Asian Stories on DVD

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You know, I’m all for asians in cinema. Especially when there’s such a dearth of opportunities for asian actors, writers and directors in hollywood. So I was pretty excited to see an independent film turn up on Netflix featuring an all asian cast. The movie titled Asian Stories features “Heroes” cast member James Kyson Lee as a depressed Chinese-American who recently got left at the altar and now wants his best friend to kill him just to end his misery. OK, the hokey premise should have tipped me off but I gave the movie a chance. Unfortunately, the movie is just plain awful. The whole time viewing the film, I kept telling myself that it’d get better but it never did. Everything about the film including the writing, editing and acting was amateurish and awkward. Practically every joke uttered by the cast, landed with a resounding thud. and those over-the-top redneck characters that appear midway through the movie weren’t funny at all and completely unnecessary. And what’s with all the needless foul language? To me, it was a bit excessive and this is coming from a huge Quentin Tarantino fan!!! Surprisingly, this film won the audience award at the 2006 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival but my guess is that the audience took pity on the hard working actors who had to appear in such a crappy movie.

Movie title: Asian Stories
Cast: James Kyson Lee, Lauren Kim
Director: Ron Oda
Format: Color, Widescreen, NTSC
Language: English
Studio: Cinema Epoch
DVD Release Date: September 2, 2008
Run Time: 98 minutes

Never Forever

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I’m a bit torn on how I feel about the movie Never Forever which features Vera Farmiga portraying a wealthy housewife married to a korean-american. Farmiga’s Sophie is a lost soul desperately wanting to make things right with her husband and his family by bearing a child for them. She hits rock bottom when she offers another korean man (Jung-Woo Ha) money to help her get pregnant. But at “rock-bottom” is where Sophie finds herself and in the end we see her re-born and re-newed. Director Gina Kim had a difficult time keeping this movie from feeling too much like a “Lifetime for Women - Movie of the Week”. In some parts especially early on, it did indeed feel like a cliche-ridden made-for-TV-movie. But in time the dynamics between Farmiga’s Sophie and Ha’s Jihah began to bring the movie up a notch or two. The director’s inexperience was apparent and several scenes felt a bit too clunky. and although I enjoyed the korean aspects that were portrayed in the movie, the korean actors (excluding Jung-Woo Ha) were horrible and definitely made the flick seem amateurish. But again, both Farmiga and Ha were spectacular in their roles. If only they had a better supporting cast and a more seasoned director.
Never Forever

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WALL-E

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a scene from wall-e
took my two younger boys to see WALL-E over the weekend. apparently so did millions of others. the movie earned over 62 million dollars at the box office. the movie had a very interesting premise where future earth is a toxic wasteland and the surviving population is off on a cruiseliner in space. Pixar’s take on rampant consumerism in our country is very poignant and I applaud them for planting a message in the young minds of today. but as the story ends with the overweight blob-like passengers of the cruiseliner returning to earth, I’m left to wonder if these people would even know how to begin life back on this planet. their whole life was spent on a cruise ship being waited on hand and foot by robots. my guess is that the majority of the passengers would soon realize the magnitude of the work involved in starting fresh on earth and just simply re-board the Axiom and head back out to space. oh, and an interesting thing to note here is the irony in the fact that the movie is being distributed by Disney, a corporation that heavily relies on consumers to spend as much as they can at their theme parks and on their vast array of merchandise. anyway, my lil’ kids give this movie a hearty thumbs-up!

SocialSpark

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taking what they’ve learned from payperpost, IZEA has put a different spin on paid blogging with SocialSpark. I’m a long time payperpost member and have been on SocialSpark since the beginning of april. now I have to say that initially I was pretty impressed with the whole “web 2.0 look and feel” of the site but since it’s in BETA, there’s still lots of tweaking to do. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. SocialSpark is essentially a social networking site for bloggers and advertisers. on one end, bloggers use the site to find paid opportunities. on the other end, advertisers can learn more about the bloggers that post about their products and target specific types of bloggers if they so desire. it’s a rethinking of the payperpost model with more transparency on the blogs that take these opportunities as well as who the advertisers are. every member of the site has their own profile which displays pertinent information including blogs, stats and demographics. you can even find mine under the blogger ID - Daniel. be sure to give me “props” because we socialspark bloggers just love getting props!
my profile on socialspark
other features that are unique to the site include blog sponsorships, dynamic pricing and the ability to “request a slot” if an opportunity is full. even though the site is indeed impressive with appealing graphics and features galore, socialspark is still a work in progress and isn’t as perfect as it looks. I personally haven’t taken all that many opportunities through the site in the past couple months. I’m sure dynamic pricing is a great feature for advertisers but for bloggers, it’s a pain in the neck because if you’re not lucky enough to be online when a new opportunity goes live, you won’t get a good price on the post. essentially, as the number of bloggers that take a particular opportunity increases, the price of the opp goes down. so most of the opps fall to a lowly $5.50 within an hour or so of their initial appearance online. and when an advertiser requires a minimum of 250 words in a post, $5.50 isn’t that enticing in most cases. the good thing is that IZEA is continually tweaking and taking feedback from both advertisers and bloggers during this BETA phase so things can only improve at this point. find out more about IZEA and SocialSpark by going to socialspark.com.

This post was sponsored by SocialSpark

Free Food for Millionaires

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I finally found some extra time to finish reading Min Jin Lee’s novel Free Food for Millionaires recently. there has been quite a buzz surrounding Lee and her debut novel in the last year including a segment on NPR and high praise from the likes of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. it’s tough for any book to survive that sort of hype and Free Food for Millionaires is no exception. but it’s a strong debut nonetheless for Lee and even though the book is far from perfect it’s still a fun and interesting read. the story revolves around Casey, a young korean-american living in New York who recently graduated from Princeton. early on in the story, she has a falling out with her parents over her post-graduation decisions and so we follow her on her journey in finding her own place in life as well as learn about the family and friends that help her get there. Lee brings in a great mix of supporting characters including Ella (who finds her own true voice during the course of the story after a divorce), Unu (Ella’s cousin and eventual love interest of Casey’s) and Sabine (successful business woman and “surrogate mother” to Casey). as a korean-american, I took great interest in reading all the neat little insights about korean-american life sprinkled generously throughout the book. Lee’s take on family life, the korean church and interracial dating were pretty spot on. One memorable scene in the book took place at a rehearsal dinner involving Casey’s family and the Baek family. I thought Lee brilliantly captured the tension between the two families and how the gift exchange brought out the Baek’s true colors.
here’s an excerpt from that scene:

Casey had heard about the large house they owned in Bethesda, the beach house in Rehoboth, the membership at the country club in Chevy Chase, and she could’ve easily guessed the price of each St. John’s outfit of the Baek sisters. The mother was wearing Armani. Chul’s parents made seven or eight times more than her parents. These weren’t people who shopped at Macy’s normally, and none of them would have worn less than cashmere around their throats. They’d gone out of their way to let her family know its place. It was mean to Tina, but Casey saw that it was also mean to Chul.

one aspect of the book that received a lot of attention initially by reviewers was Lee’s choice of using the omniscient point of view in telling the story. I found it worked quite well in some parts of the book since the reader got that extra layer of detail and information that couldn’t have been conveyed in any other way. But at other points in the book, the momentum seemed to get lost due to Lee’s need to fill us in on everyone’s backstory. in addition to the loss of momentum, I’d have to say that the second half of the book is relatively weak compared to the strong first half. the story lost focus a bit and meandered as if the author didn’t quite know how to end Casey’s story. also, it felt a bit too melodramatic at times, where a couple plot twists could have worked just as well in a korean soap opera.

when the book does finally come to a close, Lee chose to end with a small and quiet scene with Casey and Unu which I liked very much. unfortunately Lee also chose to leave a few unresolved loose ends. I’m sure she did this to keep things “real” and not force the various threads to end so tidy and neat. if that was the intention, I can certainly understand it but for some of the characters that turned up in the second half of the book (i.e. Joseph McReed, the book store owner and Charles Hong, the choir director) the ending simply felt too abrupt, in my opinion.

So, yes, the book, Free Food for Millionaires has its share of flaws just like the lead character, Casey. and like Casey, the book is still very interesting and worth the time and effort to get to know.

All I Need is Here

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The new album by the Michael Gungor Band titled All I Need Is Here is probably the best praise and worship album that I’ve heard in the last year or so. Michael Gungor shined bright a few years ago with his debut album Bigger Than My Imagination that featured the P&W favorite “Friend of God”. The debut album was produced by Israel Houghton and had his fingerprints all over the album- from the pristine studio sound to cowriting songs with Gungor. On All I Need is Here, Gungor’s sonic palette has evolved to a more brit-rock-ColdPlay sound that’s just *so ready* to get young worshippers pogo-ing to these songs in their respective churches across the nation. As I’ve said countless of times in the past about praise and worship music, it’s tough to be creative and fresh when you’re working within the boundaries of congregational music. the songs need to be accessible and easy to sing along to but then again, not too bland and by-the-numbers to where people simply lose interest. Gungor succeeds here in creating new music that is simple enough to present in front of a congregation but also interesting enough to also work as a stand-alone listening experience. songs like Heaven’s Song, Be Praised and Never Stop are driving arena-sized anthems that are ready-made to excite all those mega-church-goers to a frenzy. The highlight for me on this CD is the 1-2-3 punch of Ancient Skies/Prodigal/Grace for Me. the songs are heartfelt and the choruses are bigger-than-life. the contrast between the acoustic based Grace for Me and the more dynamic Ancient Skies/Prodigal bring the lyrics to the forefront like: Valleys come and tears are drying, there are things I don’t yet see but I’ll rejoice in spite of hardship, You’ll watch over me, You’re grace for me is all I need and all I need is here… the interesting thing to see here is that Gungor humbly places himself within the band format and keeps the guitar solos to a minimum. I was actually hoping to hear more of his skillful guitar playing on the album but Gungor obviously wants the lyrics and the songs to be the focus here. and that’s truly commendable.
..but if I had to nitpick I’d have to say that the sound mix is a bit disappointing. the album is a step down from the studio quality sound of his debut. The album has “pro-tools” written all over it which is a shame because the songs deserve more. the dynamics are squashed with heavy compression and there are tell-tale signs that the dreaded “auto-tune” was used on some of the vocals. I guess it has more to do with budget limitations than actual artistic choice but fortunately the great songwriting and performances shine through despite the muddy, brick-walled mix.
michael gungor band
TrackList:
1 Be Praised
2 Giving It All
3 Never Stop
4 Ancient Skies
5 Prodigal
6 Grace for Me
7 Fly
8 You Alone
9 Spotless
10 Heaven’s Song
11 Glory Is Here/Song for My Family

Listen to Heaven’s Song by the Michael Gungor Band:

My Name is Kim Sam Soon

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the wife and I had a chance to watch one of the better korean dramas out on DVD called My Lovely Sam-Soon. It’s tough choosing a korean drama to invest your time and money in when there are so many to choose from. the major korean television networks are all cranking them out like they’re mass produced on an assembly line. so what we end up having to do is sift through a lot of badly written soaps that are plagued with melodramatic cliches to find a handful of unique gems. like this one, My Lovely Sam-Soon AKA My Name is Kim Sam Soon. the striking thing about this drama is the well written dialogue along with a strong female lead that’s not your typical korean “plastic-y” beauty. Kim Sam Soon is a slightly overweight 29 year old single girl with no college degree and a troubled love life. She’s basicially a korean version of Bridget Jones. Kim Seon-Ah is terrific in the role and expertly balances the obnoxious tendency of her character with the lovable side. Like most korean dramas, the story sort of drags toward the end of the series but it’s forgivable since the characters are all so well developed. just watch the top-notch opening episode and I guarantee that you’ll be hooked.
kim sam soon

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recent netflix rentals

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recently viewed by yours truly..

Rocket Science - a teen high school indie film that doesn’t succumb to the teen-flick plot cliches. Jeffrey Blitz does a great job keeping it real with this coming of age flick. there’s no big climactic epiphany and no miraculous changeover from geek to hero here. what the film offers is an honest portrayal of a 15 year old struggling to find his way through his own limitations. I give it a *thumbs up*.

King of California - I enjoyed watching Evan Rachel Wood and Michael Douglas in this modern day twist to the Don Quixote story. I’m not particularly a Michael Douglas fan but he won me over with this role as an eccentric father on a quest for lost treasure. the relationship between father and daughter take center stage here and it’s really fascinating to watch as the story progresses. the ending is a bit too “hollywood” for me but the stellar acting overshadows the flaws. *thumbs up*.

Good Luck Chuck - I think movie studio marketed this movie all wrong. Most folks went into this film expecting a romantic comedy. what they got was an awkward mashup of a rom-com with a good dose of Farrelly Brothers type gross out humor. Since I’m a fan of Farrelly movies like “Dumb and Dumber” and “Something About Mary”, I sorta enjoyed the raunchy humor. I was pleasantly surprised with Dane Cook’s performance along with his sidekick buddy played by Dan Fogler. they both did a fantastic job. on the other hand, Jessica Alba didn’t do much in her role. her character could have been played by just about any other twenty something actress in hollywood. it was just too vanilla. overall, the film was a bit too clunky. just simply too hit or miss. some parts were downright funny. other parts just went nowhere. but the best part of the DVD happens to be the sex matrix. ..and that’s all I’m going to say about that. :P *no thumbs in either direction*.

Eastern Promises - absolutely phenomenal. David Cronenberg follows up his superb “History of Violence” and does even better with this gem of a movie. I loved it. it’s fantastic how Cronenberg draws the audience in using Naomi Watts’ character as she tries to find a relative of a newborn baby. and Viggo Mortensen delivers a performance of a lifetime. one would think it’d be tough to top a role like Aragon in the “Lord of the Rings” but he did with his role as a russian mobster. It’s a must see. *thumbs wwwaaayyyy aloft!!*

Extras - The Complete First Season- Since Ricky Gervais won a Golden Globe this year for his role in his HBO series, I thought I’d better check it out. I love the premise as the show focuses on the “background artists” in films and television. As a series, I thought the first season was a bit spotty in terms of genuine laughs. The episode with Kate Winslet was the only one I thought was absolutely spot-on. the rest were generally hit or miss. the DVD highlight for me was watching the Ricky Gervais outtakes. The man had a real hard time keeping a straight face during the filming of these episodes. there are a ton of blown takes because he couldn’t keep from laughing. those outtakes are priceless. funnier than the actual show! *thumbs feeling a bit ambivalent toward the whole series*

The Bourne Ultimatum - best of the whole trilogy. nothing really needs to be said here. an absolute thrill-ride from beginning to end. excellent. *thumbs up!*

Shure E3c

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I’ve had my trusty ol’Shure E3c Sound Isolating Earphones for a couple years now. I’m on my second pair. the first pair got ruined after heavy use during my days in the worship band. Now, I mainly use these in-ears for listening to my portable music player. these Shure earphones sound fantastic. The only thing I don’t like about them are the yellow foam inserts that I’ve been using with the E3c phones. they get worn out and look a bit unappealing especially since they’re yellow which may appear to some as earwax buildup unfortunately. I recently ordered some Shure Triple Flange replacement inserts to see if these would work better with my E3c earphones. they look a bit funky but at least they can’t be mistaken for yellow earwax. after testing them out the other day, I had some difficulty getting them to fit properly in my ears. you see, these Shure in-ears work best when they fit tightly inside the ear canal. if they don’t seal properly, the sound is very tinny with absolutely no bass. but once they are in the ear good and snug, the sound is probably the best you can buy (within the $100-200 range). after researching these Triple Flange sleeves, I found out that you can cut the flange at the tip with some scissors to get them to fit better. and after doing just that, the new sleeves work perfectly. So I guess these Triple Flange replacement sleeves aren’t exactly one size fits all. thankfully there was someone out there that shared that little tidbit about cutting the last flange or I suppose these inserts would have ended up in the trash.

Woman is the Future of Man

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Director Martin Scorsese introduces the film Woman is the Future of Man to viewers of the DVD as a great example of South Korean cinema. It’s high praise coming from the director of films like Goodfellas, The Departed and Raging Bull. But at the end of this film by korean director Hong Sang-soo, I was left wondering if I had just watched something totally different from what was described by Scorsese in his intro. Yes, I understand the director Hong’s minimalist approach to film-making but I think he was asking way too much from the audience here. The main characters are total scumbags, the dialogue is bland and the cinematography is basically of the point and shoot variety. It’s a story of 2 old friends that meet up after years apart. They get drunk, reminisce about a lost love and then set out to confront the past. the director chose to avoid any close ups of the actors. So much of the time we see the actors perform in a static “wide shot” view. now this makes it a bit tough on the viewer to connect with the characters when you can’t get a good view of their faces. also the static camera work doesn’t leave much for the viewer to look at. There’s also not much contrast between flashbacks and the present so it was a bit tough to follow at first. But the main problem was the story. There wasn’t much of one. The director just plops you into these characters lives for thirty hours or so and then ends the film. No character development, no lessons learned and no point to be taken. minimalist, indeed! the story does a quick left turn during the last quarter of the film and then just simply ends. so what are we left with? hhhmmmm, let’s see… some random flashbacks, some non-descript dialogue between the main characters, some shouting, two awkward non-sexy sex scenes, drunk-foo, blow job-foo and a film with no conclusion. Sorry, Mr. Scorsese, I think you picked the wrong Korean film to endorse. it’s two-thumbs down for me.
woman is the future of man
watch Martin Scorsese’s intro to the film on youtube

K-drama - Goong (Palace)

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the wife and I had some extra time during the holidays so we ended up filling some of it by watching the K-drama Palace on DVD. You might remember me mentioning this drama earlier in the year. We had stopped watching the korean soap after the first two discs a while back because the plot moved along at such a snail’s pace. Plus it was odd to imagine such an alternate universe with a royal family still in place in korea. But we thought of giving Palace (aka Goong) another try since we heard it was one of the most popular dramas of 2006. after watching all nine DVDs, I still have mixed feelings about the series. Ultimately I think the two leads (Yoon Eun Hye and Joo Ji Hoon) carried the show. also the drama had great visuals including set design, cinematography and costumes. but the writing was simply atrocious. all the k-drama cliches made their presence known throughout the 24 episodes. the plot was stretched out so thinly that it was just too painful to watch at times. Obviously the producers made a commitment for 24 episodes but with the lack of material, the whole series could have easily been edited down to 12 episodes. There was a lot of needless moping about - especially whenever Royal Prince Yool appeared onscreen. Both Prince Yool and his mother Lady Hwa-Young had a knack of sucking the life out of a scene. but i do have to mention that I thought Yoon Eun Hye was quite good especially in the comedic bits. We’ve already seen her star in her other drama The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince and it’s obvious she’s got a bright future ahead of her.
Goong Palace
Kdrama info: Palace aka Princess Hours aka Goong.
featuring: Yoon Eun Hye, Joo Ji Hoon, Kim Jeong Hoon, Sung Ji Hyo and Lee Yoon Ji
Country of origin: South Korea
Language: Korean
No. of episodes: 24
Original Air date on MBC: Jan 2006 through Mar 2006
No. of DVDs: 9
U.S. Distributor: YA Entertainment

Transformers

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what was Michael Bay thinking? doesn’t he know there are millions of little kids out there that are huge fans of the Transformers cartoon series? and who does he think owns all those Transformer toys and action figures? yes i can see they were essentially zeroing in on the summer movie demographic to maximize their profits but still, he could have easily toned down the expletives and sexual references to accommodate a younger audience. i rented Transformers this past weekend hoping that it’d be alright to show my kids but i quickly realized mid-way thru that it simply wasn’t. robot violence i can handle. but come on, was the masterbation talk from Mrs. Witwicky really necessary? it was obviously for a cheap laugh but the movie didn’t really benefit from it. same goes for the needless references to Sam Witwicky’s porn collection, the comment “Bros before Hos”, and a shot of one of the robots “peeing” on a guy. geez. and don’t get me started on all the profanity in the film. and believe me, there were plenty. if it weren’t for all the offensive material, i’d definitely recommend the movie. the special effects/action sequences were very well done and the autobots and decepticons looked great. too bad Michael Bay was more concerned about raking in as much cash as possible instead of making the film kid friendly.

Time

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i love the premise of Kim Ki-Duk’s movie Time. Obsession and jealousy drive a woman named Seh-Hee to completely change her appearance in order to win the love of her man, Ji-Woo. Kim Ki-Duk, known for his minimalist style (including little to no dialogue in some cases), boldly changes things up by actually having a lot of dialogue (relatively speaking) in this new movie. Time is of course Kim’s jab at korea’s obsession with plastic surgery. the exploration of this twisted relationship is fascinating to watch. interesting questions are raise like: would your friends and your loved ones perceive you as a different person if your appearances changed? and would the change in your appearance also alter the way you behave? as with all of Kim’s work, there are a lot of great visuals including a scene where the female lead wears a photo of her former face as a mask while confronting her ex-boyfriend. Kim utilizes the wearing of the mask to great effect, making the scene deliciously creepy. i loved it. unfortunately, Kim had some difficulty ending the movie. it sort of felt like he ran out of ideas. and he also tries to bring it full circle (one of his signatures) at the end but it felt a bit forced. plus the full-circle gimmick, taken literally, wouldn’t make a lick of sense. but on the whole, i liked the movie a lot. definitely not Kim Ki-Duk’s best, but still worth seeking out.
time

VeohTV

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the legendnow that the wife has been fully infected by yon-sama fever, she’s been itching to watch Bae Yong-Jun’s current K-drama The Legend (The Story of the First King’s Four Gods). the obvious problem is that we can’t view the korean broadcast station MBC here where we live. as luck would have it, a kind k-drama fanatic has been uploading episodes onto veoh.com. if you’re not familiar with veoh, it’s a website modeled after youtube except they allow the uploading of videos that are longer than 10 minutes. so a wide assortment of full length shows can be found on veoh. i’m not sure how much longer we’ll be able to find copyrighted material on the veoh network before lawsuits and cease and desist orders come flying out from hollywood but for now, the place is a goldmine.

in order to view full-length videos from veoh, viewers are required to download their online video application called veohTV. the app is sort of a combination of Joost and Youtube with the ability to watch or download videos from just about any website. you have the option of streaming the video or saving it onto your harddrive as a .FLV file. the wife and i encountered some problems while streaming one of the hour-long episodes of “The Legend” so we resorted to downloading the .FLV files before viewing them. the interface on veohTV is a bit confusing but for our purposes of viewing this popular k-drama, it works great. i highly recommend going through the settings menu to limit the resources and hard drive space the application can use. also be aware that veohTV is geared toward peer to peer file sharing, so unless you “lock down” the video files on your computer, other veohTV users will be accessing your files. it would be great to be able to monitor which files are being accessed but the application doesn’t seem to have a visual gauge for this. or at least i haven’t come across that feature in the menus.

as for the k-drama “The Legend”, you’ll have to ask the wife. I’ve watched bits and pieces and i can tell you the special effects are pretty cool but a bit “cartoon-ish”. overall, the production quality is above and beyond anything else in the k-drama genre. i might have to wait until it comes out on DVD since the online videos aren’t subtitled.


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