Friday, June 29, 2012

LOVE IN A PUFF (HK 2010) -- B-

 Smoke 'em if ya got 'em.

Director: Pang Ho-Cheung, Screenwriters: Pang Ho-Cheung, Heiward Mak, Producer: Subi Liang, Cast: Miriam Yeung, Shawn Yue, Cheung Tat-Ming, Miao Felin, Vincent Kok, Jo Koo


I don't smoke, but I live with a smoker, so I understand all the little rituals that go along with the habit. Sure, there's that sinking feeling of being ostracized from the rest of society, but with that aspect can come a real sense of community amongst fellow smokers. Also, an addiction to cigarettes requires taking habitual smoke breaks with a friend or even a group of friends -- and it's in these stolen little moments where people can gossip, share secrets, or just talk with someone privately.

If anything, this is the aspect of smoking that Pang Ho-Cheung captures beautifully in Love in a Puff. Billed as a romantic comedy, this 2010 film spotlights the plight of smokers in Hong Kong, while focusing its attention on two would-be lovers played by Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue. The film takes place in February 2009 -- a crucial time period just after the Hong Kong Health Authority enforced a ban on smoking in any inside area but just before cigarette prices went up astronomically. Within this narrative frame, Love in a Puff amounts to a sometimes funny, sometimes tedious week-long journey into a burgeoning relationship between two smokers. While following these two characters, we're plunged headlong into the world of several hip (and not-so hip) urbanites as they try to find love in a pool of alcohol and a fog of smoke.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

FISH STORY (JPN 2009) -- A+

An album that changes lives.

Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura, Screenwriter: Tamio Hayashi, Producer: Hitoshi Endo, Cast: Atsushi Ito, Kora Kengo, Mikako Tabe, Dakaku Hama, Mirai Moriyama, Kenjiro Ishimaru, and Nao Omori 


I think it's rather appropriate that the very first review for the revitalized Ronin on Empty is Yoshihiro Nakamura's revelatory Fish Story. This plucky, underdog of a movie offers viewers an uplifting, altogether funny commentary about the power of art to enact real change in people's lives. In a lot of ways, I think Fish Story has had a similar effect on me, as the film, among others things, did much to renew my interest in Asian cinema after leaving last year in the wake of my father's passing.

Delivering a proper review of Fish Story, however, puts me in a fairly tricky situation as a writer. Aside from hearing good things about the movie, I went into my first viewing of Fish Story knowing absolutely nothing about its premise. Having seen it twice now, I strongly feel that "going in blind" is the ideal way to experience the story. Of course, a film review requires at least a cursory treatment of the storyline, so I will have to tread carefully about plot details in the following paragraphs, lest I spoil the experience for potential viewers.