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Taiyô no uta (2006)
Midnight Sun Shines a Bright Light on an Already Overly Familiar Storyline
Midnight Sun is a film I looked high and low for; hoping that my time spent would be well worth it. Midnight Sun will no doubt bring to mind films like A Walk to Remember, and considering there are a number of features out there that depict couples where one of them is gravely ill, the film does indeed have a sense of predictability. Despite this, it is cute, inspiring, youthful and tender, and though there are sadder films of a similar nature out there (I'm looking at you A Millionaire's First Love), this film is still capable of making you shed a tear (or ten).
Kaoru (Yui) is a teenage girl whose main connection with the outside world is her window. She sits and stares by day at the lives of those outside, unable to join them because of a rare genetic disorder that makes a case of bad sunburn the least of her worries. The feature packs in enough information about her condition to help us understand its severity, and makes Kaoru even more sympathetic.
The relationship Kaoru has with her parents (played by Goro Kihitani and Kuniko Asagi) is a distant one, not least because of their peripheral role. This is a shame considering how entertaining they are. By day, her parents work, and even when they are home, Kaoru feels some resentment, for being denied the same opportunities as her peers, while also treating them like her best friends (which may remind viewers of the Korean film ...ing).
Though her friend Misaki (Airi Toriyama) stops by often to talk about school, Kaoru's main joy is the night, when she can go out and busk, Yui's vocal and guitar skills been an incredible joy to watch. Though both she and Jamie Sullivan are ill and musically talented, the resemblance ends there, Kaoru longing not only for normality, but for love.
Every day, Koji (Takashi Tsukamoto) a teenage boy, walks by Kaoru's window, his life, regardless of how plain he modestly makes it seem, filling her with a deep desire to meet him. Though stuck at home for most of her life, Kaoru demonstrates how confident she is when she chases after him one evening when they happen to meet, resulting in an awkwardly cute and enjoyably humorous moment. Her lack of experience talking with boys makes for a bad first impression, though it's clear when they meet again that Koji has been smitten.
Despite her condition, Kaoru maintains a healthy degree of confidence, she and Koji inspiring one another to see each other's talents. Though the leads are young, there is no denying their acting chops in this coming of age film about identity, sacrifice, love and maturity. Though the audience is constantly aware of Kaoru's condition, the film does not burden us with constant reminders, instead allowing the love story to blossom, while Kaoru's battle slowly becomes the highlight of the narrative.
Themes like jealousy, cynicism or rage are not present, the film, despite its content, focusing more on beauty than anything else, which makes for an enjoyable two hours. Music plays a strong role in the film, and when not been serenaded by Yui's voice, the strings of violins are being plucked to create an emotional score that fits perfectly with the drama.
Though I could add the film does little in the way of making new content, considering we are all well versed in the story of boy meets girl; boy falls for girl; boy finds girl is sick, Midnight Sun does this in such a way that the familiar story still feels fresh and entertaining. Perhaps sometime next year the film will get the extra attention it deserves with the arrival of the American remake.
Tor dei gui mou yan (2015)
Charming, Humorous, Touching and Cute; Not Your Typical Ghost Film
Keeper of Darkness makes fun of Korean drama on more than one occasion. This is both relevant and ironic, considering the film's often melodramatic, poignant, and at times, humorous script, bears a striking similarity. It would be folly to think the filmmakers are unaware of this, for actor/director Nick Cheung fully embraces this to craft a frequently entertaining, edge of your seat narrative, which combines themes of love, loyalty and the supernatural, and though there's a lot going on, Cheung and his great supporting cast superbly pull this off.
Fatt (the always entertaining Cheung) is a white haired, street smart exorcist, who, with the help of assistant Ah-Chung (Louis Cheung) and his connections with a gang element, assists the city of its spiritual concerns. Though Fatt could never be described as anti-social, his strongest relationship is with Cherr (the adorable Amber Kuo), a ghost who inhabits his home. The characterisation applied to both these leads is fantastic; the story of how they met being developed over the course of the film. However, the same cannot be said for the other characters, who, by the end of the feature, feel greatly underdeveloped, burning questions about them left unanswered.
When Fatt's most recent exorcism makes its way online, journalist Zi-Ling (Sisley Choi) makes it her mission to interview him. Never does she suspect that Fatt would refuse her. Zi-Ling's determination propels her further into the realm of the supernatural, and predictably, into trouble. Running afoul of some ghosts of her own, Fatt finds himself having to help her, while investigating the deaths of fellow mediums and exorcists at the hands of violent spectre Hark (Shi Yanneng). Reasons for Hark's malevolence are explored during the narrative, though the film's attempts to have him seem sympathetic are equally powerful.
With the exception of a couple scenes, the special effects are superb, and really drag you into the world that Keeper of Darkness creates. The only problem is that the world is not always given the depth it deserves. There are moments when Fatt is required, much like John Constantine, to cross over to the other side. These fleeting moments are incredible, and it's a shame these moments are not capitalised on. Moreover, though this is a ghost film, it could never truly qualify as 'horror'. If Fatt using chickens and fireworks to frighten a ghost away is not ridiculously comedic enough, the playfulness of the first ghosts we encounter removes any sense of terror. From selfish ghosts, to the more needy variety, the film creates a deep seeded sympathy for the spiritual realm, while also exploring how people become ghosts in the first place. This is not to say Keeper of Darkness is not without its suspense, the constant danger faced by the characters making us genuinely feel concern.
Unlike other films that clearly introduce the leads and the conflict in the first few frames, Keeper of Darkness takes the rulebook on typical narrative structure and throws it out the window in exchange for something more random. The opening scene sees a young Fatt and his mother (Karena Lam) with zero context, following this up with another random sequence, while it isn't until much later into the film that we are introduced to Cherr, despite her having such a pivotal role.
Though sporadic, while also juggling multiple genres and plots, the film consistently works. The film is similar, tonally, jumping from moments of in your face action, to sweeping emotional sequences. The feature is not without its predictability, but from the first scene until its poignant finish, this never gets in the way. From my experience, Keeper of Darkness is a difficult film to find, and though it's not scary enough to grace our screens come Halloween, its charm, sense of humour and occasional thrills makes for (despite been about ghosts) lively entertainment.
Sadako vs. Kayako (2016)
If you were to encounter a film titled 'Sadako Vs Kayako', I imagine you'd expect much of the film to be a death match between two of Japan's most renowned ghouls. Sadly, these famed frighteners only appear in the same room together in the final few scenes, the lead up to their encounter been unnecessarily long-winded.
The film centres on two story lines, which gradually intersect. The first involves Suzuka (Tina Tamashiro), who enlists the help of her friend, Yuri (Mizuki Yamamoto) to drag her parents wedding video into the 21st century as an anniversary gift. Purchasing a used VCR to do the job, Yuri finds a tape inside. Three guesses who this tape belongs to.
Suzuka happens to watch the tape, only to discover she now has 48 hours to live, rather than the stereotypical 7 days. Considering Sadako Vs Kayako rarely takes the time to honour its inspired source material, it's occasionally difficult to trust the filmmakers with the product. In fact, watching the legends that have been created around these known ghosts get torn down in exchange for unappreciated thrills is almost as painful as watching the film itself.
Worried for the sake of her friend, Yuri enlists the help of Shinichi (Masahiro Komoto), a professor infatuated with Japanese urban legends, his knowledge of Sadako's tape been of use. Like most secondary characters however, Shinichi's role is only to progress the narrative, the lacking depth applied to all characters largely resulting in conversations that are plastic and one dimensional.
If the film is hard to swallow before the arrival of natural exorcist Koyozo (Masanobu Ando), who can terrify away ghosts with a snap of his finger, and his young accomplice, the blind Tamao (Mai Kikuchi), the feature is incredibly difficult to digest after. Both look to be cosplayers who happened to step onto the set by accident, their total lack of empathy only making it more difficult to accept them as characters. Through Shinichi, Yuri is introduced to Koyozo, who is heralded as the last hope she has to save her friend.
The second narrative taking place, which is only occasionally glimpsed, revolves around Natsumi (Aaimi Satsukawa), who happens to move in next door to Kayako, the deathly house frequently calling out to her.
It is Sadako however that steals the show most of all, her silent, shambling movements constantly giving me goose bumps. When the feature embraces the subtlety of the horror franchises it is adopting, Sadako Vs Kayako works effectively, the ambiance evoking a sense of dread. Unfortunately, the feature typically opts for in-your-face violence, which is seldom scary or entertaining.
Unlike Freddy Vs Jason before it which revelled in the homicidal bloodlust of its antagonists, Sadako Vs Kayako revels in its own absurdity. Though I am a fan of Ju-On and Ringu, I can't deny both franchises have overstayed their welcome, becoming mere shadows of what they once were, the filmmakers possibly aware of this, considering at times the feature appears to be making a joke at its own expense, resulting in a series of cheesy moments.
Considering the number of unanswered questions which still exist as the credits roll, Sadako Vs Kyoko feels more like a television pilot than a complete film. Whether a sequel will answer these is anyone's guess. As for who wins the fight you'll have to watch to find out...
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Breathtaking - A Near Perfect Cinematic Achievement
I am going to offend when I write how the original Blade Runner left me disappointed. By the end, there were too many unanswered questions for me not to feel anything but jaded. Blade Runner 2049 on the other hand, left me riveted. Ryan Gosling is not exactly synonymous with action films, though from the opening scene, he proves himself to be a powerful, heroic figure. Unlike the original, which toyed with the idea that Deckard was a replicant, 2049 adamantly admits to K's (Gosling) status almost immediately.
Though I could criticise Blade Runner 2049 for its anti-climatic finish, it does three things brilliantly. First, the film answers the burning questions the original refused to dignify. Secondly, the film captures the essence of the original's universe. The world feels lived in; where technology and the metal skeletons of architecture blend; where clear demographics and political allegiances exist, an 'us versus them' feel emerging that mirrors the world we live in today. Thirdly, the film immerses the viewer instantly with not just the mystery of its story, but with its score. The sound is thunderous and impactful, exploding across the screen with tremendous effect, while the raw, visceral musical score accompanies this perfectly, serenading us with themes that don't just resemble, in part, the original, but a unique cyber punk style too.
The effects are phenomenal, from the fluctuating holographic interfaces, to the flying cars; from the impressive explosions to the dystopian backwaters which surround the spurring metropolis; the effects satisfyingly developing an imperfect future. Although the effects are a necessity in Blade Runner 2049, never does the feature become over-reliant on them, the film's leads been the driving force of this cinematic achievement.
The film's introduction sees K completing his manhunt of Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), an older model replicant, who has found some semblance of peace. K however finds himself caught up in an even bigger investigation, the ramifications of which could be dire, his lieutenant, Joshi (portrayed effectively by Robin Wright), spurring her infallible asset on.
It is here we are introduced to Jared Leto's Niander Wallace, the mastermind behind the new generation replicants. Despite been in only a few scenes, his calculated malice sends cold tones throughout the feature, and is further delivered upon by his assistant, Luv (Sylvia Hoecks), whose lack of decency for human life is frighteningly human.
Much like the original, Blade Runner 2049 questions what makes us human, and why in the future we would attempt to differentiate ourselves from our creation, when they begin to adopt our traits. Though Gosling's K appears robotic in his movements at times, in his relationships, especially that with virtual intelligence Joi (the lovely Ana De Armas), we witness how human he truly is, their romance been as inventive as it is beautiful. The film takes itself very seriously when demonstrating the poignancy of machines sharing a connection, though the themes of slavery and child-labour, despite still been major topics today, are only briefly discussed.
Acting greats like the always entertaining Lenny James, Hiam Abbas, and Edward James Olmos (reprising his role from the original) briefly appear, and despite portraying characters with barely enough screen time to be truly appreciated, their performances nonetheless propel the narrative forward. Furthermore, though Harrison Ford receives second billing, it is not until much later into the film that we are blessed by his on screen presence, his version of Deckard retaining the old 'shoot first ask questions later' routine of his character, yet being deeply melancholic and sympathetic.
Blade Runner 2049 is at its core, a futuristic romance, about the importance of freedom, sacrifice and family; a film that gives me hope for the future of Hollywood. This feature is possibly the best film I have seen this year, Denis Vileneuve again proving himself to be an outstanding director.
A Little Known Gem Quirky, Cute and Poignant
Calla's frenetic opening, with its blurred, fast paced imagery, is representative of the occasionally illogical plot. Part the Time Machine and part Frequency, though rarely as powerful as either, Calla works its magic as a romantic drama, while also acting as a social commentary on life. The film has a strong focus on visuals and sound, from characters expressions and the worlds they inhabit, to the sweet melody of the soundtrack, there being stretches where dialogue has little role at all. It should be noted, the English subtitles for this film are not perfect, and some reading between the lines is required.
Seon-Woo (Song Seung-Heon) finds flowers on his desk each morning, his secret admirer leaving no clues to their identity. On a tram, he meets Ji-Hee (Kim Hee-Seon), who happens to work at the same store he receives his flowers from, immediately assuming it is she who has been serenading him with gifts, and not fellow florist Soo-jin (Kim Hyun-Joo). But who really has been giving him the flowers? Seon-Woo has little time to investigate due to work commitments, arranging to meet Ji-Hee at an extravagant lounge when his schedule next allows. On the evening of their first dinner however, Ji-Hee is violently killed by Chong (Choi Cheol-Ho), a deranged drug addict, in a hostage situation gone terribly wrong.
Three years on, Seon-Woo remains unable to move on from the past, and finds himself wishing that he could have one more chance to see the love of his life a wish that just so happens to come true.
What follows is Seon-Woo's journey to stop history from repeating itself. To say more would take away from the film's enjoyment, and though there are moments of predictability, there are an equal number of twists that are brilliantly executed. Due to this, the film has us on the edge at all times, the burning question of whether Seon-Woo will be successful propelling Calla forward, sometimes with great intensity. Considering this is not a Hollywood film, where happy endings are almost always a certainty, we are unable to escape the dread of what might come of this love story, a feeling the filmmakers take great pride in establishing.
The leads especially deserve kudos in bringing their characters to life. We feel both the embarrassment and the intensity that Seon-Woo does, though his short-sightedness and lacking objectivity can occasionally be a letdown. At the same time, we feel the joy that Ji-Hee does, and the sadness when Soon-Jin cries, the film making us not just sympathetic, but empathetic, as we are dragged into the world of Calla, which is one of the feature's greatest accomplishments.
The music too helps conjure up emotions, granting the viewer a melancholic, sentimental overtone, while the Christmas setting from its vibrant colours to its pure snow, helps further establish the film as an addition to the romance genre.
Though having a specific focus on Seon-Woo, halfway through, the feature gives us the point of view of another of its leads, this segment strengthening the film as a whole, and establishing some of the emotional depth that was lacking until this moment.
Considering there are only three leading cast members, it is peculiar at times that we are denied further information about them, while sub-characters randomly crop up with little explanation, only to disappear just as quickly.
The film is not always rational, and there are moments that are given little to no explanation, though Calla's intent is not to leave us pondering about such things. Instead, the film would rather us think about the chance encounters we experience in our own lives, and the invisible few people we overlook, who deserve as much credit as those we focus all of our attentions on.
Calla can at times be sad, and at other times beautiful, and though there are other Korean films that harness both to greater effect, Calla in itself is a delight that ought to be experienced no less.
Kiseijuu: Kanketsuhen (2015)
A Sequel that Improves Upon the Original in Almost Every Way
I was disappointed by the first Parasyte film, and though I'd never seen the anime, I felt the feature lacked depth and characterisation, focusing too much on the violence than on the story, which resulted in an, at times, emotionally impotent experience. Parayste Part 2 however is highly recommended, much of the concerns I had with the original been brilliantly addressed in this sequel.
Some time has passed since the original film, and Shinichi (Shota Sometani) has become more adept with his abilities, as he and Migi (Sadao Abe) continue to grow in unity and strength. Shinichi's confrontation with his diminishing humanity is an important aspect of the film, his relationship with girlfriend Satomi (Ai Hashimoto) keeping him grounded.
Ryoko (Eri Fukatsu), the smartest of all parasites, has continued her experiments, and it is her character who occasionally seems the most human of all, the film sometimes doing little in its way to make the audience want humanity to survive the conflict at all. In Ryoko's attempts to keep tabs on Shinichi, she has hired reporter Kuramori (Nao Momori), whose fascination with revealing the truth to all of Japan makes for further problems. At the same time, Ryoko continues to convince the rest of her kind to refrain from been so violent, an ask that is especially difficult for Miki (Pierre Taki), the most dangerous parasite of all.
As Shinichi wages his private war against the parasites, a special police task force begins finalising its coordinated attack, using vile murderer Uragami (Hirofumi Arai), a man who can see the parasites within people, to help locate and kill the invading horde.
With so many characters and so much happening, it's no surprise actors like Ms. Hashimoto go without the screen time they deserve, the feature wanting to pack so much into its two hour script.
Moral ideas concerning the environment and global warming are occasionally discussed, and though these are passionately employed, the addendum that most who discuss these end up with their legs and arms in the air makes it difficult to take such important concerns seriously. Additionally, the theme of which race is more dangerous, the parasites or humanity, is loosely touched upon, though towards the end, it's difficult to distinguish which species is more destructive.
The fight scenes are frenetic and enjoyable, the film fantastically milking the sense of dread, keeping you continuously on the edge of your seat, the feature having what could only be described as multiple endings just when you think it's over, another threat emerges, though the eventual conclusion is a little too anti-climatic.
Some of the set pieces, including that of the final fight sequence, which incorporates hellish fire in the background, are extraordinary, adding to the visual appeal, the special effects again been amazing. Though violent, the film is not as reliant on blood and gore as the original, which allows the emotional depth of the film to come into effect. Unlike the original, the film has its compellingly touching moments, from its exploration of motherly love and sacrifice, to its story of friendship, redemption and identity, there been an ironic softness and beauty in this horror/sci-fi feature.
Parasyte Part 2 does feel a little rushed at times, and though we gauge the intentions of all characters involved, significantly more depth would have benefited the feature. The film strikes all the right tones, and has just enough content to be unsettling, refusing to shy away from the increasingly dark content, while employing a good dose of humour every so often to give us an occasional break from the themes, though this lacking seriousness does get in the way of the messages the film strives to send. To fully appreciate this movie, one would have had to have seen the first, though the finish Parasyte Part 2 promises is well worth it.
Cìkè Niè Yinniáng (2015)
A Delightfully Tranquil Experience
Typically I've found, when a lot of critics praise a film, it often isn't that good. I'm however glad to say that is not the case with The Assassin, a film I was looking forward to watching. Despite been classified as an 'action' film, the feature often works best as a political period piece, anyone looking for a martial-arts epic perhaps wanting to focus their attention elsewhere. That being said, the fight scenes, though usually short lived, are beautifully choreographed, occasionally appearing more like a dance, sweeping you away with their gracefulness.
The film centres around our self-titled assassin, Yinniang (Shu Qi), who is hailed as been 'unmatched' by her teacher, Jiacheng (Sheu Fang-yi), who took her away when she was a child and trained her in the arts of fighting. From her piercing, thousand yard stare, her straight posture and deft touch, there is never a moment when you don't believe Yinniang to be who she is, her calculated movements making her appear like water on screen. For someone who is so lovely (and tiny), Ms. Qi is phenomenal, there been moments when you can't help but shiver as she stares into the camera and right into you, eliciting the same fear her victims no doubt feel.
Though Yinniang says barely a syllable throughout the film, on the rare occasion when she does speak, you are given the rarest glimpse of her compassion and humanity. Her sympathetic heart is the reason her master gives her the mission of assassinating Weibo's governor, Tian (Chang Chen), who was once her former intended husband when Yinniang was a child, Jiacheng believing the completion of this task will make Yinniang undefeatable in battle.
The environments and set pieces are vivid and gorgeous, showing a delicate, flourishing world of colour and tranquillity, while the costumes are as elegant as they are majestic. Despite the film centring on a professional killer, the film does not rely on any blood, nor is there any sexual content of any kind.
Moreover, the music accompanies the scenes well, though does not appear to centre around any characters or themes. The Assassin however is more a visual spectacle than anything else, one of those rare films you may need to watch more than once, in order to truly see all that the director intended, even the subtlest of images having a great impact, while the occasional use of black and white helps depict the different seasons in Yinniang's career.
Themes of honour, jealousy and family occasionally feed into the narrative, and though these required more depth, there is no denying their importance during certain scenes, though the concept of black magic seemed unusually out of place. The same level of depth could have additionally been applied to some of the feature's secondary characters, whose intentions we only begin to briefly understand.
Towards the end, an anti-climatic resolution presents itself to the audience, the story continuing long after the credits role, enabling the viewer to create their own particular ending to fit the leads. Considering the exactness of much of the feature, it is a little disappointing that we are provided an end that is, although conclusive, far from definitive.
As the Title Suggests, this Film Really Begins to Flatline as it Progresses
When it comes to its great effects and spooky ambiance, Flatliners has a lot of style, but when it comes to its narrative, the film is significantly lacking in substance. As a fan of the original, alongside being an admirer of Ellen Page, I was really looking forward to this film, though by the end, left the cinema disappointed.
Flatliners begins with Courtney (Page) experiencing a tragic loss. Nine years later, she is a medical student, trying to convince her colleagues to help with an experiment. Later in the film both events are connected, though significantly more depth was required.
As one can guess, Courtney's experiment involves her death, in an attempt to record what happens to the brain after a person flat-lines. Her friends Jamie (James Norton) and Sophia (the beautiful Kiersey Clemons), originally discouraged with her intentions, quickly become involved, as do Ray (Diego Luna) and Marlo (Nina Dobrev) when things don't go according to plan.
When characters travel to the other side, the use of light, sound and motion are used wonderfully to create a fantastic experience, the world beyond often visualised as been very beautiful, the music also adding to the magic of the occasion. After returning from their near-death experiences, characters are miraculously gifted with greater intellect, an idea that is never elaborated upon. Moreover, despite the characters been perceived as studious and intelligent, unlike the characters in The Taking of Deborah Logan, rarely do the leads in Flatliners attempt to use science, or their training, to find a solution to the problems they face, instead behaving much like the stereotypes found in other genre films.
Though the always entertaining Kiefer Sutherland (who deserved a much larger role) has a cameo, don't mistake this as a sequel this feature is in fact a remake, though it is disappointing we didn't get to see Sutherland's Nelson again after all these years.
Much like in the original, the characters begin to realise the consequences of travelling to the other side. It is during these moments, when the film fully embraces its dark material, that Flatliners is at its best. The music adds to the already well developed spooky atmosphere, and the performances of the cast further heighten the sense of dread. Though occasionally predictable, the feature has its share of unexpected scares, the chase sequences being very gripping.
Like the original, characters find themselves pursued by their 'sins', though the secrets the characters have been harbouring are rarely provided the required depth. Despite flirting briefly with the supernatural, the film pulls on this string only once, which was quite disappointing, the film rarely attempting to stray from the original. Though the original shone a flashlight on bullying, racism, sexism and betrayal, the remake is often centred around the competitiveness of the medical profession, which joins each of the characters together.
As the film progresses, the confrontation between the characters and their 'sins' becomes progressively worse, been far more malicious than what was experienced in the original. Though the film appears to be set for an exciting climax, it is here that the movie appears to run out of steam, and instead rushes towards a happy ending that does not do the film justice.
Flatliners is never boring, capturing the fun lives of the up and coming professionals of tomorrow, and the horror of when things go terribly wrong. The latter however is not given the depth it deserves, and coupled with its weak conclusion, the richness of the films potential goes largely untouched.
Mirror's Edge: Catalyst (2016)
Acrobatically Ascending Across the Cityscape Never Felt this Good
The first hour of Mirror's Edge: Catalyst, had me thinking of another, similar title: Remember Me, a 2013 action game, where you play as a young woman, with the ability to steal and manipulate the memories of others. This concept would have been otherwise brilliant, if not for the addendum it was buried beneath layers of unnecessary combat. With this in mind, the combat lead protagonist, Faith, is forced to perform during Catalyst, does not feel as fluid or as entertaining as the parkour movements - but, more on this later.
Faith Connors, is a lovely looking young woman, recently released from juvenile detention. Within a minute however, she is back to her old tricks, working as a 'runner', someone who, as the title may suggest, runs packages from one destination to another. This underground movement is led by Noah, a father figure of Faith's. Alongside Icarus, a runner, profusely adept at the craft, and Plastic, a wizard-class hacker, Faith works to undermine the nefarious governmental organization, Kruger-Sec, owned by manipulative overlord, Gabriel. When Faith steals a classified project titled Reflection, she becomes public enemy number one, wishing to use it to pay off the debts she owes to Dogen, the city's most dangerous crime-boss.
Amassing a plot concerning family, growing-up, and survival, Catalyst suffers from predictability, with many of the plot twists recognizable several hours before their reveal. Moreover, though Faith is provided some level of depth, which assists in capturing our attention with sentimentality, other characters are seldom fleshed out, which is a shame considering how interesting (especially Plastic) they are. The conclusion of the game, much like the characters, adjunctively contains little depth, refusing to answer a number of important questions, though the original title, of which Catalyst is a prequel to, perhaps fills in some of the blanks.
What Catalyst does best however, is the fluidity of Faith's movements. Though some of these are initially denied to the player, and must be upgraded, it doesn't take long before Faith is not just incredible; she's sensational, and playing as her is just wicked sick! Jumping, wall-running, flying; words cannot begin to describe how dazzling all of this feels, and in this sense, Catalyst is a success.
In building up momentum, Faith acquires focus, which allows her to temporarily cease taking damage from enemy attacks. When it comes to facing Kruger-Sec soldiers, the game advocates for players to use the environment, to increase Faith's offensive potency, though on many an occasion during main quests, players find themselves trapped in an arena, where such advantageous opportunities do not exist. Instead, players are required to chip away at opponent's health, which is a brutally slow process. Occasionally however, combat can, thankfully, be avoided altogether.
The game is played in an open-world environment, which includes a number of optionable side quests. These incorporate deliveries and races, alongside expanding Plastic's networks, all of which are time-sensitive. The most fun of these however, is breaking into massive computer networks. Exploration, if not to find all of the secrets, then to admire the graphically beautiful environment, is really fun, the colors, textures and buildings feeling so vivid and futuristic, however, the occasional lag in rendering does mean some areas don't live up to standard. Moreover, the soundtrack, which is as serene as it is mysterious, adds to the experience.
In summary, over the course of my 12 hour play-through (which includes all the times I fell, and bumped into glass doors), I deduced that Catalyst is good, but not great, the awkward combat and lacking depth causing players to lose focus (pun intended). However, the exploration, movement, graphics and sound are truly immersive.
A Curiously Original Experience About Love and Life, that is both Poignant and Genuine
The film opens with a severely beaten Anna (the always beautiful Wang Tei) desperately struggling to come to terms with what led to the death of an, as of yet, unidentified male. Much of the film operates in this fashion, providing the viewer with enough of a taste to comprehend what may have happened, however, rarely definitively illustrating an exact answer, allowing the audience's imagination to fill in the blanks. On one hand, this has the unique feel of independent cinema, and allows viewers much freedom, though at the same time, can become frustrating, considering we, the viewers, long for completeness to quench our thirst for knowledge.
Seven years later, in the midst of a prison sentence, Anna is given a three day furlough to visit her mother's funeral. On the way to Seattle, she bumps into Hoon (Hyun-Bin), who asks her to lend him money for bus fare, and though he promises to pay her back, Anna shows little interest. Ms. Tei convincingly plays a woman who has become disillusioned and pessimistic from her time in prison, while exhibiting melancholy in a city which has changed since she was last there.
By chance, she meets Hoon once more, who offers to take her around Seattle. Hoon is, for lack of a better term, a gigolo, however, his explanation sounds far more advertising, though at the same time, he seems painfully romantic, garnering feelings for some of the women he meets, despite being required to maintain his professionalism.
On the run from the jealous husband of a woman who fell in love with him two years earlier, Hoon is a man whose life has taken a turn for the worse, much like Anna's, yet continues to maintain optimism and confidence, that attracts her to him. Surrounded by judgemental relatives, Hoon is the one man who accepts Anna for who she is.
The chemistry between the leads is especially great, there being a number of equally dramatic and humorous moments to behold. Moreover, a number of scenes are very memorable, including a moment when Hoon and Anna break into an amusement park, alongside another time when Anna discusses some of her past.
The multiple locations are brilliantly brought to life by the cinematography, which further draws us into the experience, while the use of sound and music is just as effective.
By the conclusion of the film, I was left feeling a little empty, for unlike other features, that serenade us with fantastical plots of everlasting love, director Kim Tae-Yong never tries to force anything. Instead, he creates a feature that feels very genuine, right down to the painful reality that not everything is destined to end happily ever after, despite our wishful thinking.
(Half of the film is in English, while the other half is sub-titled).