Welcome 2012 & Saroja Review

01/09/2012 at 11:59 AM (Culture, Drama, Historical, Movies) (, , , , )

So 2011 has said its goodbye. It was a pretty eventful year with two part-time jobs gone and a full-time job gained. So with the arrival of 2012, I’ve got that job in publishing I wanted – it’s a paid one too this time.

I kept my promise of delivering a blog post each week last year (sometimes there were even more than one in a week). Hooray for a non broken New Year resolution from last year! I’m not so sure if I’ll have time to read as much, watch movies as much or go take photos in 2012 as much given the new responsibilities I have but I’ll try.

So I have joined my company’s book club. Unlike me who reads at least one book per week, they read a book per month. So my book reviews will still remain even if my post count might drop and I’ll keep watching movies!

So now we come to the end of the formalities and I’ve even included a review of a little known film from the country I was born in.


Saroja - Sinhala movie

Saroja is a film about the conflict that existed between the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka and the terrorist group known as the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). This created a lot of problems for the peaceful Tamil people not wanting to be involved in the situation but were sometimes forced into terrorism in order to survive.

Note: This civil war started in the early 80s and only ended quite recently after countless broken cease fires and two president assassination attempts – one successful, one not. My school never allowed us to go on an excursion because of the risk and we were learning what to do in case a bomb hit the school – crawl under a desk with a pencil placed in your mouth – from the time we were nine years old. My school included Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers and we all got along. It’s always the grown ups that cause the problems, huh?

Back to the film. Saroja (Nithyavani Kandasami) is a little Tamil girl who hides in the jungle with him after her father is wounded during the war and their house is burned down. When she is searching for food, she meets Varuni (Pramudi Karunarathne), a Sinhalese girl. They both become close friends and the interaction between them is absolutely touching and endearing. Varuni’s family takes in Saroja and her Tamil Tiger father despite the risk involved if they were to be discovered. Of course, the truth comes out when their neighbours pry. The Sinhalese couple harbouring the fugitives points out that Tamil people are also human in their defence with Varuni’s teacher father being the voice of reason and rationality.

While the film has a touching message at its heart, it’s not very original content but at least it wasn’t a Bollywood remake dubbed in Sinhalese like most local teledramas. Nevertheless it was a story that needed to be told and that was done quite effectively by director Somaratne Dissanayake. It comes to a sad conclusion but keeps an element of hope surviving at the finale.

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Around European Cinema in Three Films

11/29/2011 at 10:34 AM (Movies) (, , , , )

While you already know about how I’m a fan of Asian cinema (despite now suffering from dumbed-down US remakes – I’m aghast about Park Chan-wook‘s Oldboy having an English remake produced; why can’t people learn to read subtitles?),  I think Europe does create some special and interesting films. I’ll just discuss three at present.

Das Experiment (2001)

I find it hard to watch violent films but if it has a good reputation, I’ll suffer the viewing experience. This was loosely based on the Stanford Prison Experiment conducted in 1971. For a fortnight, 20 volunteer male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards. The “prisoners” are locked up and have to follow and obey  basic rules while the “guards” are told to keep order without using physical violence. Everybody is free to quit when they want and forfeit payment. In the beginning, both groups are insecure but as arguments come up, those with more power in their hands show off their authority by becoming high-handed with it. Meanwhile down-on-his-luck journalist Tarek who volunteered as a participant to write his experiences as an inmate realises as events go down that the experiment is going down a terrifying path it was never intended to take.

This is a great German doco-film about power and its effect on the holder. While the outcome is predictable, what is interesting is the characterisation. It is a conventional tale in the sense of the cat-and-mouse game but is interesting enough to keep you watching to the end.

Patrik, age 1.5 (2008)

The plot is based on this: Göran and Sven (Gustaf Skarsgård and Torkel Petersson) are a happily married gay couple who have moved into an idyllic new suburb with white picket fence front yards and are anxious to adopt a baby. However, no foreign country is willing to give a child to a gay couple and suitable Swedish babies are difficult to find. They are overjoyed upon hearing that an orphaned 18-month old baby is available for adoption but are shocked when their baby Patrik turns out to be a 15-year old homophobic delinquent (Thomas Ljungman) merely due to a misprint in the adoption documents. Given this is the initial premise, it’s not too hard to figure out the ending will turn out for the best ultimately after the new family battle each other’s differing opinions and the prejudices of their neighbours.

What really makes the film is the acting. The three family members are very strong in their portrayal of their relationship with each other given the backgrounds they have come from. Göran is very nurturing and loving while Sven struggles as he  has an ex-wife and daughter and is much more masculine than his partner and has his own prejudices in regards to Patrik who tends to comes across as less tough than we expect. It is also admirable that the family seems like an average family going through the trials brought on by life and avoids all cliche references to gay stereotypes.

Cinema Paradiso (1989)

This Italian film which is set in a small Italian village could almost be interpreted as a love letter to the cinema. It mainly dwells on the relationship between the cinema projectionist Alfredo and young Toto. We follow Toto on his incredible life’s journey as he works on his dreams coming true after being encouraged to follow his dreams by Alfredo. Interspersed with this is the portrayal of the development of cinema in a way that’s almost paying homage to the form. I’m not very big on art house but this if you can tolerate the sentimentality is a majestic watching experience especially due to the music by Ennio Morricone.

This is a very simple and straightforward movie, with no big name stars, on the pursuit of a dream vocation by a boy who works on making his aspiration to be a film director a reality, which chronicles his tragedies and triumphs along the way. There are no grand gestures or flourishes here with special effects but Cinema Paradiso still captivated me just with its raw emotions and feelings with its depiction of fulfillment and loss. This film has several stunning scenes with an ending that is a joy to watch and is almost a masterpiece because of its simplicity and message of love.

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The Magic of Bollywood

04/21/2011 at 7:00 AM (Movies, Romantic Comedy) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Well, I think it’s time to enjoy some foreign films again even if the English BBC adaptations of detective novels are pretty good.  This time perhaps I might give you some insight into the tragicomedy romantic epics of Bollywood.  One thing: I hate the song and dance numbers and fast forward the sequence in mute but apparently within the cinematic theatres of India, people get up and dance and sing along with the flick.  Now I know, I will never go to watch a Hindi film in India.

Kuch Kuch Kota Hai

The first film I saw in Hindi, which gave me an introduction to the foreign world of Bollywood, was called Kuch Kuch Kota Hai. Roughly translated, it means Something Happens and conveys nothing about it.

Kuch Kuch Kota Hai


The story begins on the 8th birthday of Anjali, the daughter of a widower called Rahul (Sharukh Khan).  Her mother Tina (Rani Mukherjee) has left her eight letters with the dying wish that she read a letter each birthday. The eighth letter Anjali receives on her 8th birthday is the last and the most important. It contains a very special request that she reunites her father with an important friend (Kajol) who meant a lot to him. Tina had been responsible for the breakdown of that friendship and wants to mend bridges even after death. This drives the crux of the story but the question is will the gap of 8 years be too late to reunite Anjali’s father with his long lost and much loved friend?

Trust me, you’ll be varying between laughter and tears with this one. But it’s a lovely film with a sweet film. If you enjoyed P.S. I Love You or Dear Frankie, this is your kind of movie with an Indian flavor.

Veer Zaara

The next Hindi film, which made an impact on me, that I saw was Veer-Zaara.

Veer Zaara


It is a love story about a star-crossed romance akin to Romeo and Juliet but minus the suicide. Set against the backdrop of a conflict between India and Pakistan, with main actor Veer being an Indian Air Force Squadron Leader and lead actress Zaara being a Pakistani girl from a well-known political family, odds are stacked against their being together. Veer meets Zaara when she makes a pilgrimage to the Ganges to fulfill the last request of her grandmother. When she is leaving, her bus meets with an accident and Veer rescues her and offers her a place to stay and has her meet the people of his village. After she leaves, Veer realizes he is in love and goes after her but his offer of marriage is dissuaded by Zaara’s mother, Mariyam. It would be political suicide for their family if their Pakistani daughter married an Indian. Besides Zaara has to keep her political alliances intact by marrying Rezaa since he will help aid the career of Zaara’s father even if she herself has realised that Veer is whom she loves.

This love held by Zaara makes Rezaa have feelings of dishonor and shame so he has Veer imprisoned on the charges that he is an Indian spy. After he is taken to cell 786, he does not speak for 22 years. A new female lawyer, Saamiya Siddiqui, enters the scene to bring prisoner 786 to justice but he imposes some difficult conditions on her because he refuses to speak ill or testify against Zaara’s family. In addition, her ex-boss who had never lost a case took on the defense. To set Veer free, she travels back to Veer’s village where she finds an unlikely witness.

This is a beautiful film that will haunt you with all the injustice dealt with by Veer and creates questions about how much power higher authorities have. This is a film about racial politics getting in the way of love and succeeding up to a point. If you liked films like The Joy Luck Club and West Side Story, this one’s another you want to watch.


Another film in a similar vein is Mohabbatein in which a strict school principal of a boarding school tries to forbid students from expressing their love because of a tragic personal incident.

Sam at IMDB has written an excellent review of the film so I’ll display his/her work below in a condensed form.

The setting of Mohabbatein is the Gurukul School, an elite school housed in a cold, uninviting, castle-like edifice. Narayan Shankar (Amitabh Bachchan) is the stern, disciplinarian and somewhat tyrannical headmaster of Gurukul who rules the school with an iron fist.

The story begins on a dark and quiet night at the local train stations where three young men, prospective students at the school, meet on the platform and set out on a journey that brings them closer together than they ever could have imagined. Vicky (Uday Chopra) is an athletic, energetic playboy type, seemingly unshaken by the harsh reality of the school. Sameer (Jugal Hansraj) is the timid and shy one with boyish charm and innocent looks. And Karan (Jimmy Shergill) completes the trio as the more mature, intense member of the pack.

The three lads are struck by cupid’s arrow when they meet the three heroines; Vicky loses his heart to a rich and spoiled girl named Ishika (Shamita Shetty) while Sameer is reunited with his childhood buddy, the bubbly Sanjana (Kim Sharma) and Karan falls hard for the bashful widow, Kiran (Preeti Jhangiani).

A glimmer of hope comes their way when a maverick music teacher, Raj Aryan (Shah Rukh Khan) sweeps into the picture and helps nurture their young love.

If you enjoyed ThDead Poet’s Society and The Triumph, you’ll think this is cool.

To read the full review, click here.

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Japanese Films and Heartrending Plots

02/19/2011 at 11:13 AM (Movies, Nostalgia, Photography, Romance) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have shared my opinions about some of the recent Western films but it has been a while since my exploration of foreign films were publicised.

Tada, kimi wo aishiteru (Heavenly Forest)


In the Japanese movie Tada, kimi wo aishiteru (aka ‘Heavenly Forest‘), we are introduced to Makoto (Hiroshi Tamaki). He is a shy photographer who is a loner, partly because of an embarassing skin condition and finds it difficult to share confidences with others until he meets Shizuru (Aoi Miyazaki). She befriends him just before their university orientation after he takes a snapshot of her trying in vain to get cars to stop at a crossing. Their budding friendship allows Makoto to tutor Shizuru in the art of photography in a special location – the ‘heavenly forest’ of this title.

It is clear that although Shizuru is very small for her age and has odd quirks, she genuinely cares for Makoto. He on the other hand is infatuated with Miyuki (Meisa Kuroki) who has a rather disturbing obsession with weddings. Finally realising her feelings are unlikely to be requited, Shizuru makes friends with Miyuki herself. Prior to graduation, Shizuru requests a special birthday kiss from Makoto. He agrees only because she says it is for the purpose of a photography competition. When he makes no acknowledgement of having feelings for her after the kiss they share in the forest, Shizuru disappears completely from his life.

It is only when she is missing that Makoto realises the big impact she had on his life and takes it on to search for her. Except he does not know that Shizuru has kept her own secret from him throughout their friendship, although she discovered his. Then he hears from Miyuki there is an opportunity to see Shizuru once again. The meeting turns out to be completely different affair from what he expected.

This film tells us not to take what you get for granted because you might only realise what you had after you lose it, promotes the beauty of the natural world through the stunning still photography and even the haunting music is captivating because this story is deeply engaging with a universal theme.

Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

You might know of the animated title of the same name which won several awards that was directed by Mamoru Hosada. This live-action Time Traveller: Girl Who Leapt Through Time movie contains similar themes but  uses a different plot. The 2010 film stars Akari (Riisa Naka) – the same actress who voiced the protagonist of the animation – as the daughter of Professor Kasuko, who is given a mission to deliver a message to Kazuo Fukamachi (Kanji Ishimaru) in the year 1972 when a bus accident makes it impossible for her mother to fulfill a promise. The time travelling is possible because Akari’s mother develops a formula that enables her to return to and from the past.

Unfortunately Akari mixes up the dates and ends up in 1974, two years later from the actual date, where she meets Ryota (Akinobu Nakao), a budding filmmaker. His friend, the cameraman Gotetsu (Munetaka Aoki), has a deep connection to Akari but this realisation does not strike her until she returns to the present. Meanwhile Ryota and Akari share a sweet but sort of awkward chemistry which is obvious through the significance of the movie reel she is able to take to her present. Most of her time in 1974 is focused on her search for the elusive Kazuo. Even her own mother whom she meets is unable to help her.  Ryota gives her help with her search by accompanying her to put an ad in a newspaper that requests Kazuo to meet with her. After she delivers her message, she remains in 1974 because she wants to prevent an accident but she is kept from altering the course of history by Kazuo himself.

So when Akari is forced to return back from the past, it’s a bittersweet pill to swallow given what could have blossomed. This too is one of those movies that depict images captured on film can leave a legacy. Both emotional and powerful in its climax, this is not one to discount in its effect.

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K-Movie Chick Flick Fest

01/13/2011 at 1:33 PM (Movies, Romance) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

My interest in cinema is rather diverse. Korean, Japanese, German, French and Italian films – love them all. For now, I’ll just share a category I always enjoy : Korean chick flicks.

Il Mare



Il Mare with its unprepossessing title is a beautiful cinematic tale  of two lonely people who find each other through a mail box which transcends the space-time barrier.  The intricate plot is made memorable by the love story between Eun-joo (Jun Ji-hyun) and Sung-hyun (Lee Jung-jae) at its heart.  Director Lee Hyun-seung conveys a setting of melancholy interspersed with specks of warmth through his cinematography to generate tension between the two leads during their budding romance. The appeal for the film lies in its innocence in portraying the attraction of the protagonists.

The story starts off with voiceover actress Eun-joo leaving her seaside residence of Il Mare to a newly built apartment complex. Her letter in the mailbox asking the next occupant to forward her mail drives the storyline when it is received by someone who lived there two years earlier. The intricately detailed narrative performs wonders in incorporating the two separate time periods as they begin sharing what each other enjoys.  Since their interaction is limited to this mailbox , they orchestrate a date for meeting which in its culmination is haunting and powerful.

Il mare which means ‘the sea’ in Italian was also remade by Hollywood as The Lake House starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock but it lacks the punch of its source.

Heaven’s Postman

In Heaven’s Postman, we have another romantic movie involving a special mailbox that transcends the heaven-earth barrier. But here the themes are different because the film explores grief , the ways in which people come to terms with death and how they seek consolation with whimsical humour. Despite the subject of the film, some dialogue regarding love in here across can span across continents.

Shin Jae  Joon/ Yuu (Hero Jaejoong from DBSK) is involved in an accident that puts him in a coma and is given the ability to travel back and forth between the real world and heaven in spirit form. He becomes a postman who delivers letters to the dead in heaven from those grieving for their loss and meets Jo Ha Na/Saki (Han Hyo Joo) by coincidence as she is trying to send her late boyfriend an angry letter. Saki is one of the few who can see the spirit of Jae Joon.

Working together with her new companion, Saki slowly starts to forget the person whom she was mourning and starts to fall for Yuu. This makes things complicated for their relationship because only those who feel the loss of a loved one deeply can see Jae Joon but as she falls in love with him, his spirit starts to fade. Nevertheless because they truly love each other, fate has other plans and ends on a happy note.

100 Days with Mr Arrogant

100 Days with Mr Arrogant


100 Days with Mr. Arrogant on the other hand is a romantic comedy in a different vein.  It goes down a fairly silly route trying to emulate the magic of My Sassy Girl but fails because of overt cheesiness. But if a romantic at heart, you’ll most likely enjoy it anyway.

It begins with Kang Ha-yeong (Ha Ji-won) being dumped by her boyfriend on the 100th day of their relationship. While walking, upset by his rejection, she angrily kicks a soda can in frustration which hits a luxury car and startles its wealthy owner  Ahn Hyung-jun (Kim Jae Won). He consequently loses control of the vehicle, drives it into a wall and it gets scratched. On learning Ha-yeong cannot pay for damages, he convinces her to sign a contract to be enslaved to him for 100 days. She finds out he lied to her about the repair costs and  revenge ploys begin. Over this period, they somehow begin developing romantic feelings for each other.

This is very cute and fluffy in its execution with a dash of cringe-worthy comedy. But as a movie that does not seek to declare a profound message, it is passable. This one takes the most formulaic approach out of the three but at least you’ll get a few laughs.

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