BROTHERHOOD OF BLADES
Wuxia movie heroes are typically driven by codes of honour and justice, which can make them a little one-dimensional.
The protagonists here, however, are anti-heroes, a trio of underground Ming dynasty palace assassins driven by a thirst for money and status.
No one, not even Taiwanese heart-throb Chang Chen, is obviously good or bad, which makes the characters so much more believable and the story perpetually suspenseful as it keeps you guessing their fates right to the end.
Immediately after a new emperor takes over the Ming dynasty court, he orders the downfall of eunuch Wei and his supporters, a group who wielded much power under the previous ruler. Three palace assassins - sworn brothers (from left) Yichuan (Li Dongxue), Jianxing (Wang Qianyuan) and Shen Lian (Chang Chen) - are tasked to kill them.
Drama aside, the wuxia action sequences - choreographed by Lin Sang (Red Cliff, 2009) - are truly satisfying to watch, crucially without the aid of lavish visual effects or fanciful weaponry.
Good old-fashioned swordplay takes centre stage here in a series of intense battles where every swish of the blade is deliciously pronounced - and, more importantly, the requisite cheesy romance is kept to a minimum.
Yip Wai Yee
THE DROP (NC16)
Actor James Gandolfini's last feature before his death last year finds him in one of the best mean-streets stories in recent times.
Brooklyn's gangs use neighbourhood bars or "drops" to collect gambling bets and Cousin Marv's, run by Marv (Gandolfini) and bartender Bob (Tom Hardy), is one such place. One night, the shy, slow-witted but compassionate Bob finds an injured puppy while walking home. He seeks the help of nearby resident Nadia (Noomi Rapace) in caring for the animal. One day, Chechen gangsters decide to use the bar as a cache for the biggest gambling haul of the year.
This work's success is made all the more remarkable by the fact that it features a Belgian director (Michael Roskam, who helmed the excellent Bullhead, 2011), an English lead actor (Hardy) and a Swedish female lead (Rapace).
Roskam gets to the heart of the screenplay by Writers Guild of America winner Dennis Lehane (for co-writing the cable series The Wire, 2002).
While other mean streets-style movies try to depict the power of brotherly bonds or family affection, Lehane uses old neighbourhood secrets to push the story along. The engine here is what happened a decade ago around Marv's bar and why.
GONE GIRL (R21)
Director David Fincher owns this movie, from its leisurely opening section, when it looks as if it might be a portrait of a disintegrating marriage, to its middle section, when it becomes a suspense thriller, down to its final third, when it becomes something else again.
Based on the 2012 bestseller of the same title, the story follows the lives of suburban couple the Dunnes, Nick and Amy (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike). One morning, while Nick is at work, Amy disappears and the police investigation reveals evidence of foul play. The case generates nationwide interest and soon Nick is the target of suspicion in some quarters and pity in others. Through flashback, the couple are shown as young writers, meeting in New York and falling in love, the world at their feet.
Fincher the realist (or pessimist, if you prefer) oversees this machine of so many moving parts with a baleful eye, staying just on the right side of misanthropy. He does not hate the characters as much as not trust any of them to live up to their notions of themselves. By the end of the movie, he should have convinced you of the same.
PERSPECTIVES FILM FESTIVAL
Screening tonight is director Mira Nair's picaresque Salaam Bombay (1988, 113 minutes, NC16), which never made it to Singapore screens when it was first released.
This modern-day classic of a child's hopes squaring off against a harsh reality tells the story of Khrishna, a street kid and one of the countless children swarming the vast city. After committing a rash act at home, he sets off from his village to the metropolis, where he falls in with its criminal underclass. All he wants is to make a few rupees so he can repay a debt at home, but one setback after another dashes his dreams.
Now in its seventh edition, the festival is organised by students of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communications at the Nanyang Technological University.
There are seven films on the roster, built around the theme of displacement. Speakers this year include Sooni Taraporevala, the screenwriter of Salaam Bombay, and film-maker Jasmine Ng, who will speak on the topic of film-making for social change.
Where: GV VivoCity/National Museum Gallery Theatre MRT: Harbourfront/Dhoby Ghaut When: Today till Sun Admission: $10, $45 for a festival pass to all seven films. Go to sistic.com.sg Info: perspectivesfilmfestival.com