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As Tears Go By 220px-As_Tears_Go_By

ATGB is an early Wong Kar Wai film, and you can tell. It doesn’t have the slow, surreal feel of most of his movies. It’s a pretty basic Hong Kong gangster movie, but the performances are what carry it (those, and Andy Lau’s tiny, tiny shorts).

Andy Lau plays a mid-level gangster who would probably have risen higher in the ranks if he wasn’t always trying to cover for his buddy, Fly. Fly is a fucking idiot who continually insults high-ranking members of other gangs, and gets his ass beat. Only the intervention of his BFF keeps him from getting murdered over and over. Everyone tells Andy Lau to dump this guy, but he and Fly have been friends for ages and he can’t seem to make himself get rid of him.

It gets more complicated when Andy Lau’s cousin shows up unexpectedly. She has some vaguely-explained illness, and has come from her rural island home to Hong Kong for treatment, and expects to stay with Andy Lau. Of course they fall in love (this sounds kind of gross, but if your cousin looked like Maggie Cheung), and just when it seems Andy Lau might be able to get out of the thug life and live happily ever after, Fly gets in trouble again…

ATGB is a predictable story, but it’s entertaining and not a little sad to watch Andy Lau’s hopes of a normal life spiral downward. Even the hideous 1990’s fashions they force Maggie Cheung into can’t diminish her beauty.

If you don’t go into ATGB expecting a Wong Kar Wai film, you won’t be disappointed. If you want a slightly-more-than-typical Hong Kong gangster movie, this is it.

sonatine_fr

Sonatine

When Beat Takeshi is scowling, you should be scared. When he’s smiling, you should be terrified. At least that’s the moral I took away from Sonatine, which he both directs and stars in.

He plays an aging Yakuza who jokes about retiring (or is he joking?). But when his boss’ brother, who heads a gang over in Okinawa, has some of his guys start shit with a rival gang, Takashi is sent by his boss to go help out. He takes his crew along, only to discover that the blow-up was not really the big deal his boss made it out to be, and oh crap maybe his own gang wants him and his crew dead.

Sonatine doesn’t glamorize Yakuza life at all; there’s a lot of tedious meetings in fancy offices, and people die quickly and without fanfare, but with lots of blood. The best part of the film occurs in Okinawa, where Takashi’s crew is faced with goofy provincial Yakuza cousins, and they have to go into hiding at this awesome beach house. What to Yakuza do when they have to lie low for a while? Get bored and do crazy stuff involving lots of alcohol and guns, of course. There’s a scene where Takashi kills a guy he finds raping a woman on the beach; she seems undisturbed by the fact that he didn’t kill the guy to save her, but because the rapist insulted him, and they have some kind of weird relationship after that where she just hangs around a lot.

The film is one of those 1990’s-era collections of scenes that apparently have little connection; they’re like vignettes with some of the same characters and a lot of the scenes don’t at first appear to have any point. But the movie eventually comes together to be more than the sum of its parts. It’s enjoyable and surprisingly humorous, if not one of my favorite Beat Takashi films.

Epitaph

Epitaph

A Korean horror film set in a hospital in the bad old days of the Japanese occupation sounds pretty mediocre, and it is. A doctor-in-training gets stuck with morgue duty, and when a beautiful young suicide shows up in one of his drawers, he becomes obsessed with her. At the same time, a little girl survives a car wreck that kills her parents, and starts seeing their ghosts hanging around the halls of the hospital. A doctor realizes that her perfect marriage isn’t so perfect, while trying to solve the mystery of Japanese soldiers who turn up stabbed around her workplace.

Epitaph is run-of-the-mill as Asian horror goes: there’s bloody ghosts, flickering lights and some twists to try to stump the viewer. The twists are predictable, and in the case of the murder storyline, the writers tried to layer twist upon twist, creating an annoying (but still predictable) mess.

So don’t watch Epitaph. It’s not good, it’s not bad; it’s worse than either of these: it’s blah.