HIFF Review: 5 movies to start with

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Can’t decide what films to catch at the Hawaii International Film Festival?

Ed Morita and I will be posting our reviews of upcoming HIFF films in this blog post. We’ll be adding new reviews daily, so keep checking in for our picks and pans.

HIFF runs from Nov. 12 to 22. For tickets and information check out their website at www.hiff.org.

“It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong”

Friday, Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m., Dole

Sunday, Nov. 22 at 11:00 a.m., Koko Marina

“It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong” takes place entirely over two days approximately one year apart. Bryan Greenburg and Jamie Chung play Americans who meet in Hong Kong. They spend an amazing evening together, but the evening abruptly ends with a sudden revelation. A year later, they cross paths again and repeat their magical journey through the city’s bustling night life. Will things end differently this time?

Greenburg and Chung carry the film and display an undeniable chemistry. I found out afterward that they are a real-life couple. Speaking of real, the film is all about the dialogue, which feels genuine. There are no scripted cutesy moments. These are the types of conversations I’ve actually had during great first dates, including the awkward attempts at humor and the cautious timing of when to push the flirtation to the next level.

Director Emily Ting does an excellent job including Hong Kong as a key character. The audience follows Greenburg and Chung as they visit the city’s famous night markets, clubs, bars, restaurants and tourist stops. It definitely made me nostalgic for my visit there about 10 years ago.

While it may not be as profound as its obvious inspiration “Before Sunrise,” “It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong” is cute, romantic, real and great for a date night.

“Pali Road”

Monday, Nov. 16, 6:00 p.m., Ward

Saturday, Nov. 21, 6:15 p.m., Dole

Filmed entirely in Honolulu, “Pali Road” is a psychological mystery featuring Chinese star Michelle Chen as Lily, a doctor who appears to have it all. She’s young, beautiful and has a boyfriend who’s crazy about her. But after he proposes unexpectedly, they end up in a terrible car accident. When Lily wakes up, she finds that she’s now married, but to another man, and also has a young child. Her new world is entirely unfamiliar, but clues emerge that suggest that her memories of her first love may not be false after all.

“Pali Road” showcases its beautiful Hawaiian backdrop with gorgeous shots of the city from Tantalus as well as the obligatory scenes of white sandy beaches. While it may take the Hawaiian motif just a bit too far with rattan furniture, hula girl figurines and surfboards, it’s always nice to see our home featured in cinema. As for the film itself, it did an effective job keeping me guessing what was real and what wasn’t. Chen looks way too young to play a resident physician and her acting range is limited, but she does an adequate job. Plus, any film with Sung Kang and Henry Ian Cusick from “Lost” already has a head start.

“Assassination”

Saturday, Nov. 14, 5:45 p.m., Dole

Friday, Nov. 20, 8:15 p.m., Dole

Friday, Nov. 20, 10:30 p.m., Koko Marina

Saturday, Nov. 21, 8:30 p.m., Waimea Theater (Kauai)

“Assassination” is director Choi Dong Hoon’s much improved effort over his blockbuster “The Thieves.” While it similarly features an all-star cast, the story is tighter and the action scenes more coherent and effective. Set in the 1930s, “Assassination” focuses on various plots by Korean political figures to overthrow their Japanese oppressors and gain independence. A-list stars Jeon Ji Hyun, Ha Jung Woo (who will appear at HIFF), Lee Jung Jae and Oh Dal Su are all excellent and elevate the slightly convoluted script.

For better or worse, Korea has always been best at mimicking Hollywood. “Assassination” confirms this reputation; everything about it is big. Big stars. Big sets. Big explosions.

It all makes for a terrific action film that educates those unfamiliar with Korean-Japanese relations of the early 20th century about what it meant for Korea to gain its independence.

“Monster Hunt”

Saturday, Nov. 14, 1:00 p.m., Dole

Saturday, Nov. 21, 12:30 p.m., Waimea Theater (Kauai)

Saturday, Nov. 21, 1:15 p.m., Dole

Wanna talk about big? “Monster Hunt” is the biggest-grossing film in Chinese history and I can see why. This part-live action, part-animation film has something for everyone – cutesy monsters, romance, exciting action and a story that’s easily digestible. Monsters and humans share the world peacefully in “Monster Hunt” until someone becomes intent on killing the baby monster king. The infant falls into the care of a young villager and his monster hunter companion, who must protect the baby monster.

I had lots of fun watching “Monster Hunt” despite its predictable and familiar story. Stars Boran Jing and Bahe Bai have great chemistry and are very adept at performing their amazing stunt work during the action scenes. This being a Chinese film, the action sequences are creative, dynamic and heart-stopping, with seamless integration of the CGI monsters into the live action. And that little baby monster that looks like a daikon turnip is the cutest thing ever.

“Monster Hunt” may be a bit too violent for younger kiddies, but should be a great time for anyone age 10 and over. This would be a great one to catch on the big screen.

“Robbery”

Saturday, Nov. 14, 6:30 p.m., Dole

Wednesday, Nov. 18, 6:45 p.m., Dole

I love it when you go into a film knowing virtually nothing about it and leave feeling completely surprised and satisfied. That’s how I felt watching “Robbery.”

The film takes place over an evening in a convenience store in Hong Kong. A young man with no future takes a job as a part-time clerk and on his first day encounters several crazy characters who get entangled in a robbery attempt on the store. All the characters have stories behind them and no direction ahead, yet all have their reasons for being in the store that night. While the violence gets pretty gruesome at times, it is mainly cartoony. That lends to the film’s prevailing tone as a dark comedy and I love my comedy dark. Some films embody the cultural tone of their country’s cinema. “Robbery” is one of them: Watching it, I kept thinking that you’d only see these antics in a Hong Kong film.

“Robbery” was a complete surprise that has me looking forward to future films by director Fire Lee. With a name like that, you know he’s gonna be good.