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    Ocean Heaven (2010: Xue Xiao-lu: China)

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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Ocean Heaven (2010: Xue Xiao-lu: China)

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Thu Mar 01, 2012 2:44 pm

    Since we do not have a Mainland directory I'll put here.

    Ocean Heaven (2010: Xue Xiao-lu) China ***½/****

    This has been touted as Jet Li’s first starring non-action drama. While that is interesting it is probably the wrong approach to think of Li’s past roles before watching this movie. This is a simple bittersweet realist drama that is a moving cinematic experience because of the earnest performances. Jet Li’s minimalist characterization is the right approach for his character Wang Xuechang and quite different than his action persona. The director describes Li’s character as “like a man who has become a mother.” He is described by others in the film as a good man, which he is. He is doing the best he can with this situation with dogged determination, not with brilliance or luck, but perseverance. Wang is a maintenance work for an aquarium and had lost his wife fourteen years ago. He also has complete responsibility of his son Dafu (Wen Zhang: also acts with Jet Li in the later The Sorcerer and the White Snake) who suffers from severe autism. Wang is also dying from liver cancer and is given around three months to live.

    The film stars off inauspiciously. Wang takes his son out to the ocean to drown him and himself. This does not work because the son had secretly untied the rope and the son has one special gift in his mostly closed world -- he is an excellent swimmer. So Wang goes back to his home and work determined to leave his son prepared for his passing while his pains get worse by the day. At first he tries to find a place where he can leave his son. But either the institutions are for kids or seniors which the 22-year old does not qualify. While this proves difficult he also spends time going over simple behaviors like riding the bus, cooking eggs, and spending money so he can have some semblance of a normal life.

    While Dafu spends his days swimming in the aquarium tanks he befriends a travelling circus clown and juggler Ling Ling (Kwai Lun-mei: also acts with Jet Li in the later Flying Swords of Dragon Gate; she also sings a song for the film) who also gives Dafu someone else to trust. But given that her life is nomadic and that Wang’s life is slowly ebbing away you are left to wonder what is going to happen to Dafu.

    This is Xue Xiao-lu’s first directed film. Her only other screen credit is for the writing on Chen Kaige’s Together. Xue has stated she has worked on this project fourteen years, referring to her volunteer work with autistic children, and by the time the screenplay got to be read by Jet Li it was in its seventh draft. What is impressive is the crew that was put together for this film. For the cinematography you have Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Hero), for the music you have Joe Hisaishi (Kikujiro, Spirited Away) and production design by Yee Chung-man (Tokyo Raiders, Shaolin). Having this triumvirate is quite unbelievable considering the modest budget. Their collaboration helps the film immensely in sound and image.

    This is a beautiful looking film. The cinematography and production design is dominated by blue hues throughout as a constant allegory to the water in their lives. The acting from Li and especially Wen is quite good. There relationship is quite touching as is the relationship between Dafu and Ling Ling. That one is underplayed, but I think that is the right decision for this film. So much of the success of this film depends on how Wen portrays his character’s interactions with these two. There are no magical solutions to the familial issues, just a lot of hard work from caring people. There are no real antagonists in this story. Some might consider this a negative, but the movie does not need it. I am glad, because Dafu’s life is difficult enough and the movie is emotional enough. I had to watch it in two sittings because the first half depressed me quite a bit. I do recommend this movie and hope those who are on the fence about watching this to give it a watch. I think it is quite a good film.

    There are certainly some parallels between this film and Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung’s Heart of Dragon. Both films were dramatic roles dealing with a caretaker having no choice in dealing with a mentally challenged relative and both were popular action stars getting a chance to expand their acting repertoire. This film also reminds me of Zhang Yang’s underrated Shower in which the relationship between Er Ming and Liu parallels that of the two main characters here. There is also a water motif present in both films though I think the allegory is stronger in Shower and more matter-of-fact here. I mention these films because both are interesting and different approaches to similar matter. Shower is also one of my favorite films.

    I saw this on the R1 Well Go DVD release. But there is also a R1 BD/DVD combo available from Well Go which should have the same extras. For the extras there is an 11 minute “Making of” extra which has interviews from Jet Li, Kwai Lun-mei, Wen Zhang and Xue Xiao-lu and inserted footage from the movie. It has some good information, but is ultimately too short. There is a trailer and a teaser as well. However, the description on the back uses names for the two characters (Sam and David) that appear nowhere in the film and there is no English dub so I am not sure where they came from. The two dubs for this are a Mandarin 5.1 Dolby and a Mandarin Dolby Stereo. There is also an R3 Edko release of this film that came out in 2010.

    I have to mention the fact that Mao Zedong is on the money in China, which is shown predominately in several scenes, but was hideous in his treatment of mentally challenged people (and people in general, the amount of deaths he is responsible for is mind-boggling). It is possibly an illusion in the film. The term used during that time was “can fei” which translates to disabled and useless. It really is hard to find good information on the mentally disabled during the time of Mao (of the books I have and online; I have found several references of Mao’s discrediting psychology and putting away political opponents and considering them mentally unfit).
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    Brian T

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    Re: Ocean Heaven (2010: Xue Xiao-lu: China)

    Post  Brian T on Fri Mar 02, 2012 4:34 pm

    Good read, especially that last paragraph, the essence of which ran through my mind when I first saw the trailers for this movie maybe a year or two ago. I wasn't sure about buying it, but since I've been picking up a lot of mainland stuff so I'll have the requisite broader overview when I get back to the Hong Kong movies proper, I figured it would be a worth getting a better feel for what Li's really capable of when he's not traveling his usual narrow cinematic path. Seeing OCEAN HEAVEN on display in Walmart and other stores here in recent weeks had me wondering just how many online reviewers would inevitably waste time comparing it to Li's more standard fare—possibly just for padding's sake—rather than taking it on its own terms, and even addressing the greater cultural/historical issues you mention at the end of your piece. Kinda looking forward to this one now.



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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Re: Ocean Heaven (2010: Xue Xiao-lu: China)

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Mon Mar 05, 2012 10:39 am

    Brian T wrote:Good read, especially that last paragraph, the essence of which ran through my mind when I first saw the trailers for this movie maybe a year or two ago. I wasn't sure about buying it, but since I've been picking up a lot of mainland stuff so I'll have the requisite broader overview when I get back to the Hong Kong movies proper, I figured it would be a worth getting a better feel for what Li's really capable of when he's not traveling his usual narrow cinematic path. Seeing OCEAN HEAVEN on display in Walmart and other stores here in recent weeks had me wondering just how many online reviewers would inevitably waste time comparing it to Li's more standard fare—possibly just for padding's sake—rather than taking it on its own terms, and even addressing the greater cultural/historical issues you mention at the end of your piece. Kinda looking forward to this one now.

    Thanks for the comments (so far the only one out of the places I posted, well technically I got some feedback after pestering one reader there).

    Well so far there are only three reviews on Amazon (mine being one of them and by far the longest) and all three are 5-star reviews. So that's a good sign. I was able to pick up the film at Best Buy of all places. There DVDs are getting slimmer and slimmer, yet they put out some newer Asian films like Triple Tap (though there blu-ray pickings are much better as expected).

    I know this film isn't for everyone, but there isn't much writing on it. None at the criterionforum.org (the bigger one, not mine), I was the first review at HKMDB and technically the first review on kungfucinema as well (no comments there so far).

    One thing that worries me about most (or all) of the newer Mainland films (and coproductions) is the complete avoidance of political rhetoric that is any way negative against Mao and later politics (quite different than the 5th generation filmmakers). But I am only getting a smaller sliver of what is available. I'm glad this film was available R1 because it is completely different than all the new releases that I've seen.

    My viewing is still all-over-the-place, but some with a purpose. I now only need one more film (Calvacade) to finish watching all the Academy's Best Picture winners Very Happy. I'll have some more of these comments in the appropriate thread later.


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    Brian T

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    Re: Ocean Heaven (2010: Xue Xiao-lu: China)

    Post  Brian T on Wed Mar 07, 2012 10:07 am

    Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:One thing that worries me about most (or all) of the newer Mainland films (and coproductions) is the complete avoidance of political rhetoric that is any way negative against Mao and later politics (quite different than the 5th generation filmmakers). But I am only getting a smaller sliver of what is available. I'm glad this film was available R1 because it is completely different than all the new releases that I've seen.
    The general lack of ideological diversity in modern Chinese cinema is a key reason that—regardless of critical praise and selective DVD/Blu-ray releases on our store shelves—it's just not making the kinds of inroads into Western culture that Hong Kong cinema did. (well, that and the fact that so many Hong Kong performers wisely used their English names to aid their crossover appeal—who in the Chinese industry would even dare to do that?). The cinema barely speaks for or accurately represents the real diversity in the voices of its own people—except in measured tones—so what can it offer the rest of the world beyond a limited number of now-formulaic productions? And yet they keep hoping they'll have some buzzy crossover along the lines of Jackie Chan's early 90's pictures or successfully plant some of their homegrown mega-talent in Hollywood (a la Jet Li or Michelle Yeoh or Chow Yun-fat), but that seems like so much wishful thinking at this point (not that their stars don't make decent livings as it is). I'd be happy to be proven wrong, of course, because the country has produced some dynamic talent (though to its detriment from the vantage point of international appeal, it's also produced a surfeit of interchangeable Betty Boop-eyed, bee-stung-lipped ingenues). At least on the surface, the Chinese government of today seems to concern itself less with muzzling filmmakers than it did during the days of the Fifth Generation (which in those days only made the films more coveted in the west) , but that's possibly because the free market it "gave" them also keeps them in line, assuming they want to enjoy the long careers and potential riches it offers for cranking out one politically-safe costume epic or metropolitan relationship comedy after another.

    Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:I know this film isn't for everyone, but there isn't much writing on it. None at the criterionforum.org (the bigger one, not mine), I was the first review at HKMDB and technically the first review on kungfucinema as well (no comments there so far)
    We live increasingly in a world of apps and pods, and I suspect forums could one day become a thing of the past, except perhaps those that have become mobile-friendly. Outside of the great online/offline pals I've made through this one and its forerunner (--ahem--), I can't say I'll entirely miss the format and its various malcontents and soul-draining arguments. Complicating matters further is the everything's-available-somewhere nature of entertainment today ("everything" being a relative term), which leaves people with less time to comment on the content than they had when it was harder (or costlier) to come by, which in turn may or may not explain the dearth of material on a release like OCEAN HEAVEN, especially in the west. Mind you, that's just speculation . . .

    Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:I was able to pick up the film at Best Buy of all places. There DVDs are getting slimmer and slimmer, yet they put out some newer Asian films like Triple Tap (though there blu-ray pickings are much better as expected).
    The Michigan Best Buy I frequent during visits home has pretty slim pickings these days, but its clear they still support the format, and they invariably have good sales every time I go in. Best Buy's Canadian stores actually have a better selection, believe it or not, but the prices, well . . . Mad

    Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:My viewing is still all-over-the-place, but some with a purpose.
    I hear that! I'm still plowing through the Toronto library's back catalogue, but I do seem to be nearing the end of my ages-old mental list of films I really should see, which is a relief. After that, it's on to my own back-burnered acquisitions to clear some of that stuff out (or keep it, who knows!), and then, hopefully, back into Asian cinema with a vengeance.

    I haven't seen many of this year's Oscar movies—let alone the entire history of them as you apparently have Shocked —except THE ARTIST, of course, but of the nine pictures nominated, seven were pictures I was hoping to see long before they became award-bait. Only MONEYBALL and EXTREMELY LOUD held almost no interest for me. Several of the others were at TIFF last year, but the buzz around them meant tickets didn't last long. Interestingly enough, THE ARTIST wasn't yet being singled out as a potential nominee at the time, so it represented the first time in 12 years+ of TIFF-going that I actually stuck a future best picture winner on my viewing schedule. Bet that won't happen again for a while. Laughing

    Incidentally, I assume your all-but-one Best Picture viewing list now includes THE ARTIST? I'm curious to hear your reaction to it, knowing your extensive experience with silent cinema. Wink Hopefully the hype didn't raise expectations so high they couldn't be met.
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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Re: Ocean Heaven (2010: Xue Xiao-lu: China)

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Wed Mar 07, 2012 1:39 pm

    Brian T wrote: ...Incidentally, I assume your all-but-one Best Picture viewing list now includes THE ARTIST? I'm curious to hear your reaction to it, knowing your extensive experience with silent cinema. Wink Hopefully the hype didn't raise expectations so high they couldn't be met.

    Yes the only film I have not seen out of that list is the only one not on DVD Calvacade (I do have a VHS of it). And to clarify I mean BP winners not all nominees (that's a huge group). Here is what I wrote on my forum:

    I am quite glad I finally got to see The Artist. It was probably overall the oldest group I have seen in the theater, possibly ever. One old couple had trouble hearing so they occasionally would yell something to each other like "He reminds me of Errol Flynn". I wanted to say he was more like Douglas Fairbanks, but I thought it wise not to engage in a shouting match while the movie was playing especially to someone who might not be able to hear me. The theater was not crowded, but I was quite glad to see this.

    When the film was over outside the theater I could hear several conversations from different groups, who apparently did not know each other, talk about how much they liked the film. I was lurking of course. I don't butt in, I leave my snobbery for friends, this site and coffee houses.

    I was discussing this film (in person) yesterday with a writer/blogger I know who was one of those folks who wrote a scathing blog about his anger for that film winning Best Picture. I told him that this film is more pop art than the esoteric endeavor that he thought it was. It is an enjoyable, but quite safe film. It really seems to take from both Singing in the Rain (though in a way inverting the approach as The Artist is mostly a silent film) and A Star is Born in plot. The things that turn people away are the fact, first it is silent and second it is in black and white (third you could add that it is in Academy ratio). But there is really nothing difficult about this film to get into. I think more people could easily enjoy if they could get past those two aspects that many of us here appreciate.
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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Re: Ocean Heaven (2010: Xue Xiao-lu: China)

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Wed Mar 07, 2012 1:53 pm

    Brian T wrote:...The general lack of ideological diversity in modern Chinese cinema is a key reason that—regardless of critical praise and selective DVD/Blu-ray releases on our store shelves—it's just not making the kinds of inroads into Western culture that Hong Kong cinema did. (well, that and the fact that so many Hong Kong performers wisely used their English names to aid their crossover appeal—who in the Chinese industry would even dare to do that?). The cinema barely speaks for or accurately represents the real diversity in the voices of its own people—except in measured tones—so what can it offer the rest of the world beyond a limited number of now-formulaic productions? And yet they keep hoping they'll have some buzzy crossover along the lines of Jackie Chan's early 90's pictures or successfully plant some of their homegrown mega-talent in Hollywood (a la Jet Li or Michelle Yeoh or Chow Yun-fat), but that seems like so much wishful thinking at this point (not that their stars don't make decent livings as it is). I'd be happy to be proven wrong, of course, because the country has produced some dynamic talent (though to its detriment from the vantage point of international appeal, it's also produced a surfeit of interchangeable Betty Boop-eyed, bee-stung-lipped ingenues). At least on the surface, the Chinese government of today seems to concern itself less with muzzling filmmakers than it did during the days of the Fifth Generation (which in those days only made the films more coveted in the west) , but that's possibly because the free market it "gave" them also keeps them in line, assuming they want to enjoy the long careers and potential riches it offers for cranking out one politically-safe costume epic or metropolitan relationship comedy after another.
    ...

    This worries me of course. While I've seen some great coproductions like Red Cliff and Detective Dee, I've seen way too many "politically-safe costume epic" though I could watch more metro rom/coms Very Happy. That's why I'm so glad about Ocean Heaven.

    The rules are also a bit too stringent on what they can film in the Mainland. I really think Hong Kong could take much more advantage over this. Seriously if this was the case for Hong Kong imagine all the ghost oriented and tough Hong Kong film noir that would never have been made (thank goodness for Milkyway still).

    Quite note about the film: two people I lent it to who normally like sad films were mad at me because the film was too sad Very Happy.

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