Monday, September 24, 2018

Double Feature: The Great Battle & The Road Not Taken.

Because of all the 70mm goodness at the Somerville, I had to fit both of these guys into Saturday, and missed the Fluff Festival. I know, it sounds rough. Experienced my first flakiness with the AMC A-List app, too. Life's hard.

The biggest exclamation point on this trip to AMC Boston Common, though, came from something I spotted out of the corner of my eye that I can't quite credit - what looked like a print-out of a pass for a screening of Bolden next Thursday that someone dropped. Bolden (or, as it was called then, "Bolden!") was what Louis was supposed to be a sort of a fun companion piece for, mentioned as coming "next year" when I saw it at the Apollo - back in 2010. I may not have even thought of that movie stuck in reshoot/post-production in a year, and I used to think of it a lot. I should have grabbed that slip and tried to sneak in.

Anybody wants to shoot me a legitimate invitation to that screening, please do so!

Back on topic (but kind of related), I'm curious about the apparent delay for The Road Not Taken - all the license plates say 2015 and 2016, and when I was digging around various sites for cast/crew information, I saw a poster or two which had a 2016 release date. It looks like it eventually wound up coming out in China this June, maybe getting a bit of a platformed release before eventually winding up here. I wonder whether this is a censorship thing or an "independent films can take forever to finish" thing. Tough to tell - there are criminals who get away and hints of corruption that you don't usually see in mainland movies, but it also seems to be first-time filmmakers not working in the big city, so who knows?

Based on the previews, we've got a couple of big Hong Kong actioners on the docket for the next couple of weeks, and apparently we're getting Rampant the same time as South Korea.

Ansisung (The Great Battle)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2018 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

Somewhere in the middle of The Great Battle, I felt like I'd reached the point where these medieval Asian war movies just blur together. There was a heck of a battle going on, and I was duly impressed, but sort of felt like I was killing time. I'd seen the flights of arrows, the whirling swordsmen, the bickering lieutenants, the warrior princess, all in speed-ramped slow motion, and though this was pretty good it didn't really have anything new or astounding. It scratched an itch, no question, but could it do more?

It certainly starts with the sort of scale the title implies, as the Battle of Mt. Jupil pits a half-million-strong army from Tang Emperor Taizong and his "God of War" General Li Shimin (Park Sung-woong) against the 150,000 commanded by Goguryeo leader Yeon Gaesomun (Yu Oh-seong). It's a trap, leading Yeon to retreat back to the capital, with only the fortress of Ansi in the way. Trouble is, the commander of that fortress, Yang Manchun (Zo In-sung), did not support Yeon when he took power, so Yeon dispatches cadet leader Samul (Nam Joo-hyuk), who has roots in Ansi, not to rally the troops, but to assassinate him, though Samul soon discovers Yang to be a natural leader with a potentially defensible position.

The folks at Ansi are an enjoyable-enough group, with Zo In-sung in particular making a fine center of the film as Yang. He's a fairly simple paragon, but Zo brings the right sort of humility and nobility to the man, giving writer/director Kim Kwang-shik and his cast the room to build a supporting cast keeps things going between action pieces without Yang feeling too disconnected. These are somewhat minor and rote subplots, tending to have just enough to them to keep the audience from getting impatient but not enough to reach from one end of the movie to another. Sometimes that means things get finished and discarded as soon as they start to move; other times you can't help but think that there must have been a little more intended. Samul's secret mission is cast aside quickly, for instance, leaving Nam Joo-hyuk little to do, while the filmmakers really never figure out what they wanted out of the character Jung Eun-chae plays (a captured medium who was once engaged to Yang seems like she should be a bigger deal than she winds up being).

Full review at EFilmCritic

Wei Ze Zhi Lu (The Road Not Taken)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2018 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, DCP)

The Road Not Taken is one of those indie movies that could get filled under "crime" even though it isn't, really, but there's enough crime in it that if you want to push it as something of interest to more than just art-house audiences, you can fit it. It's more a story of a loser who winds up in the middle of a bunch of criminals and kind of floats through that situation for a while, at least until the filmmaker wants to end things. It's pretty decent, as those things go, giving you the good naturalistic acting and peeks at people just getting by you might not find in the crowd-pleasers, especially from China.

It opens by introducing the audience to Yong (Wang Xuebing), who's trying to start an ostrich farm on the edge of the Gobi desert, but he's in hock to loan shark Brother Five (Wang Xuleng), including a mortgage on the apartment in Taibailiang where his ex-wife Yan has been living for the past two years. Fortunately, Five isn't here to collect; he's just dropping off a kid (Zhu Gengyou) he describes as a nephew, with the implication that if Yong watches him a couple of days, it'll be good for his debt. It should be simple, but hearing another voice in the background when he calls Yan sets Yong off, and he's immediately into his truck, looking to confront her.

This is an obviously bad decision from the get-go, and the first part of the movie requires getting past a lot of wondering why we're watching either of these idiots. Yong literally forgets he's got a kid with him less than five minutes after the boy's been dropped off, and while the kid certainly has reason to be sullen, silent, and uncooperative once the plot reveals itself, his actions seem so random and counterproductive, designed solely to get him and Yong into bigger holes, it's frustrating enough to make a viewer forget that he's a kid and isn't necessarily going to act sensibly even under the best of circumstances.

Full review at EFilmCritic

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