Chinese film dominated the first half of the month for me, with genres from romance to screwball comedy to cop stories and a large-scale space story.
First up from Pang Ho-cheung, the writer-director behind the Love in a Puff series, was Missbehavior, a film that follows a group of once-close friends come together over the course of one afternoon to help a member in a crisis: she needs to replace her boss’s bottle of breast milk. It’s pretty dumb, but it features a well-known and enjoyable cast, and it has an earnest sequence that very nearly steps right out of the movie to make a case for marriage equality.
One weird question: the incessant use of the word “bitch” was very off-putting (in fact, I almost walked out because of it) and I’m curious what the original word was and if it is as harsh & misogynistic. If anyone knows, please tell me!
Integrity was a fine & forgettable cop thriller, and I was literally the only person in the theater. I managed to keep my phone in my bag for the entire movie, though, so fyi it can be done even if no one would be bothered.
The next morning, though, the same house was virtually sold out for The Wandering Earth, which is doing killer business in the States and will apparently be coming to Netflix. Finally people will be able to see that I did not invent wholesale a movie where the sun is expanding so folks deal with it by attaching ten thousand engines to Earth, moving into underground cities, and blasting the planet slowly out of the solar system in search of some unknown other place to live until! Horror! Things Happen which mean they almost crash into Jupiter. This is fine. Is it good? It’s okay.
I am a sucker for a non-US genre picture, especially one with Big Ideas, and this one takes a nutball premise and treats it Very Seriously. There are touching family moments and Lunar New Year celebrations despite there no longer being a moon, but there is also some very cool production design, from now-frozen Shanghai to small details of how everyday machinery has evolved. A headline I saw when I was doing a quick runtime Google called it gorgeous & goofy, and honestly I could have done with a little more goofy. It was gorgeous, though.
In the snowpocalypse gap I took myself down to the Film Center for the restorations of Police Story & Police Story 2. I’d somehow never seen either one, and it was a blast to catch them with a dedicated audience. They’re great fun both for the genius of Jackie Chan, of course, but also for the introduction of my girl Maggie Cheung as his character’s long-suffering girlfriend.
My Valentine’s Day viewing was Fall in Love at First Kiss, a young adult romance that didn’t work on me, though part of the issue was the lack of translation of on-screen text, an ongoing problem I’ve been encountering with Chinese films. Our heroine (Lin Yun, title star of Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid, a hoot of a film about environmentalism, no, really) winds up kissing the smartest guy in school on the first day of term and then basically imprints on him, engaging in a bunch of stalking behavior despite the fact that he’s flat-out cruel to her in response.
It almost works because she’s cute as a button (and his mom is for the match), but I did find myself hoping she’d wind up with the guy crushing on her instead. He was a wannabe bad boy who cooks! I’m sold. The film tries to retcon her crush’s bad behavior at the end with flashbacks from his perspective, but since so much of the sequence is dependent on untranslated onscreen text (social media captions & a lengthy letter) it left me completely lost. Ah well. But while you’re here, I can tell you one of my favorite recent Chinese romcoms is still on Netflix: This Is Not What I Expected, starring faves Takeshi Kaneshiro & Zhou Dongyu (I handwaved the age gap & you can too!)
The first feature from writer-director Marcelo Martinessi, The Heiresses is the story of an older lesbian couple who have financial difficulties which result in one going to prison. The other, Chela, is forced out into the world as she navigates life alone, falling into work as a private taxi driver for elderly women and through them meeting a younger, freer woman.
Some of the most effective scenes involve the sale of the couple’s assets, Chela peering through curtains and around doors at what remains of her life as people pick up, chat over, and put down an inheritance and a lifetime of trinkets, dishes, and linens. It’d be an interesting companion film to Outside In; Ana Brun as Chela was terrific & subtle, and reminded me a lot of Edie Falco in that film, opening up as a young person expanded the boundaries of her life.
Capernaum is a heartbreaking but ultimately a little hopeful story, one of those movies where I spent the whole film worrying about terrible things that didn’t happen. (To be clear, terrible things do happen, just… never underestimate the sheer number of terrible things my brain can come up with in any given situation.)
It’s told in flashback, as 12 year old Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) is in front of a judge for committing an assault. His parents are in court, and through the flashbacks we see the wide void between the faces they present in court and the way they treat their children when no one else is watching. It handles a lot of hard subjects, including child abuse and neglect, child marriage, extreme poverty, and exploitation of undocumented immigrants, but it does so in a clear-eyed, organic way. I can see why people called it depressing, but it ends on such a gut punch of an up-note that I can’t reduce it that way. Incredibly sad, but still hopeful. I’m glad I saw it.
Finally, we’ve been all over this on Twitter, but you’ve all watched Russian Doll (#whatweowetoeachother) & the new season of One Day at a Time, right? Good. Because I promise they will both make your life better.