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Archive for October 21st, 2013

After School (2008)

After School DVD

Kimura and Miki seem like just another happy married couple who have been childhood sweethearts. They live close to their neighbour Jinno, a high school teacher. As Miki is heavily pregnant and Kimura works late because he’s an accountant, he asks Jinno to keep an eye out on Miki just in case something happens. One day, Kimura asks Jinno if he can borrow his car to go to work but fails to come home during the evening. Kimura’s boss is handed a photo of him getting into a car with an attractive young woman so he hires a seedy detective by the name of Shimazaki to track him down. Shimazaki decides that he might find some clues at Kimura’s old school and in doing that gets Jinno to help out in his investigation.  The detective believes that Kimura has become involved with the yakuza and has been seeing a bar hostess called Ayumi.  Jinno though is resolute that Kimura would never cheat on his wife even though some footage on CCTV cameras is telling a different story.

This movie became a surprise hit when it was released in 2008. It’s a very good movie by indie director Kenji Uchida who came up trumps in 2005 at the Cannes Film Festival with his first movie A Stranger Of Mine which won 3 awards there (haven’t seen it yet!). This is the second movie he came up with. What seems like a simple enough mystery gradually unravels itself over the course of the movie and I really did enjoy the ingenious manner that Uchida handled it. It’s not like other mysteries where you sort of have an idea with what is going on – Uchida gradually pulls away the layers to the story one by one. It’s a clever technique by the director to make the viewer think they know everything that’s going on but as the movie progresses it becomes obvious that there is more to the plot than meets the eye. None of the characters are as transparent as they look and even Kimura’s friend Jinno knows more than what he is telling Shimazaki.  There are twists and turns galore before the climax so by the time the end credits scroll onscreen I was utterly captivated by what had transpired. It all boils down to the opening scene where you see a situation happening up to a certain point and by the end you are shown that scene in full. Then everything makes perfect sense and you realise just how good a director Uchida is! Although this isn’t a comedy movie per se, he has taken what would on paper sound like a thriller with some dark undertones and turned it into something that’s fairly light.

afterschool screenshot

The movie is helped by the fact that the cast consists of 3 actors who illuminate the screen as the lead characters. Yo Oizumi is fantastic as Jinno, Kimura’s childhood friend. A very crafty character who may look naïve and even act dumbfounded when he is told that Kimura has disappeared with another woman but he is more savvy than what the viewer is led to believe. Kuranosuke Sasaki shares plenty of screen time with Oizumi as the seedy private detective Shimazaki who is ordered to track down Kimura. They make an amusing pair together. Rounding off the leads is Masato Sakai as the mysterious accountant Kimura. The movie does make you question which of the three (maybe all of them) is pulling the wool over who’s eyes and that’s the beauty of the movie and why I found it so enjoyable.

I seriously didn’t expect much from this movie so I was pleasantly surprised. Not knowing anything about the plot I believe made the experience all the better for myself. So if you like a mystery story which has numerous twists to it, I’m sure you’ll like this movie very much. Recommended.

No trailer I’m afraid. Sorry.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Aces Go Places III poster

aka Mad Mission 3

Professional thief King Kong is duped by a 007 and Queen Elizabeth II lookalike into stealing the Crown Jewels which leads to all sorts of complications for him and his partner Baldy. He finds out that his employers aren’t who they’re supposed to be.

This is probably the weakest entry of the 4 Aces Go Places movies I’ve seen so far. Eric Tsang relinquishes his directing duties in this third instalment of the popular series and Tsui Hark takes up the reigns. His style is different from Tsang and not for the better either. There is more of a focus on slapstick comedy rather than the action although what you do see is rather good. It’s a parody of a James Bond movie complete with super-villain sets (a submarine which is shaped like a shark with teeth), gadgets and beautiful women. Hark also feels the need to copy a chase scene straight out of Mad Max. The movie features several actors that have starred in a couple of 007 movies such as Richard Kiel (Jaws) minus his steel teeth and Harold Sakata (Oddjob) complete with his bowler hat. There’s even an appearance by Peter Graves (of Mission Impossible fame) who turns up as a British agent.

aces-go-places-3 screenshot

It starts out as a very good movie with a great action sequence at The Eiffel Tower in Paris which I thought would set the tone for the rest of the story. Sadly it doesn’t and a big part of why it’s not a good movie is because Karl Maka mugs the screen too much as Baldy. He comes across as a very annoying character. I tolerated him in the first 2 movies but he was just too much in this instalment. Granted that a part of why the series was so successful was the audience liked his character but he has more screentime than his co-star in this movie. I didn’t think that was necessarily a good thing. Maybe a lot of viewers will enjoy seeing Maka taking the mickey out of himself but I did find him to be rather tiresome and wanted him offscreen more than on. That’s not to say I dislike the character of Baldy completely. Some of the jokes he is involved with mostly with his young son are funny. The misunderstanding with his wife when she thinks he’s having an affair is quite amusing too. Other jokes which come off rather well include King Kong using a special attachment to crack a high security access system that uses a game of Noughts & Crosses! I’m not sure who wrote the script but it falls apart easily in this movie. The plot is wafer thin and at times it becomes confusing. The stunts on display are OK (love the rocket powered skateboard chase!) though the special effects used look cheap (the matte effects come off the worst). The movie has its moments though they are few and far between such as seeing a bunch of jet-pack wearing Santa Clauses staging a heist!

If you enjoyed the first 2 movies then I’m sure you’ll like this one though I wasn’t too impressed. It’s a patchy effort from Tsui Hark. If you want to see the series at it’s very best skip this one and watch the 4th instalment by Ringo Lam which is an all-action spectacular. It’s a hell of an improvement over this one. Just average.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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