• Ji qi zhi xue / Bleeding Steel (2017)

    Bleeding Steel is a fast-paced science-fiction movie with solid acting performances, stunning visual effects and exotic locations in Australia and China. The highlights are the scenes inside and outside the Sydney Opera towards the climax and the scenes in the laboratory plane during the falling action. The movie has a concise length that never overstays its welcome. This highly entertaining movie with a big budget and a balanced mixture of rookie and star actors is much better than its critical reception because it manages to keep its audience on the edge of their seats throughout the film.

    The story revolves around a young woman of Chinese origin living in Australia who has a mechanical heart and biogenetic blood substitutes unbeknownst to her that once saved her life when she was a very young child. She is tracked down by relentless criminals that have been looking for the scientific iventions in her body for decades. She is secretely protected by her father, a former police officer who works as a cook at his daughter's university. She is also mysteriously approached by a youngster who seems to have a romantic interest in her. The three parties involved will change the young woman's life.

    The weakest element of the film is its story. Even if one considers this movie to be closer to fiction than to science, it still features poorly developed side stories, minor plot holes and highly exaggerated scenes that put the film closer to a juvenile fantasy flick than anything else. The dialogues are sometimes also of poor quality. The movie might therefore appeal to younger audiences but occasionally frustrate more experienced cinephiles. The scriptwriting of such a big production would have requested more care and details.

    In the end, Bleeding Steel is an entertaining, lush and even spectacular science-fiction movie with numerous action scenes and atmospheric cyberpunk elements. Its only but major flaw is the subpar screenwriting with cringeworthy dialogues, several minor plot holes and poorly developed side stories. This entertaining blockbuster is good for what it is but far from leaving a lasting impression.

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  • Liu Lang Di Qiu / The Wandering Earth (2019)

    The Wandering Earth is a Chinese science-fiction blockbuster based upon the critically acclaimed novella of the same name by award-winning author Liu Cixin. The movie convinces with stunning visual and sound effects that bring a dystopian world to live. The action sequences are intense. The acting performances are solid enough to make you care about the fates of the characters until the spectacular ending. Imagine a revamped mixture of Armageddon and The Day After Tomorrow with all the contemporary aesthetics and you know what you will get from this film.

    The movie tells the story of a dying sun that endangers our planet to a point that it needs to be moved out of the Solar System and to the Alpha Centauri system with giant thrusters running on fusion power. The film follows a family consisting of an experienced grandfather who has worked as a trucker on the planet's frozen surface, an absent father who works as an astronaut on an international space station, a rebellious son who is sick and tired of living in the underground and his naive adopted sister who dreams of discovering the world. The son and his adopted sister try to escape from the underground and are being followed by the grandfather who wants to save them while the father has to make sure the planet's voyage progresses smoothily. As Jupiter's gravity attracts the wandering planet which could lead to a fatal disintegration that would annihilate mankind, the four protagonists are suddenly in the middle of a desperate rescue mission.

    The only issue I have with this movie is the story itself. This isn't a science-fiction story because the scientific part is so unrealistic that this can basically be categorized as a fantasy movie. It's hard to fully get into the story and appreciate the film because the plot is nonsensical to a point that it almost becomes ridiculous. That is obviously not exactly the fault of the filmmakers but of the source material and one has to wonder why such an unrealistic novella has achieved so much critical acclaim.

    If you are ready to ignore the fact that the plot doesn't make any sense whatsoever, you can appreciate visually stunning popcorn cinema of epic proportions for two entertaining hours. However, the movie is slightly overrated and there are even better contemporary Chinese science-fiction movies like the gripping Reset that recalls elements of the film Looper.

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  • Manbiki kazoku / Shoplifters (2018)

    Shoplifters is an empathic Japanese drama nominated for Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It convinces with strong actresses and actors and especially child actors Sasaki Miyu and Kairi Jyo are absolutely incredible and should have a great career in the future. The film is directed calmly, intimately and precisely and shows us how a group of societal outcasts stick together to find a common purpose in life. The movie criticizes the perception of homeless, lonely and poor people and makes you wonder whether the actual kidnappers and thieves are to blame or whether those who ignored and mistreated them have a big part in their development.

    The film tells the story of a group of poor people who live in a small house in a depressing neighbourhood of Tokyo that is owned by a lonely elderly woman who supports the group with her deceased husband's pension. One day, the adult labourer who has assumed the role of the family father and the young boy that has been living with the family for several years witness a sad girl on a balcony on a cold night while her mother is getting into a physical and verbal fight with a man. The laborer and the boy pity the girl and decide to take her with them. They initially plan to bring her back the next day but the girl doesn't want to go back and prefers staying with the family. She bonds with the unique group of people and especially looks up to the boy whom she perceives like an older brother she can trust. They spend much time together and learn positive and negative things from each other. When the brother however observes how his sister starts stealing in local shops like he has been doing for a long period of time, he decides to take the blame to make her stop. His selfless sacrifice has unexpected consequences on the entire group that considers itself a genuine family.

    Shoplifters is a movie that will touch your heart but also involve your brain and make you think. Despite a slow pace, the movie is never dull and each character is developed carefully. The viewer ends up empathizing with the different characters despite their flaws because they are gentle at heart. The movie's ending will make you reconsider the values of family and friendship as the lines between good and evil are constantly blurred throughout the film. Shoplifter finds the perfect balance between emotionalism and intellectualism. It would certainly deserve most to win this year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

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  • Believer (2018)

    Believer is a South Korean remake of Hong Kong action-thriller Drug War. I haven't watched the original film but after having adored Believer so much, I might try to watch it soon. Believer convinces with outstanding acting performances, intense action scenes, solid pace, a twisted story and a huge amount of tension that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The intellectual conclusion even offers some philosophical depth and food for thought.

    The story revolves around the mysterious leader of a drug cartel known as Mister Lee, whose identity remains a mystery. Reckless police detective Won-ho has tried to find and arrest Mister Lee for years. His underage mule has been brutally killed and Mister Lee's associate who was willing to cooperate got fatally poisoned. Won-ho's last chance is the survivor of a drug laboratory explosion named Rak who lost his mother in the incident. Won-ho decides to pose as Chinese-Korean drug lord who personally wants to meet Mister Lee and Rak assists him in meeting more and more powerful members of the drug cartel. Things take a turn for the worse when the Chinese-Korean drug lord who Won-ho impersonates decides to intervene and when a high-ranked member of the cartel plans on replacing Mister Lee.

    The only slightly negative element I could point out regarding this otherwise excellent movie is the fact that I figured out quite early in the movie who Mister Lee actually was. A surprising twist would have been even better and made an excellent movie perfect. Still, the film remains intense even if you have figured out who Mister Lee is since there are numerous complex conflicts in the story.

    The film's conclusion leaves an important question unanswered and invites the viewers to make up their minds. I believe such an ending is respectful towards the viewers as it expects them to challenge themselves and think about the movie's possible outcomes. Those who are used being offered predictable happy endings in Hollywood flicks might though feel overloaded.

    In the end, this film deserves a much better reputation than it has and is among the best movies I have seen over the past few years. If you like intense action films, profound dramas and tense thrillers, Believer offers you all these elements at once in a perfectly interwoven way. The intelligent conclusion will make you think and invites to discuss the movie with your friends long after it has ended.

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  • Chi o suu bara / Evil of Dracula (1974)

    Evil of Dracula is the third and last entry in the Bloodthirsty Trilogy centered around American-styled horror movies in a Japanese context. Released a whopping three years after the previous output Lake of Dracula and four years after The Vampire Doll, this story is centered around a psychology teacher who assumes a job at an isolated private school. Upon arrival, he learns that the principal's wife died in a tragic car accident two days earlier. When the teacher respectfully asks if he could visit her grave, he is told by the principal that her body hasn't been buried or cremated yet and is instead kept in a coffin in the basement for a whole week according to an ancient local tradition. The surprises don't stop there for the young teacher when he is told that the principal would like him to be his successor. At night, the young teacher has a haunting nightmare of the principal's wife and an unknown girl attacking him. He is stunned when he learns that the girl in his nightmare is in fact a student who mysteriously disappeared and that several students indeed run away from the old school every single year. The teacher realizes that something is afoul and starts investigating.

    Horror movies that are set in high schools don't seem to be original anymore but Evil of Dracula was released two years before Carrie, three years before Suspiria and even decades before the Whispering Corridors series. Setting a gothic horror movie at an old private school for girls was a clever idea back then and the movie's familiar yet unsettling settings still work perfectly four and a half decades later. The isolated railway station, the bumpy country road with the carwreck, the elegant principal's mansion, the gloomy forest and lake next to the school, the big classrooms and the modest dorms make for diversified locations.

    The movie also convinces with a gloomy atmosphere. Right from the start, viewers might sense that something is wrong. The teacher arrives at a completely isolated railroad station. The staff is very rude. The person who was supposed to pick him up arrives late. The first thing he sees on his way to the school is the horribly burned carwreck. The tension intensifies from there on and will keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

    Even though Evil of Dracula is a good horror movie that has aged surprisingly well, it isn't as great as The Vampire Doll with its outstanding acting performances and Lake of Dracula with its mysterious and surreal vibes. The acting performances in Evil of Dracula are solid but not outstanding. The principal's characteristics are a little bit too similar to those of the main villain in Lake of Dracula. Lead actor Kurosawa Toshio looks stylish but his acting performance lacks depth and emotions. The characters of the three students who decide to stay at the school during summer break are promising but not fully developed. If the movie had been a little bit more detailed, it could have been much more intense.

    The final showdown is also less convincing than in the two predecessors. There are a lot of things going on but the action looks unintentionally humorous at times and feels completely exaggerated by the end. This rather recalls The Rocky Horror Picture Show than an actual horror movie, even though said film was also released one year after Evil of Dracula.

    In the end, Evil of Dracula is an atmospheric and intense horror movie that gets even closer to American-styled horror cinema than the two predecessors. However, the acting performances are only slightly above average and the film is at times lacking depth. If you have watched the first two entries, you will also like this film. If that isn't your case, watch the Bloodthirsty Trilogy chronologically.

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