“Chinese People Have A Saying; When People Get Cancer, They Die…”
First released to the public at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to overly positive critical and audience reviews, The Farewell comes to British cinemas this week with an impressively widespread general release, particularly for a movie which predominantly relies on the use of subtitles, an art of which the lay cinema fan still seems to strangely shy away from. Directed and written by Beijing born filmmaker, Lulu Wang, The Farewell is a comedic drama based in-part on her own experience involving her elderly grandmother who was hidden from the truth of her terminal cancer diagnosis by her own family, a decision of which in Chinese culture is apparently relatively common and surprisingly lawful. Portrayed as a sort of indie inspired, heartfelt comedy from its’ supporting trailer, Wang’s movie is indeed an interesting, minimal and contemplative piece, one which takes much pleasure in exploring a particular culture completely alien to that of most Westerners including myself, but with a strangely flat pacing and a onenote idea which runs out of steam come the hour mark, The Farewell is clearly a project made with an abundance of passion, but as a film, failed to completely draw me in on an emotional level and thus come the final hurdle, becomes slightly benign and immediately forgettable.
Following up from interesting supporting performances in the likes of Ocean’s 8 and the vastly superior cultural comedy, Crazy Rich Asians, Awkwafina this time takes the lead role as Billi, the supposed fictional stand-in for Wang who upon hearing about her family’s decision to hide the traumatic news from her grandmother, Nai Nai, played in a rather excellent form by Zhao Shuzhen, takes the long trip over to China in order to engage in a makeshift family wedding, a particular event used as an excuse for the family to reunite in order to see their beloved matriarch for potentially the final time. With the comedic quips minimal in favour of long, drawn-out shots of contemplative nothingness, the pace of the movie does feel bafflingly lifeless, and even when at the heart of the story is a plot device which should naturally woo the hearts of even the sturnest audience member, the truth is that at no time did I really care about anyone on-screen throughout the course of a hundred minutes which in all honesty, felt closer to the two hour mark, a negative aspect if ever there was one. With my mind not fully engaged therefore, the excellent performances do sort of become taken for granted, whilst the interesting cultural examinations don’t really make any real difference, and with a concluding act which doesn’t make any narrative sense and sort of makes the entire point of the movie completely pointless, Wang’s movie is clearly made with a lot of heart, but it still lacked that key ingredient you need from a drama; drama.
Overall Score: 6/10
“There Is A Hokkien Phrase ‘Kaki Lang’. It Means: Our Own Kind Of People, And You’re Not Our Own Kind…”
Based upon the 2013 novel of the same name by Singaporean–American writer, Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians takes the familiar tale and narrative path of romantic comedies from the past and places it slap bang in the middle of Southeast Asia as we follow Constance Wu’s (Torchwood) Rachel Chu, a successful professor of economics at New York University who travels with her secretive boyfriend, Henry Golding’s (A Simple Favour) Nick Young, to Singapore in order to finally meet his family and friends. Directed by Jon M. Chu, a filmmaker whose previous credits haven’t exactly been rewarded with critical admiration thanks to the likes of Now You See Me 2 and, shiver incoming, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Crazy Rich Asians manages to be the director’s first outstanding success, with his latest release a frothy, uplifting and thoroughly enjoyable rom-com which manages to balance a catalogue of underlying themes and ideas whilst offering stellar development of its’ many leading and supporting characters who each come across identifiable and wholly individual, and whilst at times the narrative may feel overly familiar and cliched, the sheer sense of wonder the movie emits showers over its’ creases with expert levels of delight.
Whilst the big and most important headline regarding the film’s release is the fact that Chu’s latest is shockingly the first film since the 1993 drama, The Joy Luck Club, to simultaneously feature a predominantly Asian cast and be financed, backed and released by a major Hollywood studio, Crazy Rich Asians is much more than just a kick-starter for filmic equality, with committed performances, laugh-out loud levels of comedy and a warm beating heart at its’ core all congealing around a central duo of lovers whose chemistry is so convincing, the fact the film only ever has one outcome doesn’t matter whatsoever and only serves to improve the good-hearted nature of the tale. With comments on the global class system and the potential cost of being an outsider, the film’s screenplay takes the appeal up a level from just being yet another bog-standard romance re-hash, and with pain-staking levels of detail and admiration for the movie’s location setting, the eye-watering levels of excess, ranging from deluxe style houses to ridiculous bachelor parties, never feels annoying or sickening, with the depiction of the culture’s food in particular guaranteed to make the stomach rumble. Leaving all audiences undoubtedly with a spring in their step and a tear in their eye, Crazy Rich Asians is a traditional love story which manages to feel both fresh and fantastical without ever feeling to need to be manipulative in order to win over its’ audience. Superb entertainment.
Overall Score: 8/10
“We Will Not Be The Prime Suspects…”
With Steven Soderbergh’s ice-cool Oceans Eleven back at the start of the twentieth a contemporary remake of the 1960 Rat Pack-led movie of the same name which managed to not only work exceptionally well to both critics and audiences alike, but managed to create a further two big-screen releases with its’ staggeringly star-studded cast, the release of Ocean’s 8 follows the blueprint of 2016’s Ghostbusters by being a franchise spin-off/remake which modifies the primary gender of the film’s preceding it from predominantly male to female. With the notion of gender-modification on-screen something of which I’m entirely supportive of, with the film industry still way behind in terms of equal pay and equal opportunities even in a post-Weinstein cinematic era, the real question remains whether the final product is good enough to warrant a continuation of the franchise in the first place, and with a stellar, starry cast, an abundance of flashy style and some interesting plot developments, Ocean’s 8 is an enjoyable caper-based romp, one which although sacrifices deep characterisation in favour of simply getting on with the job at hand, is a more than capable treading of old ground which harmlessly passes the time but still does not hit the gold standard of the original remake which still remains the best in the franchise thus far.
Directed by Gary Ross of The Hunger Games fame, Ocean’s 8 follows Sandra Bullock’s (Gravity) Debbie Ocean, the freshly released ex-con whose family tree burdens her with a pre-conception of her immediate return to crime as soon as she gets back on her feet in the outside world. Surprise, surprise therefore that with the help of a merry band of fellow criminals including Cate Blanchett’s (Thor: Ragnarok) leather jacket wearing Lou and Sarah Paulson’s (The Post) suburban housewife turned profiteer, Tammy, Ocean immediately plans to steal a staggeringly expensive necklace from Anne Hathaway’s (Interstellar) air-headed Daphne Kluger during the annual star-studded Met Gala. With a silly, plot-hole ridden screenplay, one which disregards any meaningful character backstory whatsoever and one which leans too heavily on a reliance that the audience will agree to leave their brain at the door, Ocean’s 8 is the cinematic equivalent of an episode of Hustle, a sometimes sharp, quip laden flash-a-thon which is bolstered by a fundamentally appealing cast who simply are there to get the job done and have fun whilst doing it, and whether or not you can bypass the sheer stupidity of the central heist is the real measure of how you may or may not enjoy the film, but for a harmless slice of popcorn entertainment, Ocean’s 8 is far from the worst entry in the franchise and passed the time rather solidly.