HIFF Review Roundup

touseThe Hawaii International Film Festival kicks off Thursday, Oct. 30 and runs through Nov. 9 on Oahu and from Nov. 13-16 on Hawaii Island and Kauai. Once again, there’s a great lineup of films in all genres. If you didn’t see my earlier post about my must-see films, here it is. For the full HIFF lineup, visit HIFF.org


We’ll be reviewing some of the HIFF movies and rounding them up below. Here’s what we have so far:

“Kabukicho Love Hotel”

Country: Japan


  • Friday, Nov. 7, 7:45 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Saturday, Nov. 8, 1:15 p.m. at Dole Cannery

I usually like films about seemingly unrelated characters whose lives eventually intersect. It’s a great way to keep the viewer interested, especially for the modern ADD generation. “Kabukicho Love Hotel” uses this storytelling device effectively, with all of the action centered around a love hotel in the red light district of Kabukicho.

A love hotel is not a place where guests stay too long. Its purpose is to provide a nice and comfortable room for lovers to meet, and “Kabukicho Love Hotel” reveals the types of characters who visit and work in such establishments. Toru is the manager of the love hotel and in the course of a day, the hotel is home to a porn shoot with a surprising star; a prostitute working her last day before moving back to Korea; a man trying to con a young runaway teenager into becoming a prostitute; a pair of detectives having an affair and a cleaning lady on the run from a crime she committed 15 years ago.

It is easy to scorn those who visit love hotels, but the film’s greatest accomplishment is revealing that while they may not be as morally righteous as others, they are real people with genuine problems. Take a peek into this little known world and enjoy the show.

Verdict: Will keep you aroused

“Uzumasa Limelight”

Country: Japan


  • Friday, Oct. 31, 6 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Tuesday, Nov. 3, 3:45 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Saturday, Nov. 8, 1 p.m. at Koko Marina

As a kid I watched a lot of the Japanese samurai TV drama “Abarenbo Shogun,” and of course the highlight of each show was watching the main character slicing away at the bad guys with his samurai sword. I gave little thought to the men he was killing, but after watching “Uzumasa Limelight,” I now realize that there was an art to dying onscreen.

Seizou Fukumoto stars as Kamiyama, a 70-year-old actor who’s made a career of getting killed off in samurai dramas. He is a highly respected actor, yet remains humble and modest. When his production company decides to stop filming samurai dramas, he’s left with a huge void in his life until he’s asked by a young female actress to train her to become a kirare-yaku, an extra who dies onscreen.

Fukumoto, a real-life kirare-yaku, gives a fantastic, yet quiet and subtle, performance as Kamiyama. He’s a man of few words but a simple smile or look from his deep set eyes can say so much. I was very impressed by his life-long dedication to his craft and how he always kept his emotions in check.

“Uzumasa Limelight” shines the light on a rarely thought about aspect of samurai dramas, and I am glad that I was able to see this film to appreciate them even more.

Verdict: Banzai!


Country: Brunei


  • Saturday, Nov. 1, 8:30 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Sunday, Nov. 2, 2:15 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Saturday, Nov. 8, 3:00 p.m. at Koko Marina

I’m always in the mood for a martial arts flick, so I was pretty excited to watch “Yasmine,” which I thought would focus on the Southeast Asian martial art of Silat. Instead, “Yasmine” turned out to be a typical schoolgirl drama with boy crushes, resentment of the pretty girl, and yes, even the overbearing parent who doesn’t seem to understand their children. I’d never claim that the martial arts film genre was a deep one, but “Yasmine” never even attempts to dip its toes into the water.

The lead character is highly unlikable and selfish and not the underdog that audiences like to root for. And as for showcasing the art of silat, none of the masters featured in the film teach a single thing about the martial art. They are merely there as plot devices so that Yasmine can find her way to the silat championship, yet neither she nor the viewer has learned a thing about the art.

The action scenes are halfway decent, although highly choreographed and lacking natural rhythm and flow, but they are not enough to save this film.

Verdict: Opportunity wasted


Country: USA


  • Saturday, Nov. 1, 5:30 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Wednesday, Nov. 5, 5:45 p.m. at Dole Cannery

As a recreational volleyball player, I was really looking forward to watching “9-Man,” a documentary about a streetball game similar to volleyball played predominantly by Chinese men in the U.S. Like many other documentaries, “9-Man” introduces us to a handful of people passionate about the sport including players, coaches and even founders. The main storyline of the film leads up to the annual Labor Day championship tournament, but unfortunately there’s no true arc to any of the people featured. Their interviews are sprinkled in here and there, but never really go anywhere, and sometimes totally forgotten (so what happened to that half-Chinese kid from Canada?).

I did enjoy learning about the game and its history as I had never previously heard of it, and the racial politics regarding who’s allowed to play was also quite fascinating as players debated over how Chinese or Asian players were (an Indian player is not allowed to play, but black players who claim to have Chinese great grandmothers can). I also wish there had been more practice and game footage; I would have liked to have seen more on the sport’s strategy and gameplay. There is also an odd amount of time dedicated to Olympian volleyball player and local boy Kevin Wong, as if his participation in the sport validated its existence. Funny that after all the time interviewing him and talking about him, there’s no actual game footage of him doing anything significant.

Verdict: Bump, set, dink

“My Brilliant Life”

Country: South Korea


  • Thursday, Oct. 30, 8:30 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Saturday, Nov. 1, 12:00 p.m. at Dole Cannery
  • Saturday, Nov. 8, 8:30 p.m. at Koko Marina

It wouldn’t be HIFF without a Korean tear jerker.

This year’s entry for the Korean Kleenex movie, “My Brilliant Life,” stars Gang Dong Won and Song Hye Kyo as the perfectly photogenic married couple Dae-Su and Mira, who are the young parents of a teenage boy Areum. Areum is 17, but looks 80 due to a rare genetic condition called progeria that produces rapid aging in children. While they are more known for their looks, Gang and Song are also good actors but the film’s plot doesn’t really give them much to do. Despite their financial shortcomings, they are portrayed as practically perfect parents. Areum’s story is also pretty straight forward. “My Brilliant Life” is one of the most predictable, what-you-see-is-what-you-get films I’ve ever seen, but I’m sure it’s bound to squeeze out a tear or two anyway.

Verdict: Empty tears

Movies I Miss: Gangster films

infernalaffairsToday’s Hollywood is all about franchise films, comic book heroes, sequels and reboots. They’re fun to watch, but I miss the variety of films that I grew up watching. “Movies I Miss” will be blog series where I reminisce about the film genres that Hollywood has apparently forgotten.

Gangster films

As far back as I can remember I always wanted to watch gangster films.

The gangster world is so elusive to most people that it’s so easy to get fascinated whenever it’s romanticized in films. It’s a world where those who stress loyalty above all are the quickest to betray. It’s where low lifes live the high life and where the very ruthlessness that takes you to the top will ultimately be your downfall. It’s the flip side of the American dream.

So why doesn’t Hollywood make these movies anymore? You think people aren’t interested in them? Fuggedaboutit. It’s true that many mob movies share the same themes and perhaps the common thinking is that there are no more stories to tell. Maybe mob movies just can’t survive when going to the mattresses against blockbuster genres like comic book movies. But it’s all about how creative you can get in telling the stories. Unfortunately, studios appear to have given up trying with just a few gangster flicks such as “Gangster Squad” and “American Gangster” hitting the screens in recent years.

Some of the most memorable films in history are mob films, yet when it comes to creating more of these classics, Hollywood seems to be sleeping with the fishes. But I say there’s still an audience for these films, and I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.

Here are my Top 5 gangster films:

#5 – “Donnie Brasco” (1997)

Whenever I see Johnny Depp and Al Pacino hamming it up with yet another flamboyant, over-the-top performance, I always think about “Donnie Brasco,” a powerful look into the mob lifestyle through the eyes of an undercover FBI agent. Depp and Pacino both deliver subtle, yet powerful, performances that rank among the best in both of their careers.

#4 – “Infernal Affairs” (2002)

You think Oscar-winning “The Departed” is great? Go watch “Infernal Affairs,” the Hong Kong gangster flick it’s based on. With an all-star cast, including Andy Lau, Tony Leung and Anthony Wong, this film tops its American counterpart on all levels and that’s saying a lot.

#3 – “The Godfather” series (1972, 1974, 1990)

You could spend all day quoting these classic films. Director Francis Ford Coppola’s trilogy romanticizes the gangster life like no other, and no true film fan can ignore the immeasurable influence of these films. And who can forget the perfection of this scene from Part I?

#2 – “Scarface” (1983)

There’s so much love for this film because Tony Montana represents the American dream. Well, a really illegal version of it anyway. “Scarface” is the ultimate cautionary tale, yet I’m on board with the hip-hop community who made Tony Montana their idol for the last few decades. Never mind his grisly demise. We all remember Tony Montana for how he lived. Because the only thing in this world that gives orders… is balls. You got that?

#1 – “Goodfellas” (1990)

Director Martin Scorsese is the best when it comes to making gangster movies. He’s given audiences classic films such as “Casino,” “Mean Streets” and “The Departed,” but “Goodfellas” is his best film by far. Based on the true life of gangster Henry Hill, “Goodfellas” takes the audience on a tour of gangster life through Henry’s eyes and ears. The film is just flawless and demands repeat viewings just to appreciate the storytelling and craft. One of the best films ever.

My must-see TV this fall

The Fall TV season is (almost) in full swing, and there are many new shows hoping to draw your prime-time viewership. Here are reviews of the series and season premieres I’m planning to schedule some sit-on-my-butt-while-I-snack-and-drink time for.


gotham“Gotham” FOX 7 p.m.

“Gotham” takes place in the Batman universe and is FOX’s best hope for a much-needed prime-time hit. The only problem is, there’s no Batman. Bruce Wayne is still a child in “Gotham.” Instead, the show focuses on a young Jim Gordon and a seedy underworld of characters who will later become part of Batman’s rogues’s gallery. In the pilot, the audience is introduced to a young Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Penguin and Riddler. However, FOX is so desperate to remind you that the show is tied to the Batman lore that the introductions were hammer-you-over-the-head obvious.

I think viewers would have had more fun with the episode had it taken a subtler approach. Just hint at who these characters are; don’t shout them out. Still, I like the noirish atmosphere and will keep watching for now. Just take it easy on all the Batman stuff.

“The Big Bang Theory” CBS 7 p.m.

I hate Penny’s new hair. That is all.


flash“The Flash” The CW 7 p.m.

I actually waited to write this Fall TV preview so I could review “The Flash,” which premiered this week, and I’m glad I did. This was one of the most enjoyable premieres I’ve seen in a while. It has a light, humorous tone with some pretty cool special effects, and so far, all the actors are likable. I’m not that familiar with the Flash comic book universe, so I eagerly look forward to learning about the cast of characters and villains this season.

“Selfie” ABC 7 p.m.

It’s pretty rare to see an Asian-American lead on a TV show, so of course I had to check this one out. A modern-day remake of the classic tale “Pygmalion” and “My Fair Lady,” John Cho plays Henry Higgs, a marketing manager who takes on the task of rebranding Eliza (Karen Gillan), a woman so obsessed with social media and how many “likes” she can get that she fails at anyone liking her in real life. Sound familiar to anyone? There’s good chemistry between the two leads and even a little romantic touch. I’ll be tuning in.


goldbergs“The Goldbergs” ABC 7:30 p.m.

Now in its second season, “The Goldbergs” remains one of my favorite TV shows. It’s set during the ’80s (the best decade EVER), but it’s more than about just making pop culture references from that time. It’s more of a family show filled with fully flushed out characters, the most memorable being the overbearing mother Beverly, played by Wendi McLendon-Covey. Only two episodes in, Season 2 has already centered around mix tapes, roller skating and Ron Hextall’s famous hockey goal. This is must-watch TV.

“Black-ish” ABC 8:30 p.m.

“Black-ish” centers on a middle class black family so acclimated to white suburbia that they’ve forgotten how to be black. I’m really not sure who this show is for. The jokes primarily come from black people trying to act more “black,” but I don’t feel black audiences will find it funny, and it appears to merely promote the stereotypes white people already have of black people. The irony is that there’s a scene in the pilot where a black man is promoted to join an all-white management team, only to find out he’s the new VP of the new “urban” department. I feel like that’s exactly what went down in the ABC executive suite when they greenlit this show. I’ll pass.


“The Biggest Loser” NBC 7 p.m.

Another season of fatties getting fit. Someday, I hope to become one myself. Until then, I’ll just root for them on TV as I munch on some chips.

atoz“A to Z” NBC 8:30 p.m.

This is the story of how (A)ndrew met (Z)elda and how they fell in love. Aw, isn’t that sweet? The fact is, “A to Z” is a very saccharine romantic comedy, but I like it. The two leads are charismatic and cute and have good chemistry. This show is perfect for all of those who believe in destiny, love and serendipity. Clutch on to your significant others (or the nearest throw pillow) and prepare to say things like “Aww…” for 30 minutes every week.


tar“The Amazing Race” CBS 7 p.m.

Now in its 25th season, “The Amazing Race” remains one of my favorite TV shows. Eleven teams of two race around the world for a $1 million prize. This season is especially interesting due to the high number of minority racers. I was rooting for Dennis and Isabelle (the Cambodian/Vietnamese couple), but they’ve already been eliminated, so now I’ll be cheering on the un-ambiguously gay duo of Tim and Te Jay.

Saturdays and Sundays

Spend time with your families and friends. Stay off the boob tube. Or just watch football all day. Either works.

HIFF 2014: The lineup

59797Fall is right around the corner, and for me, that means football, festivities and best of all, films. I always look forward to the Hawaii International Film Festival, and once again, HIFF, which runs from Oct. 30 to Nov. 9 on Oahu and Nov. 13-16 on Hawaii Island and Kauai, has a great lineup. Here are the movies on my list to catch. For the full HIFF lineup, visit HIFF.org

Check out the big nights

HIFF always saves the best films for the big nights, and I’m especially interested in this year’s opening night film, “The Vancouver Asahi” and the centerpiece film, “The Imitation Game,” both which take place during World War II. “The Vancouver Asahi” is a true story about a Japanese immigrant baseball team playing in Vancouver, who have to deal with the fallout from Pearl Harbor. “The Imitation Game” is also based on a true story, centering on World War II hero Alan Turing, who helped the Allies win the war with his code-breaking skills. This one could be a major player when it comes to award season.

“The Vancouver Asahi”
Thursday, Oct. 30 at 8 p.m., Consolidated Ward (Buy tickets)

“The Imitation Game”
Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 8 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)
Sunday, Nov. 9 at 5 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)

Look to the Land of the Rising Sun

Japan always fields a strong variety of films at HIFF, and this year’s selection appears especially intriguing. Along with “The Vancouver Asashi,” I’m eager to catch, “Little Forest: Summer & Autumn” and “Samurai Pirates.” “Little Forest: Summer & Autumn” looks like it will be another addition to a strong year for foodie films, while “Samurai Pirates” is about a group of kids who embark on a treasure quest to save their town. Sound familiar? Yup, it looks exactly like a Japanese version of “The Goonies.” That’s good enough for me.

“Little Forest: Summer & Autumn”
Saturday, Nov. 1 at 2 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)
Sunday, Nov. 2 at 12:30 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)

“Samurai Pirates”
Sunday, Nov. 9 at 12 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)

Korean films = Kleenex

Korean films typically tug at heartstrings and make you reach for the tissues. Koreans are known for their passion, and it’s well on display in their films. “My Brilliant Life” delves into the life of two young parents of a boy with a rare disease that makes him age prematurely. Starring popular pretty people Kang Dong Won and Song Hye Gyo, make sure to get your tickets to this one early. I’m a huge fan of filmmaker Jang Jin, so I’m also looking forward to “We Are Brothers,” which looks like it features his typical quirky combination of humor and heart.

“My Brilliant Life”
Thursday, Oct. 30 at 8:30 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)
Saturday, Nov. 1 at 12 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)
Saturday, Nov. 8 at 8:30 p.m., Koko Marina (Buy tickets)

“We are Brothers”
Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 5:30 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)
Sunday, Nov. 9 at 2 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)

Get Real

I’m not the biggest fan of documentaries, but HIFF continually presents a strong documentary lineup that’s hard to resist. If you’re a fan of high school films like I am, then you’ll love, “Beyond Clueless,” which breaks down Hollywood’s history of coming-of-age films. Also, as a recreational volleyball player, I’m eager to watch the award-winning, “9-Man.”

“Beyond Clueless”
Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 5:45 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)

Saturday, Nov. 1 at 5:30 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)
Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 5:45 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)


Movies I Miss: Buddy cop films

Today’s Hollywood is all about franchise films, comic book heroes, sequels and reboots. They’re fun to watch, but I miss the variety of films that I grew up watching. “Movies I Miss” will be blog series where I reminisce about the film genres that Hollywood has apparently forgotten.

Buddy Cop Films

Buddy cop films have launched some very impressive careers, including those of Eddie Murphy, Mel Gibson and Will Smith. The formula is simple, yet effective. Take two guys with clashing personalities who have to work together to solve a case. It usually works better if one is an ethnic minority, even more awesome if they both are. Throw in some high adrenaline action along with some hilarious one-liners and you have yourself a great buddy cop film. So why has Hollywood stopped making them?

There have been a few attempts to revive the genre in recent years, but those films including the “21 Jump Street” series and “Hot Fuzz” are more satirical than reverent. I don’t want Hollywood to poke fun at movies that I grew up with and love. Instead, I want Hollywood to make more of them. But until they do, I will always go back to my favorites.

Here are my Top 5 buddy cop films:

#5 – “Showdown in Little Tokyo” (1991)

This one may be a surprise pick, but I fell in love with this film the first time I popped it in my VHS. I was a huge fan of Bruce Lee and that fandom then shifted to his son Brandon with this film. His smooth and charismatic performance was a great balance to the stiff and hulking Dolph Lundgren. Plus, it has one of the strangest lines of dialogue ever as shown in the video below. I guess Dolph’s wife is one lucky lady.

#4 – “The Last Boy Scout” (1991)

To say writer and director Shane Black knows a bit about buddy cop films would be a grand understatement. The creative force behind “Lethal Weapon” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (which just missed getting on this list) also wrote my #4 film, “The Last Boy Scout,” the most smartly written buddy cop film ever. I remember watching this movie in the theater as a college freshman and I was wowed from the opening scene where Mr. Taebo Billy Blanks literally shot down the defense in a football game. I knew from that point that it was going to be one hell of a movie and it was.

#3 – “Lethal Weapon” series (1987, 1989, 1992 and 1998)

“I’m getting too old for this s—.” Danny Glover may be an aging detective in the “Lethal Weapon” series, but these films will never get old. We see the relationship between Murtaugh (Glover) and Riggs (Mel Gibson) evolve with each film, but it all feels natural due to their great chemistry. Plus, the series introduces great supporting characters played by Joe Pesci, Rene Russo and Chris Rock to keep each film fresh. My favorite of the four? “Lethal Weapon 2” because it had the best story and the hottest female lead. Plus, it ends with one of the greatest kill lines – “Diplomatic immunity….has just been revoked!”

#2 – “Rush Hour” series (1998, 2001, 2007)

Jackie Chan provided the fists and Chris Tucker gave us the funny, and it was magic. The chemistry between the two was genuine and it came alive on screen. Chan is known for his crazy stunts and martial artistry, but he’s a genius physical comedian as well. Combine that with Tucker’s high-pitched verbal barrage of jokes and you have the perfect combo of East meets West.

#1 – “Bad Boys” series (1995, 2003)

Will Smith. Martin Lawrence. Michael Bay. That’s your holy triumvirate of buddy cop films. Smith and Lawrence were known more for their comedy before “Bad Boys,” but Bay turned them into legit action stars. The film became a success and launched all three of their careers into stardom. So when they reunited for the sequel, their huge reputations came along with a huge budget and that turned into some of the most spectacular action sequences ever including the scene below. Please bring on “Bad Boys 3.” Pretty please.

So what are your favorite buddy cop films?