Review: Wasabi (2001)


Gerard Krawczyk’s Wasabi, to put it simply, is forgettable. It has its funny moments, but its use of tired slapstick cliches that exaggerate action sequences and make fun of dim characters can be both tiring and annoying—-usually both and at the same time.

The plot kicks off when police officer Hubert Florentini learns that his Japanese ex-girlfriend is dead and that they have a teenage daughter together. This discovery brings Florentini to Japan where he uncovers the mysterious death of his ex and tries to establish a relationship with his newfound daughter.

Florentini’s unexplained affection for his ex is an early red flag. The first act of the film shows us how the the Frenchman is so enamored by a Japanese woman who left him almost two decades ago. There is little back story to prove that their relationship is rooted in something deeper other than Florentini’s longing for what’s absent, which unfortunately (accidentally?) paints the protagonist as a white male fetishizing his Asian ex-lover.

Yumi the daughter is played by Japanese actress Ryoko Hirosue who speaks French in most of the movie. And while around 80 percent of the entire film is set in Japan, everyone surprisingly speaks French including bank officers and the Yakuza gang leader.

The only character who doesn’t speak French is Yumi’s grandmother. Her non-fluency in the language is of course used as a comedic device. In the only scene she’s in, she awkwardly stands behind a traditional Japanese partition door and when Hubert’s sidekick asks her if he could use the washroom, she answers politely with a bow.

This misunderstanding is central to the film’s portrayal of Japan. While Franco dominance is expected in a French film, the problem lies on the movie’s depiction of Japan as a caricature and as the “Other” even in the country’s own territory.

The title alone, named after the pungent Japanese condiment, implies the film’s intention to highlight the foreign and exotic traits Japan is known for. There is even a specific scene in which Hubert eats a handful of wasabi without flinching. His sidekick, on the other hand, visibly struggles with swallowing the sauce.

This scene demonstrates two typical reactions of foreigners looking into Japan’s culture: that of total acceptance due to sheer awe and amazement, and that of repulsion. But Wasabi merely goes over these opposite absolutes and only scrapes the surface level of a culture that is so easily reduced to quirks and stereotypes.

In the end, Hubert still wins and frames the gang while taking their millions to fund his and Yumi’s life. The white guy always wins, they say, and sadly Wasabi does nothing to subvert this and many other cliches.


Review: Breathless (1960)

breathless-poster-breathless-15824199-800-1053SPOILER ALERT | Source

A little bit of historical context is needed to fully appreciate Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. This has been my third viewing of the film and, thanks to the fact that it is also one of the most celebrated products of the French New Wave, I am now more equipped to see the film beyond the literal sense.

One thing that bothered me the first time I saw it was the brush-the-lip gesture Michel (Jean Paul Belmondo) kept doing all throughout the movie. Apparently it was a nod to Hollywood actor Humphrey Bogart who is vital to the development of the protagonist’s character. Michel, a man on the run for shooting a police officer, is trying to emulate the charisma and bad-assery of Bogart known for his roles in iconic movies such as Casablanca.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 5.34.42 PMHumphrey Bogart | Screenshot

Without recognizing who Bogart is and the fact that he’s American while Michel is obviously French, one could get easily lost in the cultural significance of Breathless. It was made following a pact between France and the US which opened the French market for American products including cultural creations such as movies. Breathless, then, becomes not only a demonstration of technical innovation in film-making but also an exploration of a nation’s identity during the early stages of American cultural imperialism.

Continue reading

Review: Hellboy (2004)


Hellboy is one of the earlier inceptions of the modern comic book movie. It was released in 2004, a few years before Marvel kicked off their own cinematic universe, and was helmed by the brilliant Guillermo del Torro who made sure that this movie would go down as one of the most visually-gripping superhero movies since the turn of the century.

Or am I overrating it?

But no shit though, the movie reminded me a bit of Deadpool. Both characters are antiheroes, with Hellboy just a little bit more archetype-y because of his “saving the world” slant. Deadpool also has its breaking-the-fourth-wall shtick while Hellboy is more straightforward. The latter, however, has this sincere human struggle of trying to fit in and be accepted—something Deadpool never gave a damn about.

Case in point: Hellboy, a red demon spawn adopted by a professor who works for the FBI, shaves and files his two pointy horns. And upon suspecting that his ladylove Liz is dating the FBI agent who’s also his errand boy, he stalks them and squirms in queasy jealousy. “He took a picture of her!” he exclaims over and over again, as we all have similarly done upon learning that Crush is into Some Other Bitch.

The plot may have gone the stereotypical route of having the antihero lured into his evil ways then eventually choosing to be the good guy—but that isn’t an issue. The Superhero—antihero or not—is a character trope that offers too little a room for defiance (don’t all tropes do?). Some superhero movies have tried to pull the moral ambiguity clause, but their protagonists have still turned out to be flawed but inherently kind individuals who would do everything for the greater good.

What makes Hellboy stand the test of time, however, is its visuals. Except for the explosions that are obviously early 2000s CGI, the rest of the visual spectacle are sophisticated and are perfect for the dark comedy ambience of the movie. I was genuinely surprised that it was made before I even hit puberty.

And for the last point of this wonky attempt at critique: Hellboy looks so much like Gareth Bale! Right? Riiight?

67d717f2-300f-485d-ac55-5b713e78dea1_1024_512RIGHT???? | Source

For people like me who very rarely watch movies the year they were released, maybe now is the time to give Hellboy a chance. Superhero movies are the hippest, and Hellboy definitely counts as one of those oldies but goodies kindo’ movie.

Review: The Purge (2013)

the_purge_poster SPOILER ALERT! | Source

I guess everyone would agree that the premise of James DeMonaco’s The Purge is rather interesting: in 2022 America where 99 percent of the population is employed and the crime rate is at an all time low, there is an annual “purge” that allows people to unleash their inner psychopath.

Once a year, for 12 hours, all crimes including murder become legal and government aids such as health and police services are suspended. This idea is rife with opportunities for socio-political commentary, and the film is well aware of it. But despite being set in a thriving, wealthy society, the film zooms in to violent criminal activities reminiscent of the urban ghetto.

Right off the bat, we see a montage of various street crimes for which the baseball bat is the no. 1 weapon of choice. The news soundbytes also tell us that this annual sociopath party is criticized for being just another way to “eliminate the poor.”

This brings me to the first of two major contentions I have against this dystopian world the film has created: it asserts that murdering poor people is the key to a much better economy. It took “beating poverty” to a literal level, which is funny but only in retrospect.

Sure, this flawed logic is primarily espoused by the movie’s antagonists who are huge wackos, but it also serves as the main motivation behind the film’s conflict. And unfortunately, this stupid assertion leaves the audience (or me, fine) to either ignore the faulty and shallow analysis or to disregard character development altogether and just accept that the villains are driven by insanity and nothing more.

Continue reading

Review: Dr. Strangelove (1964)

From Wiki

Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove is strangely not about its eponymous character. The doctor was only in three major scenes in this movie that is ultimately a satirical take on the 50s nuclear war tension when the the Cold War was at its iciest.

Continue reading

Review: Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

From Wikipedia

Pitch Perfect 2 was a pain to watch, especially for those like me who wanted to like it so bad. The first movie, while not a cinematic masterpiece, was decently charming. This time, however, the novelty of the “a cappella” theme was not enough to compensate for terrible writing and crappy direction.

Continue reading

Drive (2011)

Should have listened to people when they told me it was one of the best — if not the best — films of 2011. Carey Mulligan was cute, as usual, and Ryan Gosling was surprisingly charming. I say “surprisingly” because I never really thought of him as The Dream Boy every girl (at least according to Buzzfeed articles) makes him out to be.

The story was neatly laid out, well-paced and used no convenient coincidences just to keep the actions going. Certain scenes screamed of tension I don’t usually get even from high-budget action films. No elaborate fight scenes but there were sleek car chases. The silence (when Gosling and Blanche were waiting for Standard to come out of the pawnshop) and the music (“real human being…”) were perfect.

Continue reading