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)

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.

 

Sin City Review (2005) Sam’s Neo-Noir month part 2


Sin City is based on the graphic novel series of the same name. The graphic novels are done by Frank Miller.  Frank Miller is most famous for “Sin City”, but has done other stories like 300 and Hard Boiled (unrelated to the John Woo film).

I saw the movie “Sin City” before I had ever read any of the books. Now I have actually read a couple of the books, and they are good. I really like the visual style, and the narrative is always interesting.

Robert Rodriguez is the man behind the movie. He is my second favorite director of all time. He gives the movie his style, but keeps it feeling like “Sin City” and not “The Robert Rodriguez version of Sin City”. The visual style of the movie is great and keeps in style from the books. Almost all of the dialogue is quoted word for word from the books. I think it’s impressive how true to the books this movie is. I think it might be one of the best screen translation of a book ever. It works because Rodriguez is such a big fan of the source material. Tarantino directed one scene as a special guest director. The reason why is because Rodriguez wanted to show him how to shoot digitally.

As previously mentioned, the visual style is great. The movie is done in more than one style. The movie is mostly black and white, but stylized black and white. Important colors show through like red for blood, or a car, or sky, and eye color. Blood shows up red but also shows up as pure white. The visual style alone is enough reason to watch the movie, it just looks good.

Aside from just looking good, “Sin City” is a damn good movie. The movie is an anthology, which means it is a collection of stories. There are three main stories, with one much smaller side story. The smaller stories open and close the film. The first real part is with detective Hartigan played by Bruce Willis, then it goes to Mickey Rourke playing Marv, and over to the big fat kill, where Clive Owen plays Dwight, then back to Hartigan to finish his story, before ending on the smaller story.

All of the characters are pure awesome. the 3 main protagonists Willis, Rourke, and Owen are all awesome, but my favorite is Rourke. His character Marv, is my favorite. The character is just so cool. The man gets put on the electric chair. When they start to read his rights he says “can we hurry this up? I haven’t got all night.” then they electrocute him, but he doesn’t die, they have to shock him twice. if that isn’t cool then I don’t know what is.

The movie is not realistic, not at all. All the action is exaggerated but doesn’t feel too over the top. Characters have power, sending people flying across a room with one smack. If you’ve ever seen the Jet Li  movie “The One” that’s an example of how not to do the exaggerated action, “Sin City” is an example of how to do it.

Out of all the great antagonists my favorite is Kevin played by Elijah Wood. He isn’t really a main protagonist more of a side one, but the character is just so interesting. that is the best word to describe the character. He’s interesting. You want to know more about him. I hope the character is in “Sin City 2” and it’s a prequel so he might be. Kevin is completely silent, but he tells so much with his unfazed face. He always has this evil smile, even after his arms and legs have been cut off and his pet wolf is eating his stomach. Rodriguez actually digitally elongated Elijah’s chin in his first shot so he would be less recognizable.

Rosaria Dawson as Gail
Devon Aoki as Miho

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of the characters are great including the side characters like Miho and Gail, all interesting. The characters are very important, because “Sin City” is driven’ by it’s strong narrative.

Sin city has great stories, great action, great narratives, great characters, great visual style, great atmosphere, etc. it’s just an all around great movie. one of my favorite movie.