheesy, but the the interplay between the uptight Ken and the lighthearted and occasionally goofy Mary made this a funny and enjoyable film. – Review by Ed Morita
Verdict: This truck delivers laughs.
“God of Ramen”
Director: Takashi Innami
Stars: Shosuke Tanihara, Kazuo Yamagishi
- Tuesday, Oct. 15, 6:15 p.m. at Dole Cannery
- Thursday, Oct. 17, 1:00 p.m. at Koko Marina
- Saturday, Oct. 19, 5:00 p.m. at Dole Cannery
- Saturday, Oct. 26, 11:30 a.m. at Waimea Theater
- Monday, Oct. 28, 5:00 p.m. at Palace Theater
The similarities between “God of Ramen” and last year’s festival hit, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” are obvious from the outset. Although not as cinematic as “Jiro,” “God of Ramen” proves to be a far more compelling film.
Both films tell the story of a master craftsman, but where “Jiro” profiled a restaurant at it’s zenith, “God of Ramen” follows the 10-year decline of Taishoken, a small 16-seat ramen shop in East Ikebukuro where people would travel from all over Japan and then wait in line for two hours or more for a bowl of Kazuo Yamagishi’s Tokyo-style ramen. To the ramen faithful, Yamagishi is their god and Taishoken is their Mecca, but even gods have their faults. –Review by Ed Morita
Verdict: Bittersweet, but still delicious.
“Very Ordinary Couple”
Country: South Korea
Director: Deok Roh
Stars: Lee Min Ki, Kim Min Hee
- Friday, Oct. 11, 8:45 p.m. at Dole Cannery
- Sunday, Oct. 13, 3 p.m. at Dole Cannery
- Monday, Oct. 14, 6:30 p.m. at Consolidated Koko Marina
This story of a recently split couple that can’t help but get back together isn’t as cute and cheery as the trailer makes it out to be. In fact, it’s quite a genuine look at how people are afraid to let go and fall back to what feels safe. Having been through a very similar situation in the past, the film reminded me of all the tolerance and patience it takes to try to force an inevitably doomed relationship to work. Love? More like obstinacy. –Review by Myong Choi
Verdict: Don’t watch it with your significant other.
Country: New Zealand
Director: Tearepe Kahi
Stars: Stan Walker, Temuera Morrison
- Friday, Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m. at Dole Cannery
- Sunday, Oct. 13, 3:45 p.m. at Dole Cannery
It would not be HIFF if there wasn’t a Tamuera Morrison film. Screening at this year’s Hawaii International Film Festival is the period film “Mt. Zion.” Although playing a supporting roll in this film, Morrison’s presence is still felt throughout the film. Known for his memorable rolls in “Once Were Warriors” and last year’s slasher comedy “Fresh Meat,” Morrison puts forth a nuanced performance as the working class father of Turei, played by Australian Idol winner Stan Walker.
Set in 1979, father and son work a potato farm in Pukekohe, New Zealand. Though his father is well respected for the work he does to provide for both his family and the community, Turei has loftier dreams beyond the water tower he and his friends have dubbed “Mt. Zion,” which comes in the form of a contest to find a local opening act for Bob Marley’s New Zealand tour. Along the way, Turei is forced to make hard decisions, many of which put him in direct opposition of his Maori upbringing. –Review by Ed Morita
Verdict: Irie mon!
Director: Junya Sakino
Stars: Eugene Kim, Gaku Hamada
- Saturday, Oct. 12, 7:15 p.m. at Dole Cannery
- Sunday, Oct. 13, 9:30 p.m. at Consolidated Koko Marina
- Friday, Oct. 19, 5 p.m. at Dole Cannery
This road movie about a wannabe Angry Asian Man type blogger and his cousin visiting from Japan starts off pretty cheesy, then grows on you. Sebastian is an unemployed blogger looking for an audience to hear his vents about Asian stereotypes. Naoto is soon to take over a sake factory in Japan, but first wishes to reconnect with his former English teacher and lover who moved back to California. As with any road movie, the two inevitably overcome their differences and bond, but it’s a credit to writer Jeff Mizushima and director Junya Sakino to fill this predictable comedy with identifiable characters and tons of heart. –Review by Myong Choi
Verdict: Can be enjoyed sober.
Country: United Kingdom
Director: David Frankel
Stars: Colm Meaney, Julie Walters, Mackenzie Crook, James Corden, Simon Cowell
- Monday, Oct. 14, 6:30 at Dole Cannery
- Tuesday, Oct. 15, 4:00 p.m. at Dole Cannery
Had I not followed the meteoric rise of Paul Potts from mobile phone salesman to international opera star, I would have thought the film “One Chance” was a complete work of fiction. Colm Meaney does a terrific job playing the lovable lead character in this film that follows Potts’s life from his meek beginings as an awkward kid singing in the church choir through the various obsticles in this life and culminating in his eventual audition in the first season of Britain’s Got Talent that quickly went viral and made his a star. –Review by Ed Morita
Verdict: Life is sweeter than fiction