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

Drugstore Girl (Japan) (2004)

Motoki Katsuhide’s “Drugstore Girl” is a light, cute, and often pathetic comedic story of a beautiful young pharmacology student who turns a group of middle-aged men into raving, lecherous gits whilst starting a new life in a new town. Obayashi Keiko (Tanaka Rena) finds her live-in boyfriend cheating on her and subsequently bolts her apartment in Shinjuku, boarding the JR and basically disembarking at a random station. She ends up in the town of Masao on the outskirts of Tokyo-to and there she begins a new life (except for the fact that she has her pharmacology classes back in the city). Whimsically letting things fall into place, she lands a job at “Hustle Drug”, a new Wal-Mart sort of super store which threatens to put the local mom & pop merchants out of business. A group of middle-aged men – consisting of three of the local merchants (druggist, baker and kombini owner), a monk and Keaton-esquire homeless man – initially plan to sabotage the grand opening of Hustle Drug, but one sight of the lovely Obayashi and the old boys quickly forget about their economic agenda. When their leader Nabeshima (Emoto Akira) discovers that Obayashi plays lacrosse, the old boys set out to learn this strange new sport, complete with fishing nets and protective gear made from cardboard boxes and bamboo.

Cast: Rena Tanaka, Akira Emoto, Yuji Miyake, Masatô Ibu
Directed: Katsuhide Motoki
Genre: Comedy
Runtime: 105 minutes
Also Known As: Doraggusutoa gâru
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Subtitles: English