Category Archives: Foreign

Three (2016, Johnnie To)

Three is about a dirty cop (Louis Koo), a determined doctor (Zhao Wei), and an injured criminal (Wallace Chung). It’s not real time, but its present action is probably seven hours–in an under ninety minute runtime–so it’s close. Zhao is supposed to be getting more and more tired because she refuses to go home from work. Koo’s getting fed up, Chung should be suffering effects from the bullet lodged in his skull. There should be a lot of tension.

And there isn’t. Even when the script goes out of its way to foreshadow tense sequences, it’s never tense. Director To puts so little time into the performances, it’s impossible to emphasize even superficially with any of the cast. And it’s set in a hospital. There are sick people who should be likable. But To never puts anything into the characters. He’s all about this artificial sense of place. Three’s hospital isn’t nitty gritty or pragmatic and functional. It’s often CG. The ultra wide-angle shots, where the actors all stand around and pretend to be intense, hint at some possibility, but To’s either checked out or just doing a bad job.

The script isn’t good. It goes on and on to get to the big events, whether it’s a shootout or Chung revealing himself to be a genius against Koo’s less and less competent cop. Making Koo corrupt–and his entire character motivation built around it–is one of the lamer aspects of the script. It turns Koo’s character into something of a dope and gives Koo, as an actor, almost nothing to do. Chung’s better because the part–manic, superviolent, supersmart criminal–is better. Chung’s character is the trope too, which is just another problem with the script. Writers Yau Nai-hoi, Lau Ho-leung, and Mak Tin-shu are terrible with the character stuff. They’re not much better planning out the reveals, but they’re worse with the character stuff.

Yet, To’s good enough at keeping it moving he’s able to move Three over the more glaring problems. Zhao’s unlikable evil doctor–she’s not just an uncaring woman doctor, she’s also an overambitious country girl–is reduced to this absurd, derisive point. The script gives her bad material and then makes it worse. She functions in the film as the scapegoat. And because she’s an ambitious woman it’s even worse.

Watching Three, especially in the third act, really felt like watching something from the early nineties. The slow motion action sequences–which all have something flipping over in the air–and the weak music choices (and score). It wastes a compelling hook–they’re all trapped in a hospital after all–but keeps promising it eventually won’t waste it. Then it does. Watching the movie, you see it run out of steam. Everything catches up and drags it down.

Cheng Siu-Keung’s photography is occasionally great, occasionally not. It’s usually competent and able to keep up with To when it seems like he’s building to some kind of visual pace. He never gets to one. David Richardson’s editing is mundane but competent.

It’s a rather depressing seventy-five minutes; fifteen in is about where it’s clear Three isn’t going to work out. But it’s not clear until the very end just how disappointing it’s going to turn out. And To still does do some interesting things–those wide shots, for example–but it doesn’t matter. The rest of his work is either disinterested or just bad. Three’s a stinker.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Johnnie To; written by Yau Nai-hoi, Lau Ho-leung, and Mak Tin-shu; director of photography, Cheng Siu-keung; edited by David Richardson; music by Xavier Jamaux; production designer, Cheung Siu-hong; produced by To and Yau; released by Media Asia Film.

Starring Zhao Wei (Dr. Tong), Louis Koo (Chief Inspector Ken), Wallace Chung (Shun), Lo Hoi-pang (Chung), Cheung Siu-fai (Dr. Fok), and Lam Suet (Fatty).


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The Great Silence (1968, Sergio Corbucci)

The first act of The Great Silence at least implies some traditional Western tropes. Jean-Louis Trintignant is a gunslinger who fights with evil bounty hunters. Frank Wolff is the new sheriff. Klaus Kinski is one of the evil bounty hunters. Wolff’s got political stuff, or at least the script implies there’s going to be political stuff, just like the script makes implications about Trintignant and Kinski. They’re not red herrings, but director Corbucci has something to say about the Western genre and he’s getting his pieces in order.

And, frankly, that first act is a little plodding. Sure, the winter setting is cool–Corbucci has no interest in the town other than as a setting for his action, so getting to know it is a passive experience, unnecessary for the narrative but so gorgeous snow covered–and Kinski’s immediately awesome. Well, he’s immediately different. It takes a couple scenes before it’s clear he’s just going to be awesome throughout, like he’s the only one who gets to know the film’s destination.

After running around in circles–literally–Corbucci gets Silence into the second act and the film starts to get a lot different. None of the Western tropes implied are getting followed up on. I mean, Trintignant’s even revealed to be hunting bounty killers because they killed his parents. Corbucci is going all out with the possible tropes and none of them really stick. Silvano Ippoliti’s photography is too heartless for them to stick. Even the Ennio Morricone score bucks sentimentality and nostalgia; it’s not a particularly successful score, but it is an effective one.

Instead, Silence becomes Wolff’s story. Turns out Luigi Pistilli’s Mr. Big is running the bounty hunters–that political subplot possibility–and Wolff’s going to do whatever it takes to keep things apolitical and legal. There’s a lot about legality in Great Silence; Corbucci plays just enough into Spaghetti Western expectations to get away with a lot of exposition and a lot of sentimentality. The love scene between Trintignant and Vonetta McGee (as the woman who hires him to avenge her husband–against Kinski, of course)–their whole romance–is just a subplot in what’s first Wolff’s film and then Kinski’s. Even though Trintignant is playing the title character–he’s The Great Silence–Corbucci kicks the genre around enough to allow the hero to be another player and a silent one at that.

See, Trintignant isn’t speaking. Those bounty killers who killed his parents made him mute. His whole performance is stress fractures in stoicism, which makes the whole love story subplot even better. It’s also a device for Corbucci’s commentary–the hero, though present and active, is removed from the viewer’s experience of the film.

Kinski’s amazing. It’s his movie. Wolff’s great, McGhee’s great. There’s a lot going on in the second act, including some nice stuff from Marisa Merlini too. Corbucci’s going for better performances than one expects from a Spaghetti Western; he’s refusing to let them be caricature. After threatening it for the first act; presumably to get the viewer to pay attention.

And then there’s the finish, which is sort of what the third act to the first act would look like–with a more traditional second act–only Corbucci’s run it through that devastating second act.

So the big question–since I didn’t start writing this response with a star rating decided on–do Corbucci’s successes make up for the film’s problems. And they do. The Great Silence has some slow parts, some seemingly needless shots, some way too long takes, but Corbucci does bring it all together and make something fantastic. It’s exceptional.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sergio Corbucci; screenplay by Vittoriano Petrilli, Mario Amendola, Bruno Corbucci, and Sergio Corbucci, based on a story by Sergio Corbucci; director of photography, Silvano Ippoliti; edited by Amedeo Salfa; music by Ennio Morricone; produced by Attilio Riccio and Robert Dorfmann; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant (Silence), Klaus Kinski (Tigrero), Vonetta McGee (Pauline Middleton), Frank Wolff (Sheriff Gideon Corbett), Marisa Merlini (Regina), Mario Brega (Martin), and Luigi Pistilli (Henry Pollicut).


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Operation Chromite (2016, John H. Lee)

There’s no indication there’s a better movie anywhere in Operation Chromite. Director Lee just doesn’t have a handle on it. The script’s an uncomfortable mix of predictable and manipulative–director Lee and co-writer Lee Man-hee lay on the war movie jingoism so thick, it actually takes a while to realize Lee Beom-su’s giving a legitimately great performance as the North Korean bad guy. There’s too much crap going on with really questionable guest star Liam Neeson.

While the decent parts of Operation Chromite are a South Korean film with actors speaking Korean, there are these horrendous moments with Liam Neeson as General Douglas MacArthur. It’s a terrible performance, the kind you’d think Neeson would only give if he didn’t think the film would get a release in the United States. Sean Dulake did the dialogue for the English language scenes (he also appears as Neeson’s sidekick); it’s awful dialogue. You don’t have any respect for Neeson, but I did feel bad for Jon Gries, who shows up to have an awful expository dialogue argument. I hope Neeson bought something nice with his paycheck.

Worse–sort of–is the digital composites intended to convince the audience Neeson is filming with the rest of the cast. He’s clearly not, as the terrible composites betray. Chromite’s cinematography is weak to begin with, especially since they attempt to match the overblown lighting of the composite shots. As if Lee Dong-joon’s soulful but adventurous, rousing but melancholy music doesn’t slather on the vapid anti-Communism message enough–more on it in a second–with that overblown lighting and Neeson’s porky performance….

Neeson and Lee’s handling of his scenes, not to mention the crappy, manipulative resolution, sink Operation Chromite. Because even though it was a dumb, jingoistic action war thriller, it was a relatively fun one. Sure, whenever the movie tries to juxtapose Communist Lee Beom-su and ex-Communist Lee Jung-jae and their ideologies and whatever, it’s crap. But it’s crap whenever Neeson is around too so it’s a familiar experience. You just wait them out, because otherwise it’s sort of fun. None of the characters get enough attention but they’re at least likable performances, some of them good. Director Lee doesn’t know how to get a good performance–not in English, not in Korean–but he does recognize when he’s shooting one and gives his actors occasional space. The leads anyway.

If Operation Chromite were a completely different dumb, jingoistic action war thriller, with a different script, a different director, no Liam Neeson, but the same Korean cast and the same concept, it’d be better. With an excellent director–someone who knew how to make a war movie (since Chromite goes through various types of war movie sequences, haphazardly stuck together with CG), someone who knew how to balance a big cast–and a better script, the project might deserve the performances Lee Beom-su and Lee Jung-jae put into it.

Lee Beom-su’s evil little North Korean commander is a dangerous person. Even in the exaggerated scenes, Lee Beom-su brings something real to it. Everyone in Operation Chromite is a caricature (at best), but Lee Beom-su makes it feel like his character is pretending to be a caricature. Shame the script can’t keep up.

And Lee Jung-jae’s great as the soulful ex-Communist turned action hero. It’s not a deep role, but it’s got some details and Lee Jung-jae’s able to make it work. He’s got some excellent scenes in the film, even if his character’s way too thin.

The most disappointing thing is, after a rocky start, Operation Chromite gets better. The less Neeson, the better. Then he comes back. And down it all goes. But it’s not just him–it’s got a weak third act. Chromite is a mess with occasional smooth patches.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John H. Lee; written by Sean Dulake, Lee Man-hee, and John H. Lee; edited by Steve M. Choe; music by Lee Dong-joon; produced by Chung Taewon; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Lee Jung-jae (Jang Hak-soo), Lee Beom-su (Lim Gye-jin), Jin Se-yeon (Han Jae-seon), Park Cheol-min (Nam Ki-seong), Kim Hee-jin (Ryu Jang-choon), and Liam Neeson (Douglas MacArthur).


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Django (1966, Sergio Corbucci)

Right away, Djano sets itself to have a problem–gunfighter Franco Nero is just way too good. Just when he’s too unstoppable, too unbeatable, the film finds a way to make him even more unstoppable, more unbeatable. The first act of the film has him taking on a band of Confederate soldiers who have rallied behind a would-be Klan leader (Eduardo Fajardo) and are terrorizing Mexicans and possible race traitors in border towns.

Nero has something of a love interest in Loredana Nusciak (who he saves first from Mexican revolutionaries and then the Klansmen) and something of a sidekick in cathouse owner Ángel Álvarez. Only these character relationships only go so far. Nero’s got to kill a lot of people and friends and lady friends just get in the way of it.

Sometime in the second act, José Bódalo shows up as a revolutionary general. He and Nero are old friends and they basically plan a heist. And the movie sort of starts over again. Nusciak isn’t the love interest anymore, Álvarez isn’t the sidekick, instead it’s Nero and Bódalo all the way. Until it starts over again. I don’t think it starts over a third time. It’s very episodic, but the episodes go on just a little too long and don’t have good transitions.

Nero mostly keeps the film together, though the supporting cast helps a lot. Fajardo is an awesome villain, Álvarez’s a decent sidekick, and Nusciak’s pretty good when she’s not acting opposite Nero. As a director–at least as far as directing his actors goes–Corbucci is better when they aren’t talking to each other. Nusciak’s silent observations of the goings on around her, Nero’s reading of his adversaries, those moments are some of the actors’ bests. Though Nero and Bódalo are cute together. Bódalo is far more likable than he ought to be.

Technically, the film has its ups and downs. Nino Baragli and Sergio Montanari’s editing is weak. Corbucci has some well-choreographed sequences–especially a barroom fistfight–but Baragli and Montanari’s editing emphasizes Corbucci’s worst ideas, not his best. The gunfights in particular lack any rhythm. Though Luis Bacalov’s Morricone super-lite score doesn’t help with them either.

Enzo Barboni’s photography is fine, Carlo Simi’s production design is awesome. And Corbucci does have his moments.

Whatever its problems, Django compels throughout. Even in its sillier moments.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Sergio Corbucci; screenplay by Franco Rossetti, Piero Vivarelli, Sergio Corbucci, and Bruno Corbucci, based on a story by Sergio Corbucci and Bruno Corbucci; director of photography, Enzo Barboni; edited by Nino Baragli and Sergio Montanari; music by Luis Bacalov; production designer, Carlo Simi; released by Euro International Film.

Starring Franco Nero (Django), José Bódalo (Gen. Hugo Rodriguez), Loredana Nusciak (Maria), Ángel Álvarez (Nathaniel the Bartender), Gino Pernice (Brother Jonathan), Simón Arriaga (Miguel), Remo De Angelis (Ricardo), and Eduardo Fajardo (Major Jackson).


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