Cyclo (Vietnamese) 1995

From the director of the Academy Award Nominated film “The Scent of Green Papaya” comes a shocking new vision of beauty, passion and power.

In the mayhem of Saigon, the theft of a young man’s cyclo pedicab leads to tragic and unpredictable consequences. For the desperate poor of this anarchic city, with its enormous contrasts between those on top and those underfoot, every day is the same struggle. The cyclo (Le Van Loc) spends all day pedaling in the hunt for passengers, before returning to the home that he shares with his two sisters and grandfather. Since his parents are long dead (mother in childbirth and father in an auto accident) every member of the family is forced to work. Grandfather (Le Dinh Huy) repairs tires (back-breaking labor for an old man), younger sister (Pham Ngoc Lieu) shines shoes after school and older sister (Tran Nu Yen Khe) carries water for the market. Even then their shack is all of two rooms, open to the elements and their neighbors, squashed against more of the same.

Imminent financial disaster leads to moral ruin as the former cyclo turns first to a life of petty crime to pay the bills then embraces drugs and even murder to gain success as a gangster – all evoked by the director in an incredible atmosphere of chaos, helter skelter activity which seems to follow no law. The strength of Cyclo lies in its imagery. Stunning colors and a cascade of metaphors, on many different levels, constructs a coherent picture of the world of the Cyclo.

Cast: Le Van Loc, Tran Nu Yen Khe, Tony Leung, Nguyen Nhu Quynh, Nguyen Hoang Phuc
Directed: Anh Hung Tran
Genre: Drama, Crime, Action
Runtime: 123 minutes
Also Known As: Xich lo
Country: Vietnam/Hong Kong/France
Language: Vietnamese/Mandarin (dual audio track)
Subtitles: English/Thai/Chinese

Frugal Game (Hong Kong) 2002

Diana and Wai have become overburdened with debt, and in a scheme to make some quick cash, they put together a fake “family” to go on a reality TV show. Their family is pitted against another one, and they must compete to see who can live off the smallest amount of money. But as the game approaches the end, the shows’ producer forces the director to make a few changes to boost ratings, which may inadvertently expose Diana and Wai for the frauds they are.

Review: While low-key in the laughs department, this Derek Chiu-directed comedy proves accomplished in many other ways. Frugal Game possesses a welcome and even comforting message, as well as canny performances from a fine ensemble cast.

Cast: Eric Tsang Chi-Wai, Carol Cheng Yu-Ling, Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah, Eason Chan Yik-Shun, Lai Yiu-Cheung, Josie Ho Chiu-Yi, Conroy Chan Chi-Ching, Yiu Tak-Sing, Woo Ying-Man, Chan Man-Lui, Lee Shun-Yan, Tsang Kan-Wing, Ti Lung
Directed: Derek Chiu Sung-Kei
Genre: Comedy
Runtime: 101 Minutes
Also Known As: Haan chin ga chuk, Qian qian gu zu
Country: China/Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese
Subtitles: English

Chinpira: Two Punks (Japan) (1996)

Played by the likes of Tsuruta Koji, Takakura Ken or Sugawara Bunta, yakuza in movies are usually made-of-steel, superhuman macho heroes who coldly stare death in the face and fight for honor and gang tradition. If these heroes express emotion, it is within the confines of the melodrama of duty versus friendship, of emotional excess repressed by obligation and the demands of being a man. The two gangsters featured in Two Punks effectively reject this identity by refusing to formally enter a gang and become a yakuza. They remain “chinpira,” punks who live on the fringes of the gangster world without ever receiving from the boss the traditional sake cup that makes them official gang members.

What makes the film stand out is director Shinji Aoyama’s refusal to pull emotional heart-strings or glorify the gangster life. Aoyama’s gangsters are more inextricably mired in the grit and grime than defines being human. From Michio with his constant stomach aches, to Otani refraining from kicking a pregnant Miya, these characters experience fear, love, and frustration that are all too real.

Cast: Takao Osawa, Dankan, Reiko Kataoka, Chikako Aoyama, Susumu Terajima, Ryo Ishibashi
Directed: Shinji Aoyama
Genre: Crime, Drama, Action
Runtime: 100 minutes
Also Known As: Chinpira
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Subtitles: English

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Shakthi: The Power (India) (2002)

Settled in Canada, of Indian origin, Nandini and Shekhar live a fairly harmonious and busy lifestyle with their young child. While Nandini has family in Canada, Shekhar has no one to call his own. Then one day there is breaking news of violence in India, and that’s when Shekhar asks Nandini to accompany him to India as he fears that his parents may have been killed. Nandini is shocked to find out that Shekhar does indeed have family, but had never discussed this with her, nevertheless she accompanies him. Upon arrival, they are greeted by Shekhar’s uncle and cousin, and it is then that this young couple learn that they have entered a war between two families – a war they and their child may not survive.

Cast: Karisma Kapoor, Nana Patekar, Sanjay Kapoor, Deepti Naval, Shahrukh Khan
Directed: Krishna Vamsi
Genre: Action, Drama, Romance, Adventure
Runtime: 170 minutes
Also Known As:
Country: India
Language: Hindi
Subtitles: English

Wild Zero (Japan) 2000

Aliens are invading the planet and turning humans into zombies! Get out your black leather because now is the time for all great rockers (played by members of the J-Rock band Guitar Wolf) to come to the aid of their planet. Rock on, dudes!

Cast: Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf, Drum Wolf, Masashi Endô
Directed: Tetsuro Takeuchi
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Horror, SciFi
Runtime: 98 min
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Subtitles: English Hardsubbed

Suriyothai (Thailand) (2001)

An extraordinary film, Suriyothai is an epic historical motion picture that portrays one of Thailand’s foremost heroines, Phra Suriyothai. Her actions would unite her people and win the war against an unstoppable enemy. She is the queen who fought and died to protect her husband and king’s life, while advancing into battle against the invading Burmese battalion in the 14th century. This is her story…

Review: Every now and then, there will be a film that individuals will find themselves on the “hate it” or “love it” side. Thailand’s recent Suriyothai is one such movie that falls into this division. Many have deemed it the “Braveheart” of Asia, while others have considered it otherwise. Though this film by Chatrichalerm Yukol bears its similarities to Braveheart, I cannot categorize this movie into the same niche as that film. I believe Suriyothai can stand on its own merit entirely against any epic historic piece of work. It’s a story of one woman’s strong will and love for her king and country that drives this movie, and also what makes it all work out in the end.

Cast: M.L. Piyapas Bhirombhakdi, Sarunya Wongkrachang, Chatchai Plengpanich, Johnny Anfone, Mai Charoenpura
Directed: Chatrichalerm Yukol
Genre: Historical, Drama
Runtime: 185 minutes
Also Known As: The Legend of Suriyothai
Country: Thailand
Language: Thai
Subtitles: English hardsubbed