Review: The King’s Letters

The last we saw of King Sejong, he had completed a map of the stars with the help of former slave Jang Yeong-sil. Given that King Sejong is one of the most commonly portrayed historical figures in Korean cinema, I wonder if there is anything left of his illustrious life that hasn’t been interrogated, but, as the title indicates, The King’s Letters caps his career with perhaps his greatest accomplishment, which was helping create the unique script called Hunminjungeum, now better known to the outside world as Hangul, thus giving the hoi polloi a tool to communicate and participate more readily in society. 

Sejong this time is played by Song Kang-ho, whose inherent gruff style highlights the king’s less-than-regal background and points to his identifying with the people rather than the court, who are in thrall to China and thus can read and write Chinese characters, which they intend to keep to themselves. This fealty also results in the outlawing of Buddhism in favor of Confucianism, and when Sejong goes to a local Buddhist monk, Shinmi (Park Hae-il), to help him with devising an alphabet, the court is enraged to the edge of insurrection. At first, Shinmi, who is unusually proud for a Buddhist, seems unimpressed with the king’s request, but eventually sees the task as a means of helping to bring Buddhism back into some kind of favor. (It helps that the queen is a closet Buddhist.) He and his assistants, aided by the king’s two sons, work in secrecy, basing their research and development on Sanskrit, which uses phonetic characters rather than ideographs. 

Though Jo Chul-hyun’s direction lacks tension and dramatic momentum, he makes the scenes where the writing system emerges compelling. He does this by directly conveying the idea of a world where there is no writing system based on phonemes, and then working from there through a series of small but potent Eureka moments that bring home just how phenomenal the process was. Obviously, much of the humor and pathos attendant to such a process is lost on someone who isn’t Korean, but the ingenuity of the writing system itself is ably extrapolated. 

I have no idea if the movie is historically accurate, and the final scenes feel as if Jo is trying to make up for lost emotional traction with something a bit too sentimental, but, then, I’m not a Buddhist, so maybe it means something profound to viewers of a certain sensibility. 

In Korean, Japanese and Sanskrit. Now playing in Tokyo at Cinemart Shinjuku (03-5369-2831). 

The King’s Letters home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2019 Megabox Joong Ang PLUS M. Doodong Pictures

Posted in Movies | Tagged | Leave a comment

Media Mix, June 19, 2021

Yuka Saso

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the local press reaction to Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open tennis tournament. Though Osaka is still well regarded as both an athlete and a celebrity in Japan, the media seems to have given up trying to claim her as its semi-exclusive property owing to her Japanese nationality. Often when a Japanese person gains fame abroad their name is prefaced with the term “sekai no…”, meaning that the person now belongs to the “world” as well. Osaka’s case is slightly different since she mostly grew up in the U.S. and while she is very comfortable with and knowledgeable about Japan and Japanese things, she doesn’t make a big deal out of it. When she was first coming into her own as a world-class athlete, reporters would try to get her to talk about Japan, and she was forthcoming about her relationship to the country where she was born. Things became more difficult when reporters tried to get her to filter her replies about matters in general through a Japanese point-of-view, because she doesn’t seem to think that way, and eventually the press gave up on this gambit. 

That’s why it’s important that she is definitely coming to the Olympics to play for Japan. If she had decided to sit out the Games, it is likely greater attention would have been directed to emerging golf star Yuka Saso, who will also be at the Olympics. However, Saso will be playing for the Philippines. Like Osaka, Saso is of mixed parentage. She was born in Japan but has lived a good part of her life in the Philippines, where her mother is from. Also like Osaka, it was her father who strongly encouraged her to become a professional athlete, and there lies a fundamental difference. Saso’s father is Japanese, and thus much of her training as a golfer included a strong Japanese component. Osaka’s father is Haitian-American, so, at least when it came to tennis she developed less of a Japanese sensibility toward the sport. From what I can gather, Saso, who is a teenager and thus still has double nationality, is playing for the Philippines at the Olympics because she wants to give something back to the country. After all, it was in the Philippines that she learned golf, since, as her father himself admitted, it is much, much cheaper to play golf there than in Japan. However, he has also said that when Yuka turns 22 she will, like Osaka again, choose Japanese nationality. But unlike Osaka, she’s comfortable speaking to the press in Japanese (reportedly, she is fluent or conversant in four other languages) and isn’t shy at all. Had Osaka chosen not to play in the Tokyo Olympics for her “home fans,” the Japanese media could have easily fixed their gaze on Saso as the prime Japanese participant with a world standing, except that she’s representing the Philippines. You can’t have everything.

Posted in Media | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Review: Greed

At one point, Michael Winterbottom was perhaps the most irreducible major movie director working. Despite the fact that the guy’s output was regular as clockwork—at least one production a year, in addition to TV work—the range in style and genre was impressive, from serious literary adaptations to pot-boilers to art house porn, and with no appreciable drop-off in quality. Since the dawn of the millennium, however, his work has congealed into a mass of capable middle-brow entertainment whose main claim to iconoclasm is a kind of practiced cynicism. One of the reasons for this verdict is that, since 2002’s 24 Hour Party People, the actor he’s used the most is Steve Coogan, the king of British self-abasement. Coogan stars as the grotesquely narcissistic fast fashion billionaire Sir Richard McCreadie in the unsubtly titled Greed, which I predict will be deemed Winterbottom’s most characteristic work when he’s taught in film school a century from now; which isn’t to say it’s a great film, only that it does the job it sets out to in a way that Winterbottom has perfected with his popular Trip to… series starring Coogan and comedian Rob Brydon.

McCreadie is essentially an exaggerated version of the pompous jerk that Coogan plays—as himself, mind you—in the Trip movies and TV show. Since fast-fashion as a concept is more about business savvy than fashion sense, McCreadie has reached the summit through mercenary methods that are beyond questionable, and the movie’s sendup of British hypocrisy when it comes to rich celebrities is highlighted by the fact that while McCreadie has been knighted for his service to UK business interests he’s being investigated for fraud and other white collar crimes. Meanwhile, he grudgingly enjoys his wealth by throwing Roman Empire-themed birthday parties for himself and persecuting staff and contractors with the glee of someone whose self-hatred is presented as a form of recreation. He is so beyond redemption that he attempts to fire a lion for not doing exactly what it was rented for. When Syrian refugees inadvertently wash up on the shore of his birthday bash he insists they did so on purpose to spoil his fun. 

There’s a lot here that is funny, and Coogan has become so adept in his portrayal of base assholes that the viewer’s resentment of his character is both assured and painless, and as a result the movie as a whole has no purchase as a satire. Much of the stuff related to unethical business practices and the exploitation of practically everyone in the retail industry is well-researched and would be blisteringly relevant if this were a documentary. As it is, it feels wasted in the service of destroying a character who’s earned our derision as soon as he appears on screen. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Chanter Hibiya (050-6868-5001).

Greed home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2019 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and Channel Four Television Corporation

Posted in Movies | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Review: Mortal Kombat

The benefit of reviewing a game-based movie without being a gamer is that there are no impossible expectations that need to be met; but, then again, not being a gamer usually means expectations are low to begin with when addressing game-based movies. What I know about Mortal Kombat is that it’s infamously violent and stalled during its lucrative cinema adaptation franchise back in the 90s (it essentially launched Paul W.S Andersen’s career, for what that’s worth). This is by every definition a reboot, so philistines like me get to see it all from the beginning.

And the beginning, at least, holds up. Set in 17th century Japan, the movie starts with a warrior named Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada), living the pastoral life with his family when he’s attacked by a bunch of Chinese-speaking assassins led by Bi-Han (Joe Taslim), who freezes Hanzo’s wife and child to death before dispatching Hanzo himself, though, as fans of the game probably know, it doesn’t mean he’s actually “dead,” since death is a relative concept in this cosmos. But the battle of Hanzo is merely a preface—and a rippingly good one, filled with some clever, though grisly, swordplay and kung fu-type shit—and the movie then picks up where the game takes off, meaning the eternal war between Outworld and Earthrealm, the latter of which centers on an MMA fighter named Cole (Lewis Tan), whom Bi-Han seems to be gunning for since there’s some kind of blood connection between him and Hanzo that I could never figure out. After some fierce one-on-ones the movie bogs down into character exposition as Cole meets up with familiar faces from the MK universe and each has to “learn” their “special power,” an idea whose randomness always makes superhero movies that much more difficult to take seriously, even as fantasy, though this world seems to be dictated by prosaic American military cliches. And, of course, with every new character we have to muddle through a backstory that probably wasn’t necessary in the game. 

Director Simon McQuoid obviously was hired for his action chops, but he seems to have no patience for story development or continuity. Even when the action gets back to full-time fighting the movie had lost me. Obviously, the point here is to gather in a new audience for a new franchise, but I can’t help but feel that a real gamer is going to be even more frustrated by the lackluster storytelling. There’s only so much spine-tearing and head-smashing you can tolerate vicariously without a plot when you’re sitting in a movie theater with nothing to do with your hands except fumble with popcorn. Gamers rather be gaming. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Marunouchi Piccadilly (050-6875-0075), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).

Mortal Kombat home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Posted in Movies | Leave a comment

Review: The Clovehitch Killer

Probably the only narrative story device more hackneyed than the serial killer is the paid assassin. Neither are as tenth as ubiquitous as the movies would have us believe, and yet there’s obviously something about them that appeals to our ability to suspend disbelief because there sure are a lot of films that, pardon the expression, keep trying to pump new blood into the genres. As its very title makes clear, The Clovehitch Killer is not here to disabuse the viewer of any pretensions to being anything other than a serial killer movie, and for the most part it’s pretty straightforward in terms of plotting and elements of suspense, but it’s also weirder than that title lets on, and I’m not sure the weirdness was entirely intentional.

The title refers to the m.o. of a serial killer who terrorized a small Kentucky suburb ten years prior to the “present day” action: he would always leave a rope tied in a clovehitch knot at the scene of the crime. The story centers on one family, the Burnsides, and for most of the first half the POV is that of teenage son Tyler (Charlie Plummer), whose adherence to God, in the form of the family’s rock-solid evangelical beliefs, and Country, in the form of his membership in the local chapter of a religion-affiliated scouting organization, is wavering due to the usual mix of adolescent hormones and healthy pre-adult skepticism. One night he secretly “borrows” his landscaper father Don’s (Dylan McDermott) pickup truck for a rendezvous with a girl he has a crush on, and while they make out the girl finds a ripped out page from a bondage magazine under the seat. Tyler denies it belongs to him but the discovery definitely ruins the mood, and over the next couple of days through the power of rumor Tyler earns a reputation as a “pervert” at his high school. Forget that in the age of the Internet (a plot point that is constantly confounded with the appearance of flip phones alongside GPS apps) it seems strange that bondage magazines are still a thing, but in any case Tyler understands that the page must belong to his father. The fact that Tyler is shocked by this only reinforces the viewer’s conviction that he’s way too naive to be the protagonist of a serial killer movie, since Don is pretty much your classic example of the serial killer type: creepily outgoing, severely limited in terms of worldly interests and knowledge, and phonily candid about the sins he does admit to. Quickly, Tyler begins to wonder if his father, in fact, is the Clovehitch Killer, and enlists the help of a shadowy outcast girl, Kassi (Madisen Beaty), who is the town’s resident expert on the case, since she happens to live with a woman who wrote a book about it. 

There isn’t much of a mystery to solve, and in rapid succession clues turn into hard evidence, so the story’s most compelling aspect is what Tyler and Kassi decide do with this evidence. Director Duncan Skiles actually does well with the little he has to work with, creating a genuinely paranoid mood thanks mainly to McDermott’s uncharacteristically absorbing performance. Skiles is also not afraid to throw in comical non sequiturs to break up this mood in order to rejigger the emotional stakes, though at times you might think to yourself: That’s some really B-grade David Lynch shit. But once the POV moves away from Tyler you understand what Skiles is up against, and the movie strains at your desire to keep suspending disbelief for the sake of the movie. It all becomes just too much, which is a shame since McDermott and Plummer at times really seem to have something great going on. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Shinjuku Musashinokan (03-3354-5670).

The Clovehitch Killer home page in Japanese

photo (c) Clovehitch Film LLC 2016

Posted in Movies | Tagged | Leave a comment

Review: The Woman Who Ran

The English titles of Hong Sang-soo’s stilted comedies are always interesting. Sometimes they simply describe a situation in the plainest terms: Hotel by the River or The Day He Arrives. Other times they seem to be taking the piss: Like You Know It All or Right Now, Wrong Then. The title of his latest, The Woman Who Ran, would seem to qualify for the former category, except that the protagonist is a woman who doesn’t seem to be running at all, either towards something or away from it. Or maybe she is but we probably wouldn’t realize she is without Hong telling us that upfront. A common characteristic of Hong’s films is that they often address formalism as an end in itself, and sometimes the plots are simply there to prove a point about how stories can be told. The Woman Who Ran has its own unique formalist aspects, but since Hong has said repeatedly that he doesn’t know what he wants to do with a film until after he starts making it, it may be reading too much into his latest movie to say that the strict tripartite structure has more to say about the characters than the dialogue does.

Gam-hee (Hong regular Kim Min-hee) visits three friends during the course of the 77-minute movie whom she hasn’t seen since she married five years ago. In fact, as she tells all three, she hasn’t been separated from her spouse for even one day during the last five years, but he had to go on a short business trip so she thought she’d catch up on some old acquaintances. The first visit is to Young-soon (Seo Young-hwa), who, having divorced her own husband, is now living with a female companion on the outskirts of Seoul where she grows vegetables and raises chickens (“roosters are mean”). The second visit is to Su-young (Song Seon-mi), who teaches Pilates and has recently moved to an upscale apartment with her savings. The last visit is unintended, or, at least, it seems to be. Gam-hee takes in a movie at a small art house cinema and upon leaving discovers that it’s managed by Woo-jin (Kim Sae-byuk), whose husband was once Gam-hee’s lover. In fact, their reuniting is fraught with awkward tension, since the romantic changeover led to bad blood between them. 

Most of the dialogue throughout the three encounters is purposely anodyne, the usual boilerplate topics between old acquaintances like real estate, family situations, and work issues. Gam-hee, in fact, rarely betrays any problems in her life, and thus it’s implied that she’s taking the opportunity of her husband’s absence to re-explore the idea of freedom. But that’s not the real point of the movie, which mainly comes into its own when men literally enter the picture. After each of the three chats, a man intrudes on the women and makes demands. In the case of Young-soon, it’s a neighbor who objects to Young-soon feeding neighborhood stray cats, which he says “scare my wife,” and though the exchange is polite, the man’s insistence is very creepy. In Su-Young’s case, the intruder is a young poet who has been stalking her after meeting her in a bar one night. He insists on knowing why she keeps rebuffing his advances. In the last scene, Gam-hee runs into Woo-jin’s husband, meaning Gam-hee’s old lover, a successful but somehow disillusioned writer who doesn’t believe that Gam-hee encountered his wife “by accident.” 

In all three cases the meetings are comically contentious and point up the kind of male petulance that Hong has reserved as his own cinematic bailiwick. In all three scenes, the men are filmed from the back, as if their very existence is unwanted. The Woman Who Ran may be Hong’s most female-centered movie in that men are not only unnecessary, but insufferable in the greater scheme of female companionship. It’s a theme he’s explored before but never this plainly or, dare I say, hilariously. 

In Korean. Now playing in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6259-8608), Shinjuku Cinema Qualite (03-3352-5645).

The Woman Who Ran home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2019 Jeonwonsa Film Co.

Posted in Movies | Tagged | Leave a comment

Review: The Comeback Trail

Boomer entitlement rears its ugly head once again with this overwrought comedy starring three aging A-listers—Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, and Morgan Freeman—who seem predisposed to ruining whatever recent memories we have of them keeping up their end of the Hollywood star bargain. Though the premise is hardly promising, I was more intrigued by the pedigree behind the camera. The Comeback Trail is written and directed by George Gallo, who wrote the screenplay for one of De Niro’s only worthwhile ventures into comedy, Midnight Run. Suffice to say that Gallo’s cynicism has only sharpened over the years, but his ability to form and frame a joke seems a lot patchier these days. And the fact that the film is set in the 70s makes me wonder if it’s been sitting around in Gallo’s drawer since then.

De Niro plays sinking film producer Max Barber, who, along with his hapless nephew-assistant, Walter (Zach Braff), is in debt to the tune of several hundreds of thousands of dollars to local crime king Reggie Fontaine (Freeman), who’s pretty much at the end of his rope. De Niro, desperate to not only save his skin but also the only property he owns that means anything to him (another producer, played by Emile Hirsch, offers him top dollar for it), comes up with a scheme that Gallo probably thinks is worthy of Mel Brooks: a classic Western starring washed-up horse opera star Duke Montana (Jones), one of Reggie’s all-time heroes. Knowing that the movie couldn’t possibly make back what it would cost, Max takes out a huge insurance policy on Duke and plots his demise during the filming of the rather rugged action scenes, which Duke thinks he can still handle. You can predict what happens. 

For the most part, everyone hits their marks and seems to be having a rip-roaring good time, especially De Niro, who may see Max as revenge against all the assholes in Hollywood he’s had to put up with over the years; but those kinds of vendettas tend to work both ways. And while there’s some pretty good down-and-dirty slapstick and the aforementioned cynicism is, at times, sharp enough to keep you awake, Gallo really doesn’t have anything worth going over and the movie limps to a conclusion that anyone could have written. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shibuya Cine Quinto (03-3477-5905).

The Comeback Trail home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2020 The Comeback Trail LLC

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Review: Hope Gap

Given the generic late-middle-aged divorce drama premise of the story, the various publicity campaigns for Hope Gap focus on casting. Annette Bening, apparently, seems to have some sort of dedicated fan base in Japan, since that’s what the local PR is pushing. Internationally, the money is on Josh O’Connor, who skyrocketed to global fame as Charles in the third season of The Crown in 2019. That leaves the third wheel in the central family triumvirate, Bill Nighy, who, in contrast to his co-stars, seems sorely miscast.

Nighy and Bening play Edward and Grace, a British couple of middle class erudition who are coming to the end of a 30-year marriage. Edward appears to have resigned himself to its demise long ago, and mostly suffers his wife’s withering critiques of everything he does in reserved resignation. Despite her resentments, Grace is hell bent on making the marriage work even after all this time and doesn’t seem cognizant of her effect on Edward. Eventually, the other shoe drops and Edward confronts her with the ugly truth: he is in love with another woman, and has been for several years.

Though writer-director William Nicholson knows how to stage these contentious confrontations for maximum discomfort, he fails to engage the viewer by actually probing what it is about the marriage that failed in the first place. Later in the proceedings, he brings up something about how Edward fell in love too fast when he met Grace and then was too timid to back out once he had misgivings, but by that point there are too many other questions that this explanation simply can’t answer. In the meantime we’ve been introduced to Jamie (O’Connor), the couple’s 27-year-old son who has finally moved away from this idyllic seaside town to London, where he is gamely attempting to make a life of his own. Grace insists he come to visit and act as mediator in order to convince Edward to stay, even though he is already moved in with his mistress, Angela (Sally Rogers), an unassuming homemaker-widow who was the mother of one of Edward’s high school students. 

O’Connor manages to convey Jamie’s conflicted attachments to both his parents in a dramatically compelling way, but the plot, based on a stage play also written by Nicholson, has no forward momentum. It sits there on the screen spinning its wheels until it just runs out of gas. Bening brings depth to a character that often feels tediously over-determined, but Nighy, a comedian at heart whose typecasting as a hangdog phony has made him a star, seems as miserable in the part as Edward is in the company of Grace. It’s all very perplexing given the couple’s great jobs (she’s a poetry compiler–nice work if you can get it), gorgeous house, unchallenging fiscal circumstances, and a son who is clearly an intelligent, caring individual. I resent their incompatibility. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Kino Cinema Tachikawa Takashimaya (042-512-5162).

Hope Gap home page in Japanese

photo (c) Immersiverse Limited 2018

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Media Mix, June 5, 2021

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about a recent Supreme Court ruling that found in favor of construction workers who were suing the government over their exposure to asbestos. As pointed out by a reader, Christina Tsuchida, the UK and the U.S., among others, abide by the concept of sovereign immunity, which means, in principle, you can’t sue your government (though in the U.S., at least, there are circumstances where you can sue for negligence or bodily harm, apparently). So the question is: What makes Japan different? Obviously, the idea that one has a right to make a claim against the government is not something the plaintiffs in the cases I cite will find much comfort in, but it must have been discussed when Japan was finalizing its legal system years ago. Tsuchida ventures that “to discourage minorities’ revenge on majority rule, countries like Japan must have such a possibly long process for success.” In other words, the government leaves itself exposed to retribution for some perceived wrong but makes sure that any liability it is forced to bear as a result will be very hard won. This opens a huge can of worms, since it not only touches on the bureaucratic workings of such lawsuits, as explained in the column, but the way the judicial branch of the Japanese government operates. Japanese judges, after all, are hired to be judges out of law school; which could explain the often arbitrary nature of the decisions they hand down. Critics tend to say that since Japanese judges are beholden to the government for their livelihoods (in terms of promotion, etc.), they tend to side with the authorities, but in the asbestos cases they tended to side with plaintiffs, and though the merit of the plaintiffs’ complaint seemed obvious—the government for many years did not completely ban asbestos even after it was found to be carcinogenic—such clear-cut arguments often run up against technicalities, such as the government’s assertion that only construction workers who work as company employees can receive relief for asbestos harm in the form of workman’s compensation. In the end, it was only the Supreme Court’s decision that made a difference for the (surviving) plaintiffs because the government would always appeal, so in a sense it didn’t matter what the lower judges said at all. People have the right to sue their government, and in the end they may likely win, but they have to be angry enough in order to survive the judicial process. The process itself seems to guarantee that anger.

Posted in Media | Tagged | Leave a comment

Review: Denise Ho, Becoming the Song

Given that this weekend marks the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and that the Chinese government has prohibited any memorial of the incident in Hong Kong for the first time, the opening of Sue Williams’ documentary about pop star/democracy activist Denise Ho in Japan seems opportune for a variety of reasons, not least of all that it may help Japanese viewers focus on what’s at stake in the territory. Even before she threw her lot in with the city’s young pro-democracy contingent, Ho was a controversial figure, mainly because she came out as a lesbian at the height of her popularity as a singer—a revelation that did nothing to dent that popularity—but mainly because she’s forged a path as both an entertainer and a public person that has remained true to her ideals and veers away from those ideals for no one, including the show biz powers-that-be in China. 

As it happens, Ho’s upbringing was seriously affected by Tiananmen. Her parents were teachers and always suspicious of the Chinese Communist Party, and Tiananmen made them rethink their priorities for their children. When Denise was in junior high school, her parents moved the family to Montreal, where the school system, not to mention the Canadian mindset in general, instilled in her a fierce sense of individuality. However, the pull of her home town was always there, and in 1996, encouraged by her older brother (who would eventually become her music director), she entered a Cantopop singing contest and won, which set her up with various music production endeavors in Hong Kong. Her dream was to follow in the footsteps of her idol, Anita Mui, who became her mentor, but she bridled at the trappings of conventional stardom: the focus on glamor, the artistic prerogatives of (mostly) male managers and fans, and a resistance to her desire to tell her own story in song. In fact, it was her implacable will to tell that story that led to her coming out after a decade of playing mainly by the rules and being rewarded handsomely for it. In Williams’ telling of this story, it’s difficult not to imagine that Ho just happened to be the right person at the right time, and in that regard her gravitation to the pro-democracy movement was inevitable, since her own insistence on freely expressing herself as an artist sprang from a native fear following the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China that such freedoms were no longer guaranteed. 

Once the movement shifted to active participation, Ho had no choice but to shift with it, even though she knew it was destroy her career. This is the meaning of the title, “becoming the song.” She had to make real the idealism she sang about. In 2014 she was arrested on camera for taking part in an Umbrella Movement demonstration, and could no longer perform in China, where she had millions of fans. Consequently, many international brands, most notably L’Oreal, which stood by her after she came out, dropped their endorsement deals with her in order to placate the Chinese authorities. 

As powerful as the documentary is, it’s already dated since it ends with the riots over the extradition bill that was eventually overturned. All that seems so long ago, now that the government is cracking down even more ruthlessly than before. Though the movie expresses some hope for Ho by showing how she’s managed to stay solvent by playing concerts for overseas Chinese fans, there’s a bittersweet flavor to these performance vignettes that points to some kind of ending. Denise Ho may not be defeated, but it remains to be seen if her tirelessly potent example as a beacon of personal freedom will survive the current political situation. 

In English (mostly) and Cantonese. Now playing in Tokyo at Theater Image Forum Aoyama (03-5766-0114).

Denise Ho: Becoming the Song home page in Japanese

photo (c) Aquarian Works LLC

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment