Miscellaneous Miscellany: Korean Chaplin, Star Wars and More

It was a busy week for me last week, so as you can see, there has not been many updates on this blog. Even though some minor film work has been keeping me tied up, I still had time to observe the film-verse, and there are quite a few things to be said.


Just tell a good story

I caught the South Korean movie Always (aka Only You, 2011) on TV9 this past Sunday. The thing is, I used to brush off Korean films, except for those by the usual suspects Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook. But lately, I’ve come to appreciate the South Koreans’ exquisite film craft. Their storytelling may not be always consistently up to standard, but their films are so lovely to look at, I can sit through even the worst of their output. They know exactly how to frame a shot, to compose a scene, to light it to fit the mood.

And so, I watched Always from beginning to end, even though I’m not exactly a fan of weepie romances. But it managed to move me with its story of sacrifice and love, even though some elements in the film didn’t quite make sense. When a story is told well, you forget about the dirty details and just submit yourself to the flow.

But what struck me was that the plot was similar to Chaplin’s masterpiece City Lights, which was also about a man who falls in love with a blind girl and who enters into a boxing match to win money for her eye surgery. In Always, the male protagonist is a former boxer who joins an underground MMA fight to win money for his lover’s eye surgery. In researching further, I found this quote from the director of Always, Song Il-gon:

The idea for the film started from Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights.” Charlie Chaplin loves a blind woman and would do anything for her. The idea started from that. It’s one of my favorite movies … The movie is very classic and a simple story which has been made in various forms for a long time, so I cared most about the characters.

So, there. Some stories can be told over and over throughout the ages and still remain relevant and resonant. Sometimes you don’t have to be entirely original. You just need to tell a story well.

star wars

Indonesians in space

So, the buzz about Star Wars: The Force Awakens is near fever-pitch and geeks are losing their minds. But what’s more interesting is that the trio from the Indonesian actioner The Raid is in the movie.

Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman play three members of some kind of gang of outlaws called the Kanjiklub. Yep, I was thinking the same thing. Like you, I also wondered if this was a gang of “kanji” enthusiasts.

But the guys look extremely fashionable in character, as a photo of them from the pages of The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary has been making its round on social media. And folks back home are getting very excited about their homeboys.

It kind of made think of just how far ahead of us Indonesia is in terms of filmmaking. The most recent news is that famed Hollywood producer Mari Kassar of T2: Judgment Day fame is on board for the upcoming Indonesian action flick Foxtrot Six, which will be made for a whopping US$10 mil. And take into account the successes of The Raid and its sequel, and Joko Anwar’s recent HBO Asia-commissioned TV series Halfworlds, and with the stars of The Raid now in what is expected to be the biggest blockbuster this year and next … you have to start wondering where our own filmmaking community stands in terms of commerciality.

That’s what I keep harping on about. Forget about winning an Oscar, forget about winning in Cannes. Just make a good film that everyone wants to see.


The Force is strong in Jagat

Amidst all the noise, excitement and promotion overkill about Star Wars, let’s not forget that there is a brave little Malaysian film that will go head-on against the Jedi Juggernaut.

Jagat, an Indian-language Malaysian film, will be released this Thursday, the same day as The Force Awakens. This very fact would get any filmmaker quaking in his boots, but not Shanjhey Kumar Perumal, the writer and director of Jagat. His little film, made with a modest budget and about the lower-class Indian community in Malaysia, is a tough cookie with a gritty tale of gangsters and generational angst. I’ve described it as a cross between Mean Streets and Kaki Bakar. Its story about a community being endlessly exploited, disenfranchised, displaced and discontented, leading to a continuous cycle of poverty, anger and violence, is very affecting.

Here’s to a little film that can, and I hope it gets the support it deserves to be able to hold its own against a giant space opera. David vs Goliath it is.


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