Hercules: The Thracian Wars
Greek mythology is getting a heavy workout in Hollywood these days. As yet, apart from the visual inventiveness of Zack Snyder’s 300, this sub-genre of the swords and sandals epic, enhanced with massive quantities of CGI, has produced no particularly good movies. And it is not for want of trying. The character of Hercules features in two movies this year alone, and Hercules: The Thracian Wars, starring that outstanding specimen of prime beefcake, former WWE wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, should not be confused with The Legend of Hercules, starring Kellen Lutz, whose main claim to fame is playing the buff Emmett Cullen in the Twilight franchise. Johnson is a perfectly acceptable screen presence, and has been effective in various supporting roles movies such as The Mummy Returns and Luke Hobbs in the Fast and Furious series. Sadly, he is not really up to a leading role, and despite support from the likes of Ian McShane and John Hurt, as well as a host of scantily clad beauties, Hercules: The Thracian Wars is utterly silly and not very engaging. The script is clunky, often undermining the epic tone it seeks to achieve, and occasionally stumbling in unintended humor. It has none of the cheekiness that made films such as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s early Conan movies so much fun.
Cruel and Unusual
Weird psychological fantasy from Canada by Merlin Dervisevic in his debut feature film. The story centers on a shabby everyman named Edgar (David Richmond-Peck) who may, or may not, accidentally have killed his Filipina wife (Bernadette Saquibal), and who then finds himself in a group therapy session in which he is forced to relive the murder for eternity. Through the process of endless confession, a kind of murderous Groundhog’s Day, he realizes that it may actually have been his wife who was trying to kill him. It is all quite cleverly constructed, and Richmond-Peck does an outstanding job of portraying the bemused protagonist struggling toward some understanding of his situation. For all its qualities, Cruel and Unusual has a self-serious earnestness that drags the whole thing down, drawing it toward film school territory and making this relatively compact package (running time 95 minutes) into something of a drag.
The sort of horror flick that deserves to go straight to DVD and then into the trash. 甀 is devoid of scares, and its attempts at creating character and exploit psychological thrills falls flat. Flight 7500 departs Los Angeles International Airport bound for Tokyo. As the overnight flight makes its way over the Pacific Ocean, the passengers encounter what appears to be a supernatural force in the cabin. But do we care about what happens to the cardboard cutouts on the flight? Do we discover why they are there in the first place, or how the snippets of backstory enhance the audience experience of their plight? Do we ever jump out of our seats? The answer is a uniform no. If you must watch people have a bad time on an airplane, watch the DVD of Snakes on a Plane instead.
A Thousand Times Good Night
English-language film by Norwegian director Erik Poppe tells the story of a female war photographer passionately committed to her dangerous profession and caught up in her family’s fear that her job, which brings her to some of the most dangerous locations on the planet, will almost certainly get her killed. The film is anchored by a strong performance from Juliette Binoche, who plays photojournalist Rebecca, who has a compulsion to make others see what she sees through her photographs. The story focuses more on her inner compulsion rather than conflicts of journalistic values as in such Hollywood classics with a similar set up as Under Fire. Binoche is ably supported by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (from Game of Thrones) as Rebecca’s marine biologist husband, and Lauryn Canny as her daughter, who is torn by the abandonment consequent on her mother’s work, and the vocation, or addiction, it represents. Deftly sidestepping both melodrama and family-values messaging, director Poppe, who worked as a photojournalist in the 1980s, imbues the film with enormous emotional resonance.
The Ghost Festival (盂蘭神功)
Written, directed and starring Hong Kong cinema’s tough man Nick Cheung (張家輝), The Ghost Festival sports a veteran cast that includes Carrieng Wu (吳家麗) and Taiwanese-Canadian actress Annie Liu (劉心悠). With Cheung at the helm, the film has garnered considerable press attention, and its mix of regular horror tropes with a story set against the operation of a Chinese opera troupe ensures that there is a strong element of the exotic to flesh out a horror story that follows genre conventions without too much imagination. Cheung plays a businessman who has returned from China to Malaysia after a failed venture and is forced to take over his father’s opera company, as well as manage the intense family feuding with his younger sister. With the advent of Ghost Month, strange things begin to happen, and the installation of a CCTV system reveals that this paranormal activity seems closely related to the troupe’s star performer. Production values are above average and Cheung elicits some committed performances from his cast.
Warren Hsu (許華仁) sees chocolate making as creating art and performing magic. Zeng Zhi-yuan (曾志元) “talks” to his cacao beans and compares the fermenting process to devotedly caring for a child. Despite their different products and business models, the two helped put Taiwanese chocolate on the map in 2018 at the prestigious International Chocolate Awards’ (ICA) World Finals when Hsu’s Fu Wan Chocolate (福灣) claimed two golds, five silvers and two bronzes, while Zeng took home four golds. That year, Taiwanese chocolatiers burst through the gates with a total of 26 medals, an impressive feat given that many locals don’t
Chen Zhiwu (陳志武) says that the COVID-19 crisis puts into sharp focus that we are in a new cold war, with China and the US being the two protagonists. “It’s almost literally in front of us,” says Chen, Director of Asia Global Institute and Chair Professor of Finance at the University of Hong Kong. Political observers were hesitant, Chen says, even up to the beginning of this year, to confirm a new cold war was underway. “But ... the coronavirus has made clear the clash in values and way of life between what China would like to pursue, and what
In Japan — where they take their cats very seriously — they call Yuki Hattori the Cat Savior. He is so popular that he saw 16,000 patients last year, and crowds regularly queue up to hear him talk about neko no kimochi (a cat’s feelings), while people from all over Japan make the pilgrimage to his practice. Sometimes clients turn up from further afield. “One flew in from Iraq for a personal consultation,” Hattori says, “without his cat, due to border quarantines.” In Japan’s rarefied world of cat doctors, the vet Hattori is very much a superstar — but now there
For tourists visiting Hualien, Taroko National Park (太魯閣國家公園) is the first order of business. But if you find yourself in the city with half a day to spare — your train back to Taipei will leave mid-afternoon, say — it’s hardly worth busing out to Taroko Gorge. Instead, borrow or rent a bicycle or a scooter, or hail a cab, and set out for one of these attractions. At only one of these places is there an admission charge. CISINGTAN SCENIC AREA A literal translation of Cisingtan (七星潭) would be “Seven Stars Pond,” but there’s no pond here, just the vast Pacific