The New York Asian Film Festival is in town this month, and for the first time ever, this blogger is taking the train into the city and catching some of the action for himself. For the next few weeks, I’ll be posting up some reviews and features from the events taking place at the IFC Center and Japan Society through out June and July.
For my first weekend, I decided to catch two movies based on Japanese manga, but are quite possibly as different as two live-action adaptations can be. The first is the Korean take on the boys’ love manga Antique Bakery, and the second is the Japanese remake of the classic anime / manga series Be a Man! Samurai School.
The 2008 Korean film simply titled Antique is based off of the boys’ love title by Fumi Yoshinaga. Readers of my blog might remember the time I read Yoshinaga’s series Gerard & Jacques as an experiment to see what I would think about reading yaoi (NSFW link). Antique Bakery is significantly less pornographic than Gerard was, and the idea of homosexuality is more a comical sub plot than the central theme.
The movie adaptation relocates the setting from Japan to Korea and changes the names of all the characters to Korean names, but other than that, the film sticks to the original story pretty faithfully. Jin-Hyuk quits his day job to open a fancy bakery shop for reasons buried deep in his psyche. Having no talent (or taste) in pastries himself, he hires the best chef he can find, his former admirer and now gay heartbreaking hottie Sun-Woo. Shortly there after, Jin-Hyuk hires his personal bodyguard and a former champion boxer to help run this crazy shop. Hilarity ensues with this colorful cast of characters until Jin’s past finally catches up with him, and he is forced to face the demons he has buried so long ago.
The most interesting part of this film is how very non-conventional the cinematography is, especially for an Asian film. The camera flies all over the place and zooms in and out at random moments, plus there are frequent cuts between very odd angles. This filming actually gives the movie a very playful tone just as colorful and sugar coated as the pastries on the screen. And then on top of all of that, there is a full-out musical production stuck in the middle of the film that is as whimsical and extravagant as the opening of Moulin Rouge.
The overall tone of the movie was very lighthearted, which really downplayed the boys’ love element that I was expecting going in. Only one of the leads, Sun-Woo, was gay while the other, Jin-Hyuk, was 100% straight. This lead to a very cartoonish courtship between the two, like Sun-Woo was Pepé Le Pew and Jin-Hyuk was the cat with the white stripe painted on his back.
I can probably also give credit to the film festival audience for this pleasantness as well. While I was expecting every female in the audience to go fangirl nuts over the boy-on-boy make out scenes, they really kept quiet over it. Instead, the audience paid close attention to the subtitled dialogue and laughed at every funny line. The only unconventional reaction through out the film was a loud moan heard as the gooey filling of a chocolate lava cake dribbled out onto a porcelain white plate.
Mmm… chocolate lava cake…
So even with a base in boys’ love and yaoi, Antique was quite a delightful film, and it served as a good pallet cleanser for the film I saw right after it…
Be a Man! Samurai School
Now, come on. The freaking movie is called Be a Man! Samurai School. You can tell that this isn’t going to be your soft and girlie movie about pastries and men loving each other, right? This is going to be about kicking ass and taking names!
Yes, true to its name, Be a Man! is the live action adaptation to the tongue-in-cheek classic shonen action series by Akira Miyashita. It follows a class of first year students enrolled at the Man-school to learn how to.. BE A MAN! The path to manhood involves some manly endurance tasks such as fighting while hanging off the side of a cliff, holding still for hours over a vat of boiling oil, and one scene where a dude fights a bear in the wild.
Yes, a one-on-one fist fight with a freaking grizzly bear.
Now if the idea of a “tough guy high school parody” sounds very familiar to the recent anime series and live-action movie Cromartie High School, that’s because, well, it is. Watching Samurai School reminded me a lot of Cromartie, but I think the key difference between the two is that Cromartie found its humor in being ridiculous. It threw in random classmates such as a robot, a gorilla, and Freddie Mercury, and then had the students battle alien invaders. Be A Man, however, found its humor in just pure male stupidity.
This film is stupid, but it’s brilliantly stupid. It shows that if the world is divided among the brains versus bronze, you might not want to be part of the latter. One scene shows how the class is unable to solve even the simplest of math problems. Hanging on the walls of the classroom are student-made calligraphy samples of the simple Chinese character for man, “otoko.” However, even the elementary-level Chinese character proves to be too difficult for one of the students, so up hangs a “otoko” calligraphy written in preschool-level Japanese characters.
One of the scenes I loved the most was one where a Samurai School student is asked out on a date with a very cute schoolgirl. As expected, the neanderthal of a man is very awkward and simple when it comes to dating. When he ends up getting his heart broken by the girl after the date, he sadly walks away with his male classmates by his side. This cliched and over-dramatic parting shot shows an important lesson in every man’s life – bro’s before hoes.
Bro’s before hoes… hmm… maybe it’s not so much different than Antique Bakery after all.. :-P
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So two very different manga adaptations brought to the big screen, but each one obviously influenced from the cartoonie nature of the comics they came from.
The fun continues this weekend with a very special double feature showing of the live action adaptations of 20th Century Boys. If you’re in New York City for the Fourth of July, then I strongly encourage you to check this out at the Japan Society. The first film starts at 11:45 am and there will be free beer and snacks served in between both films. I’ll be there, so you should be too! (^_^)