// What are the best asian movies of 2012? We’ve invited special guests to share their insights with you. So, let’s continue with Kevin Ma, the Assistant English Editor at YesAsia.com and a writer for LoveHKFilm.com, he’s also known as TheGoldenRock, an interesting Twitter user to follow!
Over the course of the year, I think my ratio of good films to bad films comes to about 50:50. That’s the price that comes with the wish to watch as many Asian films that come across my way as possible, in addition to the occasional stinkers that pass my way. After a while, I begin to distinguish between bad bad films and good bad films, the former being films that have little to no redeeming value and the latter being films that I have gotten enjoyment from despite its problems.
Looking back at 2012, there were naturally “good” films just as there were surely “bad” films. However, since I don’t see myself as someone who can dictate what’s “good” and what’s “bad” (as that really is a subjective opinion as opposed to standards to impose on others), I will simply choose two films that I enjoyed the most – one “good” film and one “bad” film.
MOST ENJOYABLE BAD FILM
# Department (India, Director: Ram Gopal Varma)
If Michael Mann in his digital filmmaking mode signed up to make a Bollywood take on “Training Day” and was forced to take speed throughout the shoot, you may have something like “Department” on your hands. Director Ram Gopal Varma’s police actioner tells the story of a police hit squad assigned to take down the Mumbai underworld (usually by killing everyone), and a talented young cop who will either find his conscience or learn to play the game to climb to the top.
Varma seems to have discovered handheld photography for the first time in his life, putting his camera into every nook and cranny he can think of, including the side of a kettle, a baseball, the bottom of a tea glass, and probably inside your toilet. The camera movement and the editing in “Department” are so intense and jolting that Varma makes Michael Bay look like Hou Hsiao-Hsien.
And then there are the stars. Sanjay Dutt does a great evil Denzel Washington impression as the no non-sense leader of the squad, while Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan who steals the show as a gangster-turned-politician who can do evil things in really charismatic ways. Donning giant sunglasses and looking too cool for school, Bachchan seems to be enjoying every moment playing evil, screaming arrogantly for an assistant who never shows up and spouting one-liners every time he appears.
Let’s face it, no one will ever call “Department” a good film; the plot is ridiculously complicated, the directing is a mix of “Blair Witch” and the worst film ever shot on an iPhone, and the actors are all hamming it up like they’re playing to the biggest theater audience in the world (check out the Jesus-lookalike gangster!). But if you’re in the right frame of mind, “Department” is like the best bucket of fried chicken you’ve ever had: It has no nutrition whatsoever, and it’ll probably take a few years off your life; but it’s also incredibly fun to watch and mock.
Yes, there are song and dance sequences in “Department“. And yes, I did buy the soundtrack.
• Honorable Mention: Passion Island (Hong Kong/China, Director: Kam Kwok Leung)
MOST ENJOYABLE GOOD FILM
# Rent-A-Cat (Japan, Director: Naoko Ogigami)
The latest film from the director of “Seagull Diner” and “Glasses” will never be recognized as the best film of the year by any film critic (including myself). For one, it doesn’t even have a plot – just four episodes revolving an enigmatic character who rents out cats to lonely people for a living. However, this is a rare case of a film that gets by purely on charm, and by charm, I mean filling the screen with shots of cats doing…cat stuff.
Like her previous films, Ogigami’s directorial style is simple, almost invisible. She seems to concentrate her efforts on her script and directing the people on set. Like the cats, star Mikako Ichikawa is equally adorable as the neighborhood cat lady, and the film actually wouldn’t be as successful without that extra human element to the story. “Rent-A-Cat” suffers from a lack of coherence from beginning to end, but it’s a film that will make you go “aww” from beginning to end, which means it’s just about the perfect date movie (unless your date hates cats). This film is simply pure joy.
I’m not a cat lover. In fact, I’m allergic to their furs, and I have a friend who used to sic a common friend’s cat on my foot with a laser pointer. I will never own a cat, let alone get into close proximity to one. However, “Rent-a-Cat” made me consider about changing my stance on cats. If that’s not an argument about why this is my most enjoyable film of the year, I don’t know what is.
• Honorable Mention: Wolf Children (Japan, Director: Mamoru Hosoda)
— Follow Kevin Ma on Twitter!