Film making through cultures

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

By Sam Kench

Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonThere are many countries in the world that have their own film industry, but many American kids have only seen a few if any foreign films. There is nothing at all wrong with American movies, but only ever viewing American movies stops people from experiencing the full gamut of styles, tones, and even emotions that the medium of film has to offer.

the killerThe movies a country produces represents the country itself. Different countries focus on different genres of film, and the chosen genre of film can say a lot about how people from that country think. It can show what people find entertaining, what they are conditioned to accept, and it can demonstrate how one culture differs from another.

hard boiledThere are handful of countries that can be used to demonstrate just how different of a movie a culture can produce. China, England, France, South Korea, Taiwan, and India all have different niches and styles.

heroThere was a time when China dominated the world with their Hong Kong action cinema. Although China produces films from all genres, their niche is action movies. Martial arts films and shoot ‘em ups headed by the likes of people such as Bruce Lee, Chow Yun Fat, and Jackie Chan. Chinese action films became known as the best in the world and the country has been since associated with this genre. The films can aim for entertainment and intensity in films such as “Hard Boiled or The Killer, or they can aim for Poetic beauty in films such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or “Hero. The action films made in China would become refined to the point of art. Director John Woo choreographed such elaborate shootouts that his films became known as “Bullet Ballets” or “Bullet Operas” because of the complexity of the action. It grew to the point where a gunfight could say something poetic.

I Saw the DevilTaiwan is a country that eventually grew itself a name in action films. Actions films from Taiwan developed their own specific style. Taiwanese action films have a sense of humor that is very specific to the country and you can tell a film is from Taiwan based purely on directing style. The direction of Taiwanese films has not developed much beyond the old customs of 80’s cinema. Most film industries are still accepting of slow motion, but instant replays are a thing of the past in most countries. Taiwan however still embraces instant replays. Taiwanese action films aim to show you something cool and let you enjoy it, rather than being concerned with telling a deep story.

OldboyDifferent countries focus on different genres. While a country like China or Taiwan focuses on action films as its priority, France focuses on a different genre. France also produces its share of action films, but France has a particular penchant for romance and drama films. Countries can do films in all genres but they tend to zero in on one in particular. China does action, France does romance and drama, England does crime and mystery, Japan and Australia do horror, etc. etc.

Sympathy for Mr. VengeanceSometimes you can tell which country a film comes from based on how they tell the story. Take South Korea and England for example. South Korean films tend to tell incredibly emotional stories with heavy poetic elements. South Korean films such as I Saw the Devil, “Oldboy, and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance tell their stories visually. These films have very little dialogue and the stories are propelled by the striking images that they present to the audience. A great deal of effort and creativity is put into the composition of every shot.

Films coming from England tend to rely on dialogue to tell the story rather than the visuals. Both work perfectly fine for the stories they are trying to tell, but the point is that they are different. The culture of a country influences the media it produces. (More to come on films from England in Part II)

F.E.A.R video game review – Macabre Month of Horror #18

FEAR poster

Welcome to the second video game review of this year’s Macabre Month of Horror.

Currently there are 3 F.E.A.R games. I’ll be reviewing each of them, one a day, so check back the next couple of days to see the other games covered as well.

FEAR poster

The first F.E.A.R game came out on October 18th 2005. This is the 8th anniversary of the game.

F.E.A.R is a first person game and the first person effect is done really well here, better than in most games. You move more realistically and little details such as CorridorAlmayour hands or legs coming into frame at certain points are a nice touch. Since the game is in first person, you have complete control over what you are seeing, and thus the creepy environments and scare moments are made more effective, by the fact that you are controlling it.  

F.E.A.R. is made up of two main parts, shooting, and horror. The main complaint I have with the game is that the two parts are not balanced well. When the shooting segments start the tension and threat of horror leaves quickly. The creepy score and setting can make it a tad more creepy than other fps games but I would like to have seen the two parts integrated better.

The shooting is quite dated. This is not necessarily a bad thing however, just different. It’s a little jarring at first and can take some getting used, but once you get into the swing of things the shooting can be incredibly fun. The shooting hearkens back to old school shooters like Half Life. The game overall has an old school vibe, which really grew on me and I came to appreciate it fully. You cannot use the sights on guns as you can in most modern shooters, other details, such as the hidden pickups, manual use of health packs, and exploration feel reminiscent of older shooters.

fear asdgThe exploration in F.E.A.R. is great. It was a smart move to not give you a mini-map. While it can be confusing where to go and easy to get lost at times, it more frequently works in the game’s favor, to make you feel nervous and frantically searching for an exit. It is also tremendously rewarding at times, figuring out how to progress to the next area.

The graphics definitely look sub-par by today’s standards but they get the job done. There are some nice graphical details and effects, but the game lacks a layer of polish that would’ve made it look great. The level design can get a little repetitive, but that’s not too much of a problem, you get the feeling that you’re trapped in a huge haunted building.

F.E.A.R has one of the most terrifying enemies in any game. The invisible guys. They only show up in a couple of places,but when they do, they are terrifying.invisibler dude

The difficulty ramps up steadily throughout and always remains challenging without becoming overbearing. New enemies or challenges are introduced every once in awhile to keep the game from becoming too repetitive. As you get better at the game, it gets more difficult. By the end of the game you are in a furious rush with a higher quantity and more challenging enemies.

There are some very slow load times. I’m playing this on the PS3 and supposedly load times are not an issue on the xbox 360 and PC versions of the game.

There are some sound balancing issues. Things are off level, such as your characters footsteps being incredibly loud, while important dialogue is very quiet. Things frequently sound as if they are coming from the wrong direction and while this is fine in the horror segments, it can be annoying in the shooting segments.

Aside from the balancing issues the sound design is great. The sound effects are all superb and the horror score is top notch. F.E.A.R also knows how to use a normal droning sound and make it terrifying. Never has a news jingle been as terrifying as it is in F.E.A.R.

The A.I. is great, and has been hailed by many as one of the most innovative and influential A.I. systems ever. It’s kind of ironic that even though most of the enemies you’re fighting are literal clones, they still feel more real and personal than most modern games. The panicked banter between enemies that you overhear on their radios sells their realism.

The lead designer of F.E.A.R said that he wanted the shootouts in the game to have the intensity of the tea-house shootout from Hard Boiled. That’s a great role model to try and live up to, and would explain the inclusion of the slow motion “Reflex Time” and the ability to dual wield handguns. Unfortunately the dual wielding is missing from the sequels.

You also have a few gadgets at your disposal, which again, hearkens back to old Half-Life style games. You have grenades, proximity mines, and remote bombs, which are more useful than they are in most games. All of these elements come feartogether to create a really great FPS experience, once you get used to the style. F.E.A.R can be thought of as an awesome first person shooter, wrapped up in a horror game.

The horror is done really well in F.E.A.R, it’s actually one of the flat out, best horror games. F.E.A.R has effective psychological scares that don’t always need to rely on gore to try and freak you out. F.E.A.R can be in your face sometimes, but it also understands that sometimes it’s scarier when you don’t see or know what’s happening. They understand that it’s sometimes more effective to walk in on the aftermath of a blood strewn room rather than to witness the strewing. It’s really that scary of a game, but it has a really good creepy atmosphere and some great and creative horror set pieces.

The main source of horror in F.E.A.R comes from Alma the antagonist, (Outside of Fettel, the guy you get sent in after). She will always be known as one of the most iconic horror villains.alma

The makers of the game, Monolith Studios, put a lot of time and care into the game, doing their best to make it as fun and scary as possible with their smallish budget. Their devoted team is a big part of the reason why this game works so well. They had a tremendous passion for the project that made it excel. Unfortunately the passion didn’t last throughout the entire series.

F.E.A.R is a fantastic game, one of the best to play in October around Halloween. You buy it by clicking right “HERE” and keep checking back all October long for a new horror review everyday for the entire month of October.

Sleeping Dogs (Game Review)

sleeping dogs

sleeping dogsSleeping Dogs is another Free PS plus game, which is really cool since the game still cost almost $40 on it’s own right now.

Sleeping Dogs was originally developed as a sequel to the True Crime series back on the PS2. After a lot of changes and full on company switch, the project was re-titled Sleeping Dogs and cut it’s ties from the True Crime series, which if you ask me is a good thing.

I played through True Crime Streets of LA and found it quite bad, so Sleeping Dogs distancing itself from its predecessors is okay by me.

The game opens right in the middle of the action and doesn’t really slow down a whole lot throughout the story. The story stays engaging from start to finish.

Story is something that a lot of open world games seem to struggle with. Having a continuous, complex, and engrossing narrative throughout the entire game is not often accomplished, but Sleeping Dogs managed to do it. Their story is not completely fresh, there are plenty of cliches, but it’s done differently. Most of the key characters are wonderfully developed, and you grow attached to them throughout the story, which makes the death of major, and even side characters have an impact.

The characters are written well and a portrayed pretty well by their voice actors. Aside from some NPCs who are just plain awful, all of the voice acting is solid enough to hold the story. All of the important characters are well cast and well executed. There are some recognizable voices to be found in Sleeping Dogs such as Tom Wilkinson, Lucy Liu, and Emma Stone, some of which are actually rather underutilized. Emma Stone is held within just a couple of optional side missions.

Emma Stone, Tom Wilkinson and Lucy Liu voice characters in the Sleeping Dogs video game
Emma Stone, Tom Wilkinson and Lucy Liu voice characters in Sleeping Dogs

The main character, Wei Shen seems a bit flat at first, but as the game progresses he deepens substantially. His struggle between the police and the triad is well crafted, more so than I expected. He is cool character and it’s fun to play as him. He would fit right in, in an old Hong Kong action film. Makes me wonder who would play him in the movie.

In every sandbox driving game the player has the compulsive need to test the police. Piss off the cops and have them chase you. At first the cops in Sleeping Dogs seemed much more adapt at their job than in most games. The cops kill you faster and catch you quicker than most games. This seemed a little strange at first until I realized that half their police force is probably filled with hong kong action stars. John Woo must employ half the force.

United Front, the company that made Sleeping Dogs, had only worked on racing games before doing Sleeping Dogs. So you can figure that the driving is solid, but that leaves you in the dark about the other aspects of the game. Sleeping Dogs set a goal of having the the 3 main aspects of the gameplay be solid enough to carry a game on their own, and in turn work together to create a great gaming experience. The 3 aspects being: Driving, shooting, and fighting.

THE DRIVING: The driving is near perfect. Cars aren’t overly realistic in the way they handle. You have good control over what you’re doing and it’s a lot of fun to do. I would actually say that Sleeping Dogs has the 2nd best driving mechanics in any open world game. 2nd only behind Scarface the World is Your’s on the ps2.

THE SHOOTING: Guns are very rare in sleeping dogs. You can’t go anywhere to buy guns, the only ways to get guns are to have them given to you during a mission or to kill a cop and take his gun. Once you beat the game you get to keep a gun in your apartment, but they are treated more like a privilege rather than a utility. Due to this fact, the few shootouts scattered throughout the story are made more intense and exciting. There are shootouts in some classic locations such as a cemetery and a hospital Hard Boiled style. There are a lot of guns in the game considering how rare they are. there are a few guns that you only get to use once. Shooting is fun and brings to mind classic Hong Kong actions films particularly the films of John Woo. Playing Sleeping Dogs often left me in the mood for a John Woo film. The shooting is fun especially when you add the excellent use of slow-motion. You can also shoot from cars like in most open world games, but this is one of the only open world games that pulls it off well. Aiming while in a car triggers a slow-motion aiming mode, during which the car autopilots down the road. This is the perfect system for shooting out of a car. 2nd place belongs to the Scarface game.

THE FIGHTING: The fighting system is deeper in this game than any other sandbox game I’ve ever played. In most sandbox games the fighting is awful and only implemented as an afterthought. In Sleeping Dogs the fighting is good enough to carry a game of it’s own. You have an excellent arsenal of fighting moves that grows throughout the game. The shooting brings John Woo movie to mind, while the fighting brings martial arts movies to mind, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Bruce Lee, Donnie Yen all the greats. The fighting uses a batman arkham type system that works perfectly. The fighting is awesome.

Sleeping Dogs also has parkour chases, which are a bit of a let down. The parkour is cool, but the chases never come to fruition. No matter how fast and how flawlessly you do in these chases you can never catch the person you’re chasing. You just follow them until they lead you to a place where you fight.

Sleeping Dogs is full of references to old action movies. the references range from items and places in the game, to costumes that you can wear. There are cool little homages to Hard Boiled, Rumble in the Bronx, Game of Death, Ong Bak, and even Reservoir Dogs. some of these references are really clever and well hidden. They take a knowledgeable mind to find and aren’t shoved in your face. I had a lot of fun seeing all the references in Sleeping Dogs.

The ending of the game is great. Things escalate and take some sharp unexpected turns leading to a string of action packed show stopping set pieces the explodes into a finale akin to Fargo. I was sad to see Sleeping Dogs end. I just wished there were more. Luckily you can still explore the world after you beat the game which allowed me to collect and do everything that hadn’t done or gotten yet.

Sleeping Dogs is only the 2nd sandbox driving game that I have bothered to finish. Usually open world games don’t hold my interest long enough to reach completion, but Sleeping Dogs held it throughout. I don’t count games like L.A. Noire into that retrospective because I feel that the open world is not the focus of the game, so that being said the only other sandbox driving game I’ve played to completion would ironically be True Crime Streets of L.A. which I only finished to unlock Snoop Dog.

Sleeping Dogs is my favorite sandbox driving game I’ve ever played. I highly recommend playing it.


Taken (2008) movie review and original artwork

Taken (2008) movie review and original artwork

 ‘Taken‘ Stars Liam Neeson. I think this is Neeson’s best role.

Neeson’s done a bunch of crappy movies in his time, but he can still be awesome. As long as he’s in a good movie like Taken‘.

The basic plot of ‘Taken’ is that Neeson’s daughter goes to Paris and get’s kidnapped. Then Neeson has 96 hours to find her. The thought of finding someone who is a continent away seems daunting. Neeson used to be a spy for the CIA, but retired to be closer to his daughter. His wife has divorced him, taken custody of the daughter, and remarried to this rich old guy. I’ll go out and say it, the mother is just a total bitch.

After Neeson saves the daughter, you might think that they throw the cliché in and have him and the ex-wife get back together again, but that doesn’t happen. That is a very good thing.

Original noir artwork created by Sam based on the Taken DVD cover

I like that the movie doesn’t follow clichés. The action is extremely well done. Unlike in the Bourne movies. I hate the Jason Bourne quick cut shaky cam technique. I think that it really takes away from the action, when you can barely tell whats happening.

The quick cuts also lack authenticity to the fights. Extremely long takes are hard to do, but are often some of the best shots, like in ‘Hard Boiled, the shot in the hospital that lasts four minutes, is considered the best shot in the movie.

‘Taken’ mixes short cuts and longer cuts, in a very good way. You can feel all of the hits. When Neeson hits somebody it isn’t just a random punch, you can see the precision he employs. Every punch or kick he throws is to incapacitate his target in the fastest and most effective manner. So all the hand to hand fighting is well done.

Liam Neeson in Taken

What about the shooting? What usually happens is Neeson is taking the guy’s out quietly with hand to hand, then a single shot get’s fired off alerting the other guys to his presence, then the shooting starts. The shooting is done well, very well.

The last part of the action is the driving sequences. This is my only real complaint about the movie. The driving scenes, are actually pretty boring. There is a chase or two, and there’s shooting involved, but they just sort of went on for too long, or maybe the scoring was the problem, but the Driving scenes were far less enjoyable than the rest of the movie.

The character’s precision and professionalism are really shown. His lethality is outstanding. It is interesting to see how the character thinks. The way he finds his daughter is very smartly written. The movie has balls. The character is ruthless and unrelenting. When he is torturing the man who took his daughter, after he finds out what he knows, he leaves him being electrocuted, until he dies, slowly. That is a good mark from me. A lot of other movies wouldn’t have had the guts to do that.

My favorite part of the movie happens right at the end. This moment really separates the movie apart from other action films for me. When the last guy is holding a knife to his daughters throat and Neeson is pointing a gun at him. the man starts to negotiate and Neeson just shoots him in the head. That is awesome! Most movies would have him throw down his gun and comply with the bad guy, but not “Taken”. The only other movie I have seen this done in was “True Lies” when Schwarzenegger does it to save his wife. It’s a little different, but basically the same.

Taken is a great action thriller. It has much better action than most thrillers, and a much better story than most action movies. I really appreciate that the movie went all out. Taken is one of my favorite action movies. a great film. (I am involved in the production of a TV show with about 4 episodes inspired by “Taken”)