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The Man Who Feels No Pain

Asian Cinema, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

This frenzied mish-mash of Bollywood musical, martial arts actioner and comic book origin tale is told with an eye towards western cinematic sensibilities and an affectionate reverence of filmic pop culture.

It follows the travails of Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani, son of Indian screen star Bhagyashree), a young man with a rare disorder that also proves very handy: he has a congenital insensitivity to pain. His ailments also include a requirement for constant hydration, which necessitates wearing a backpack that stores a ready supply of water, though it tends to run dry at inopportune moments, meaning Surya has to come up with creative ways to imbibe H2O.

Throughout his formative years, Surya exists on a diet of Kung Fu and action movies and he teaches himself martial arts moves so that he can dispense vengeance on the gang that robbed his mother when he was a young baby, killing her in the process. Surya is always at the side of his best friend and childhood crush Supri (Radhika Madan), whose father is a violent drunk, forcing Surya to teach him some knuckle-sandwich infused home truths, ultimately putting Supri’s father in the hospital.

As a young man, Surya yearns to meet his idol, a one-legged martial arts guru named Karate Mani (Gulshan Devaiah), and after meeting him, Surya soon encounters his scenery-chewing evil twin, Jimmy (also played by Gulshan Devaiah). Soon, the adult Surya and Supri must fight the fight of their lives, defending themselves against henchman and street scum alike as Surya struggles to realise his childhood dream of being an unstoppable, karate-chopping, leg-sweeping, force for justice on the streets of Mumbai.

At times it’s so tight you’d think Edgar Wright was sneaking into the edit room, at other times the sequences are languid and baggy. That said, the overwhelming sense of joy and fun that Vasan Bala is having here – name-checking his Hollywood influences and designing inventive and crazy fight sequences – is contagious (though the amount of scenes depicting children being beaten is positively Dickensian). Street locations are brightly decorated and colourfully lensed and the soundtrack is tacky and sweet, making this slice of Bollywood geekdom a ton of fun. The running time, as you would expect, is over two hours but the reward is in the journey and there’s lots of fun to be had in this alternately goofy, melodramatic and surreal chop-sock-rom-com.

 
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Dragon Ball Super: Broly

animation, Asian Cinema, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The latest feature-length instalment of one of the most ubiquitous, beloved and memeable anime franchises out there, Broly is basically a best-of-both-worlds situation. It takes the endearingly goofy tone of Battle of Gods and the large-scale action chops of Resurrection ‘F’ and combines them in a way that retains all of the positives and burns away most of the negatives.

The sense of humour on display here is so on-point, it’s staggering. Not since the legendary DBZ Abridged series has this material been able to generate this many belly laughs, largely thanks to Sean Schemmel as the ever-loving goofball Goku and Jason Douglas as Beerus, the destroyer god who just wants to nap without being interrupted. It’s all character-derived stuff, leaning less on the BoG slapstick, and through that, it turns out effective as well as melding well with the more action-oriented moments.

When it comes time for Goku and the eponymous Broly to start throwing down (the bulk of the film is that fight), it results in glorious displays of widespread destruction. The intensity and high-flash line work in the animation is on the same tier as Asura’s Wrath, right down to the amount of terrain-scorching that goes on; looking like the result of two gods brawling with each other. It can get quite hectic in places and admittedly a little difficult to entirely make out, but between the raw strength at work and the adaptability of the fighters involved, it makes for well-earned chaos.

It even features solid dramatic touches connected to Broly’s character. Shown through an impressively-nimble flashback sequence, which gives plentiful background history for the characters and story at large, he is depicted as a rather tragic antagonist. Born with immeasurable power, exiled out of jealousy and raised to exact revenge, Broly’s first official entry into the franchise sets him up as the yang to Goku’s yin.

Both are exceptionally powerful, both were sent away from their home planet, and both have a natural tendency for friendship rather than aggression. But because of their different upbringing, what we get is a rather point-blank depiction of the classic ‘nature vs. nurture’ dilemma, showing how Broly being raised as a weapon of vendetta turned him into a psychologically-scarred and damaged soul. It adds an unexpected touch of unease to the action scenes, knowing that Broly was pushed into them by intents other than his own. It’s kind of sad in its own way.

Considering this and the previous films exist out of a potential need for creator Akira Toriyama to redeem his own franchise after the baffling Westernisation of Dragon Ball: Evolution, this represents the absolute accomplishment of that goal. A very funny, very thrilling and even occasionally moving effort that gives the long-time fans more of what they love, and a sufficient entry point for newcomers to get in on the fun.

Photo credit: ©BIRD STUDIO/SHUEISHA ©2018 DRAGON BALL SUPER THE MOVIE PRODUCTION COMMITTEE

 
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Melodrama / Random / Melbourne!

Asian Cinema, Australian, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

An unusual pink hue is one of the shades that Melbourne is seen through in Melodrama / Random / Melbourne!, the film by VCA alum and emerging Australian-Fillipino director Mathew Victor Pastor.

Melodrama / Random / Melbourne! is the second part in the up-and-coming practitioner’s Filipino-Australian trilogy following I am JUPITER I am the BIGGEST PLANET (15 mins) – a thriller about a mother in the red light district of the Philippines.

Co-written and starring Celina Yuen, MRM! screened at the 2018 Adelaide Film Festival, and follows various disparate characters around the metropolitan Melbourne melting pot.

In this vast milieu, we are introduced to an assortment of personalities: amongst them a Filipino-Australian feminist documentarian, a pickup artist, and a virgin – all of whom are disparate characters removed from each other; all trying to go about their lives and all crossing paths.

It is a lens we nary see through, especially in Australian films. The perspective of those living on the margins and fringes, who never would have met each other.

The narrative is told by filmmaker Aries Santos (Bridget O’Brien), who is struggling to complete her new film.

In this mix, sheaths of pink, red and various others are just a few of the colours employed in Pastor’s movie.

As various individuals tussle and interlace – the internet, toxic masculinity, racism and xenophobia are but a few of the topics that the 80 minute feature touches on.

This is a tale that wavers between experimental and narrative, and takes on several characters and storylines.

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, there are a few issues with the piece. Some characters, such as the virgin come across at times as not fully sketched, not entirely multi-dimensional.

Several stories feel unsatisfactorily closed, occasionally pre-emptively or arbitrarily introduced or finished.

This may be due to a larger question of the film taking on too many strands and disparate beats, in the end confusing viewers.

What does it all add up to? What Pastor is trying to say, or not say, in this jungle, ultimately becomes clouded amidst the range of styles, POV, place, character.

Effort, vivacious colours and zaniness are there, albeit inconsistently – though one gets the sense that this relentless image-maker will refine this.

MELODRAMA / RANDOM / MELBOURNE! (Trailer 2) from Matthew Victor Pastor on Vimeo.

 
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Kosai Sekine: Trouble in Tokyo

One of Japan’s most exciting new directors was in Melbourne recently to promote his latest film, Love At Least, which deals with mental illness with an Asian touch.
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Shoplifters

Asian Cinema, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Having won this year’s Palme d’Or, Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Shoplifters is looking to take a running jump at our collective feelings.

In its opening scene, we meet Osamu (Lily Franky) and his son Shota (Jyo Kairi) setting out to do a morning’s grocery shopping. A fist bump and several sneaky manoeuvres later, and it’s quickly evident that Osamu and Shota are fans of the five fingered discount. They don’t rob the shop blind, however, merely getting enough noodles and accompaniments to feed their family back at home, each of whom have their own way of wheeling and dealing.

Mother Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) steals from work, eldest daughter Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) works at a peep show, and Grandma (Kirin Kiki) hits her dead ex-husband’s family up for cash on a regular basis. Into this morally dubious tribe comes the cute as a button infant, Yuri (Miyu Sasaki). Having been found on a doorstep, apparently locked out by her abusive parents, Osamu offers the fragile child a place to stay and offer up some missing love along the way.

Shoplifters utterly disarms you with its charm from frame one. Whilst it’s fairly light in plot, particularly when stacked up against its two-hour running time, Kore-Eda lovingly runs off with the old adage of ‘you can’t choose your family’, repackaging it into a heart-warming exploration of this little tribe tucked away in Japan. They rarely fight and never seem to want anyone to get hurt out of their actions. Justifying their shoplifting tendencies, Nobuyo admits that they don’t want their victims to go bankrupt and she seems to mean it.

And then trouble hits and Kore-Eda unpacks everyone’s backstory, offering the pieces up for re-evaluation in light of new information. In hindsight, he does leave his audience crumbs to follow before then, but the final effect is never less than a gut punch.

Little Yuri isn’t the catalyst, but her arrival does coincide with Osamu’s family questioning their positions within the home. Aki sees a new life, Osamu and Nobuyo reignite their sexual attraction for each other, and Grandma contemplates the lives she’ll leave behind should she one day pass away.

There’s no point trying to single out one performance that mirrors the whole. Each actor brings their best to the table, whilst the film takes a breather from the overall ensemble to focus on the plot thread of one or two of its members. Kore-Eda’s direction is rarely flashy, choosing to sit us alongside the family, whilst they wolf down their regular evening meals of noodles and gluten cake, as if we were always meant to be there. His love for his characters is evident and a warmth runs throughout. It’s rather telling that he keeps any tragedy that’s thrown at his protagonists throughout the film firmly off screen.

Humorous, poignant and often bittersweet, Shoplifters is a family drama with a heavy emphasis on family.