Killer Imports #1: Reed Farrington’s New Foreign Film Column

What qualifications do I have for writing a column about foreign film?

When I was growing up in a small Canadian town, the local cinemas only played popular American films. I got a brief glimpse of Asian cinema when martial arts became popular in the ’70s. I went to see the first Asian film that opened the martial arts craze in North American theaters, Five Fingers of Death, and I subsequently saw all the Bruce Lee films with my parents or my occidental friends.

On television, we had three over the air channels. (Cable television wasn’t available.) One of the three television channels was a French station. Late at night, it would show French films. It wasn’t long before I grew to appreciate French cinema. And it wasn’t because of Francois Truffaut or any of the other New Wave directors specifically, I don’t think. I also didn’t really understand the language even though French was a mandatory class at school as I was growing up. You see, the thing about French films is that they had nudity.

So you might be guessing that I don’t have any credentials, or any better reasons than you, for writing a foreign film column — and you’re right. I hope you’ve also guessed that when I say “foreign film”, I’m referring to films that originate from outside North America. (I should probably include Canadian films, because Canadian films don’t get shown in Canadian theaters. Ha ha. I’m kidding. Sort of.)

I’m not sure if I should make assumptions about what people have seen. I’m always surprised when I find out that Jay hasn’t watched a “classic”. For now, I’ll assume you’re as stupid as I am, but you don’t mind reading subtitles. (Some English films have mumbled lines, so I even occasionally watch an English film on DVD with the English subtitles for the hearing impaired.) Although most things that try to appeal to everyone are doomed to failure, I’ll try to make this column entertaining for everyone. Hopefully, I might even learn something from your comments.

My impression is that most Film Junk readers have aligned themselves with or grown to appreciate Sean’s opinions and will use his reviews to determine if seeing a film is worthwhile for them. I like reading reviews in which the reviewer tells me why I should appreciate a film. Film academics like to think that some films are worth watching even though many people in the general public may not be entertained by the films.

I once asked a film professor what he thought the difference was between a film reviewer and a film critic. Basically, I think, his answer was that a film reviewer provides a synopsis of a film and his or her own opinion of a film. A film critic, however, provides an analysis of a film and an interpretation of what he or she understood about a film.

I hate reviewing films. I think I only appreciate certain types of films, and I have a narrow range of criteria that make me think a film is great. Over the years, I have come to realize that I like films that satisfy as many of the criteria listed here:

  • There is a protagonist with a pessimistic world view that aligns with mine.
  • There is a female who has spunk, who kicks ass, or who is really sweet.
  • There is panoramic scenery, or there are eye-catching visuals.
  • There is a story that makes me wonder how everything is going to end.
  • Everyone dies in the end. Or at least the hero. Self-sacrifice is even better.

Now I realize that these criteria would not make it into a book on film criticism. More often than not, I find it difficult to elaborate on why I liked or disliked a film. I don’t think I have the analytical skills for film criticism; however, I do like to write. So what can you expect from this column? Irreverent reviews. Maybe I won’t be as irreverent as I was when I reviewed CJ7 for Film Junk (I watched CJ7 without sub-titles and reviewed it based only on the visuals and what I thought was being said). Hopefully, I won’t be too irrelevant at the same time. I’ll also be writing columns that address issues like why foreigners fail in Hollywood.

Since I have easy access to Asian cinema, this column will be slanted (pun intended) to it (hey, my parents are Asian, so I’m allowed to be self-derogatory). I only have a limited understanding of Cantonese. If a Chinese scene is taking place within a family home, and a mother is scolding her child, then I will most likely understand what is being said. Beyond that, I’m pretty much in the dark without subtitles. I wish I could read Chinese so that I could get some interesting information from the Chinese film web sites.

Perhaps there will be reviews of non-Asian films as well, possibly from other reviewers here at Film Junk. I do have an appreciation of some foreign films that make it to mass market such as Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie as well as his equally enjoyable A Very Long Engagement. And there are some that have been praised by others that I thought were alright like Timur Bekmambetov’s Night Watch. (I haven’t seen Day Watch yet, but I hear some people were disappointed by it.)

I thought I would review films that are readily available on DVD through many reputable DVD outlets on the Internet. So if I happen to describe a film that you think you would like, then you should have no problem obtaining a copy. I will try not to mention too many spoilers, and I promise not to reveal the ending of any films I review.

I will also occasionally give short reviews of upcoming films that are not available on DVD yet, in case you happen to be at a film festival or a foreign country where you are able to catch a mentioned film in a theatre.

I was going to review a great foreign film as my first entry. For example, Zhang Yimou’s Hero came readily to mind. If you haven’t heard of this film and you like action with good doses of philosophy, or the current crop of American action films leaves you wanting something else, then I recommend you get this film and watch it now! And if for some reason you don’t like this film, then my opinions probably aren’t worth your time. But I was daunted by some extensive reviews I’ve read for Hero. I don’t think I could add anything to what has already been written about it.

I don’t think I’m aware of any undiscovered classics, so I thought I would simply review an obscure film that entertained me and that would afford me the chance to be irreverent. I’ve chosen a Michelle Yeoh film released in 2004 called Silver Hawk.

To be continued…

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  • Reed, I think you should write one more treknobabble, number 50, and then end it on top and make this your main focus. And then 50 of these, and maybe move on to something else after that. 50’s a good number.

  • joe

    Looking forward to reading your foreign film reviews, Reed. If you didn’t know already, I’m a big fan of asian film, so this column is right up my alley!

  • Xu

    Reed, if any question related to Chinese movie, don’t hesitate to ask me -cantona.x@gmail.com

  • swarez

    Here’s a short review of Silver Hawk.

    It’s shit.

  • Sean, you surprised me with the title: Killer Imports! For some reason, I really like the title. Hope people don’t think I’m going to be reviewing only action films.

    Drew, I’m not done with Treknobabble. It’s still relatively easy for me to write about Star Trek. My next Treknobabble is one I spent days on. I could have spent more time on it.

    joe and Xu, I hope you’ll correct any info that I get wrong. I don’t spend enough time fact-checking. And feel free to disagree with anything I say like swarez who has already expressed his opinion about Silver Hawk that I found entertaining (although I can respect that maybe most people would hate this movie).

    Oh, and if anyone sees a foreign film that they think is worth watching, please let me know and maybe I’ll get around to giving my opinion of it.

  • swarez

    Reed. Do you speak Chinese?

  • swarez, I speak Chinese with a Canadian accent. I can understand Chinese better than I can speak it, but I wouldn’t make it as a translator.

    One thing I learned how to say in Chinese from Cantonese movies and not my parents is how to say “I love you.” (I wasn’t a lovable kid. :-) )