Tag Archives: japan

Capsule film reviews: Even more foreign LGBT movies

‘Night Flight’ (South Korea)
Release Date: Aug. 28, 2014
Director: Leesong Hee-il
Starring: Kwak Si-yang, Lee Jae-joon and Choi Jun-ha
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A-

nightflight

Photo courtesy of Finecut.

“Night Flight” is a very well-done story of loneliness and survival. It follows three former friends who have grown apart during high school. Gi-taek (Choi Jun-ha) uses comic books to escape from real life where he is bullied by his classmates, Gi-woong (Lee Jae-joon) tries to distance himself from everyone and expresses himself only through fighting, and Yong-ju (Kwak Si-yang) is realizing his sexuality and the feelings he’s had for Gi-woong since middle school. The seeming hopelessness of overcoming the teenage experience is always achingly sad, and it’s particularly well illustrated in this film. “Night Flight” is perfectly paced and thoroughly explores the relationships between each of the characters. Although it’s quite upsetting and violent throughout, it provides a satisfying ending. The least successful element of the film is its odd and out-of-place soundtrack — especially during the end credits, where the poignant final scene is cut off with the jarring sound of some jaunty indie folk song for some reason unbeknownst to me.

‘Blue is the Warmest Color’ (France)
Release Date: Oct. 9, 2013
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Starring: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Salim Kechiouche
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: NC-17 for explicit sexual content.
Grade: A-

blueisthewarmestcolor

Photo courtesy of Wild Bunch.

“Blue is the Warmest Color” has been one of the most critically acclaimed LGBT films in recent years, and it’s really pretty good. It’s a great, long (long, long) movie with the world’s longest, most in-depth sex scene. It’s almost comical how long and in-depth the sex scenes are in “Blue is the Warmest Color,” but it’s fitting because every scene is quite long and in-depth. I know it’s a very American thing to emphasize, but, damn, this movie is long. The story follows Adèle’s (Adèle Exarchopoulos) coming-of-age. She begins as a 15-year-old high school student struggling to convince herself she’s interested in boys, but eventually realizes she’s much more interested in an older, blue-haired painter named Emma (Léa Seydoux). The film artfully and thoroughly follows Adèle and Emma through the highs and lows of a first love. “Blue is the Warmest Color” is realistic — often harshly. It’s a well-told story with a strong ending, though, so it’s obvious to see why it’s become so beloved since its 2013 release.

‘Schoolboy Crush’ (Japan)
Release Date: Aug. 6, 2007
Director: Kôtarô Terauchi
Starring: Yoshikazu Kotani, Atsumi Kanno and Yuuki Kawakubo
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: D

schoolboycrush

Photo courtesy of TLA Releasing.

Wow, what a wild ride. Although “Schoolboy Crush” bills itself as some sort of sexy, twisted romance taking place in an all-boys boarding school in Japan, it’s actually more like three entire seasons of a soap opera condensed into a brisk 88 minutes. Not to be confused with the gay porn of the same name, “Schoolboy Crush” follows Aoi (Yoshikazu Kotani), a teacher who discovers that an escort he recently slept with is a new student in his class. To say that literally everything happens in this movie is not even that much of an exaggeration. There’s some kidnapping, suicide, bullying, stalking, prostitution, blackmail, love triangle, comas, tragic family backstory, marine biology… There’s even a very exciting scene where somebody gets beaten with a candelabra inside the church. So much zany stuff happens, but “Schoolboy Crush” is still remarkably boring because they hardly even get to the actual romance that was supposed to be central to the plot. At least, I think that’s what the movie was supposed to be about.

‘Free Fall’ (Germany)
Release Date: May 23, 2013
Director: Stephan Lacant
Starring: Hanno Koffler, Max Riemelt and Katharina Schüttler
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: D

freefall

Photo courtesy of Edition Salzgeber.

“Free Fall” is a German film about Marc (Hanno Koffler), a police officer in training, who begins having a secret relationship with a fellow officer despite living with his pregnant girlfriend. I feel like I should keep this short because you’ve surely read this review before. Everybody has seen this movie before. It plays out exactly as it always does in these kinds of movies: Marc is very conflicted about his newfound feelings for men. He tries to deny them, but is unable to resist. He acts like an asshole to everybody. His girlfriend becomes upset. So does his boyfriend. Everything eventually unravels. It’s made well enough, but “Free Fall” is super predictable and doesn’t have anything new to offer. The lack of diversity and creative storytelling in queer movies continues to frustrate me. Why bother continuing to make the same movie over and over again? If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Skip “Free Fall.”

Food: Sushiro in Yeonsu-gu

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Sushiro at the Square 1 shopping mall in Yeonsu-gu. SCREAMfmLondon

Sushiro is my favorite restaurant in the Yeonsu Square 1 shopping mall. It is a Japanese chain — the first overseas Sushiro was opened in Seoul in 2011. I love conveyer belt sushi mainly for the privacy of the high booths and (surprise!) the lack of human interaction it requires.

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Squid with wasabi. That’ll wake you right up. SCREAMfmLondon

The most popular types of sushi are prepared behind a glass window at the back of the restaurant and then sent on their way past the tables on a rotating shelf. If you see something delicious, you grab it off the shelf as it passes your table.

The different plate colors signify different prices, but it’s all pretty reasonably priced — even if you eat excessively, as I do.

If you’re not seeing anything that appeals to you, you can order specific dishes using a touchscreen menu fastened above the table.

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The gang’s all here. SCREAMfmLondon

Everything I’ve had at Sushiro has been delicious, which differs wildly from my experience with other conveyer belt sushi restaurants. Usually, the fish is poor quality and the freshness is very doubtful when it’s been going around and around the room on the little belt all night. But Sushiro’s dishes are always freshly prepared and tasty.

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Delicious sushi comes down the conveyer belt faster than you can eat it. SCREAMfmLondon

I always have several orders of the butter octopus: two pieces of nigiri that are warm and savory, covered in delectable buttery goodness. I am also a fan of the fried eel and the wide variety of salmon.

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Octopus with butter: the best. SCREAMfmLondon

Sushiro also offers some more unusual dishes: rice topped with egg, beef, corn, something that looks like old meatloaf? But I can’t bring myself to try them even for novelty when the rest of the sushi is so good.

Convenient, scrumptious and private: Sushiro is definitely one of my favorite restaurants in Incheon for obvious reasons.

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Deep-fried scallops. SCREAMfmLondon

Food: Mizu shingen mochi ‘water cake’

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Mizu shingen mochi aka. “water cake” is this summer’s trendiest dessert. This strawberry-flavored cake was served in Myeongdong. SCREAMfmLondon

Have you ever found yourself thinking, “The problem with desserts is that they’re just too corporeal”? Have you been longing for a more abstract — perhaps even metaphysical — after-dinner treat?

Well, the search is over. It’s only a matter of time before you’ll come across this year’s most conceptual dessert trend: the Japanese water cake.

Mizu shingen mochi originated in the Japanese Alps, but it’s been gaining popularity worldwide this summer.

The cakes are round, translucent variations on the traditional mochi rice cakes, and they’re usually served with sugary syrup and kinako soybean powder on the side.

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Japanese-style water cakes for sale in Seoul. SCREAMfmLondon

While last year, the croissant-donut hybrid cronut had customers lined up outside Dominique Ansel’s New York bakery for hours and hours, these water cakes have customers trekking out to Yamanashi Prefecture (a two-hour drive from Tokyo), where they climb a mountain before reaching the hour-long line to order a dessert. And, like the cronut, the mizu shingen mochi is specifically trademarked to one owner: the Kinseiken Seika Company.

Legend has it these special water cakes are jellies made using solidified water from one specific source on Mount Kaikoma and are so delicate that they’ll only retain their shape for about 30 minutes at room temperature. Although, now that they’ve reached the likes of Seoul and Orange County, Calif., I’m going to surmise that the process is a little less special and a little more like the making of Jello Jigglers.

The cakes are pretty cool to look at — but they’re kind of just gelatin in a fancy outfit. The soybean powder is the best part, adding a much-needed punch of texture and flavor to the relatively tasteless treat.

Water cakes are worth a try for the novelty, but nothing to get worked up about.

Food: Korean burgers, street food and more

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Crispy Korean fried chicken is one of the finer things in life. This popular street food is a cup filled with popcorn chicken, tater tots and fried rice cakes covered in sweet and spicy sauces. SCREAMfmLondon

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“Texas” burger at Brown Grill in the COEX Mall leaves a lot to be desired. Neither the hamburger patty nor the cheese tastes quite right, and it’s bathed in spicy barbeque and horseradish sauce. Umami, I miss you! SCREAMfmLondon

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Delicious spicy ramen and sushi at a Japanese restaurant in Dongdaemun. SCREAMfmLondon

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A most famous Korean street food: gyeranbbang. The sweet bread filled with egg is perfect for breakfast. SCREAMfmLondon

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For dessert, an ice cream waffle from Angel-in-us Coffee. The ideal treat. SCREAMfmLondon

May 4: Korean street food, nachos and more

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Korean-style donkkaseu with rice, vegetables, fried pork cutlet, fried shrimp and egg. As always, served with delicious soup, kimchi and danmuji. As always, served with less delicious macaroni salad. SCREAMfmLondon

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Street food in Myeongdong is plentiful, fantastic and super inexpensive. Sausage and tteokbokki is a winning combination. SCREAMfmLondon

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Awesome do-it-yourself shabu-shabu in Incheon. SCREAMfmLondon

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Korea’s take on nachos at Taco Station in Songdo. SCREAMfmLondon

What’s in my DramaFever queue this month?

‘Boys Over Flowers’
Starring: Ku Hye-sun, Lee Min-ho and Kim Hyun-joong
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama
Episodes: 25

boysoverflowers

Photo courtesy of Group 8.

“Boys Over Flowers” is probably the perfect introductory drama — it is so extra.

The story follows Jan-di, a plucky girl from a working class family who receives a scholarship to attend the exclusive Shinhwa High School, which is populated primarily by rich assholes. She faces some of the most hardcore bullying I’ve ever seen depicted on screen (the kids light her bike on fire!). The most fearsome of the students are the F4 clique: Jun-pyo (the gorgeous heir to the Shinhwa fortune who owns a surplus of fabulous coats), Ji-hoo (the insufferable Nice Guy™ who cries while playing the violin alone in the woods), Yi-jung (the playboy who is popular at school because he’s such a great potter) and Woo-bin (I’m not even sure what his story is, but I’ve grown fond of his silly hats and random usage of English slang).

Obviously, all of the cute rich boys begin fighting over Jan-di’s affections, and there is a life-or-death situation in every episode. People are getting chloroformed and kidnapped left and right. It’s truly wild.

There are a lot of complaints that could be lodged about “Boys Over Flowers,” and I had to read some spoilers to make sure the ending wasn’t going to piss me off, but it’s just so over-the-top ridiculous I can’t help being hooked.

‘Commitment’
Release Date:
Dec. 6, 2013
Director: Park Hong-soo
Starring: Choi Seung-hyun, Han Ye-ri and Kim Yoo-jung
Genre: Action, Drama
Rating: Not Rated

top-school-desk

Photo courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment.

This is cheating because “Commitment” isn’t even on DreamaFever, it’s on Netflix. But I’m going to talk about it anyway.

Myung-hoon is a North Korean teenager who has to go undercover as a spy in South Korea in order to save his younger sister from the labor camp where they’ve both been imprisoned after their father’s death. It’s a fairly lengthy and involved film (and it involves some knowledge of the politics revolving around the Korean War), but it is surprisingly captivating throughout with a handful of sweet, action-packed fight scenes.

To be honest, I mostly wanted to watch “Commitment” as an excuse to spend two hours gazing adoringly at Choi Seung-hyun (better known as T.O.P, a rapper and member of the boyband Big Bang). He’s painfully attractive, and a talented actor to boot, so it’s time well spent.

‘Absolute Boyfriend’ (aka ‘Absolute Darling’)
Starring:
Ku Hye-sun, Jiro Wang and Kun Da
Genre: Romance
Episodes: 20

absoluteboyfriend

Photo courtesy of GTV.

“Absolute Boyfriend” is a Taiwanese adaptation of a Japanese manga novel, but it stars a Korean actress, Ku Hye-sun, and dubs over her dialogue. It’s really weird.

That aside, the show is about a single woman, Xiao Fei, who ends up purchasing a robot boyfriend from an eccentric salesman through a strange sequence of events. Once she receives her order, she feels uncomfortable about it, but it’s too late! To make matters worse, the arrival of the robot boyfriend dredges up all the hidden feelings her neighbor and best friend, Zong Shi, has for her, and he starts spilling his guts all over the place. Eventually, the robot begins to develop human emotions as well, putting a hitch in the plans. He is played by Taiwanese boybander Jiro Wang, who is completely perfect as the lovable galoot with a rockin’ body, and I could totally go for one of my own, if anybody wants to hook it up.

The show starts off light-hearted and silly, but it really takes a dark turn somewhere in the middle. There is a lot of implied sexual assault and rape that I was not prepared for or expecting (again, people keep getting drugged and kidnapped!). I found it so disturbing I had to take a break from watching the show for a while. Once I resumed, the episodes became increasingly sad as they neared the ending. This is not what I thought I was signing up for — I’m glad to have finally finished “Absolute Boyfriend” and gotten it out of my life.

‘High School – Love On’
Starring: Kim Sae-ron, Nam Woo-hyun and Lee Sung-yeol
Genre: Romance, Supernatural
Episodes: 20

highschool

Photo courtesy of KBS2.

“High School – Love On” is the best show of this bunch, and I am fully obsessed.

It’s another romantic teen melodrama — albeit a lot more realistic than something like “Boys Over Flowers” — with a fantasy twist. Seul-bi is an angel of death who suddenly takes a human form after accidentally saving the life of a high school student, Woo-hyun. Once she’s stuck among the humans, she has to decide if she wants to return to her world or stick it out in high school and give mortal romance a shot.

All of the characters are well-rounded and interesting, from the school bullies to the kids’ parents and teachers to the other angels who appear throughout. The main love triangle is possibly the best I’ve ever seen on television, as I’m equally invested in all three characters and love the unique dynamic between each pairing. Woo-hyun and Sung-yeol are such compelling frenemies and have amazing chemistry — probably because the actors playing them are Nam Woo-hyun and Lee Sung-yeol, two members of the boyband Infinite. I’m rooting for them to all end up together in polyamorous happiness.

So far, I am really adoring “High School – Love On,” and I can’t wait to see the drama continue to unfold. Thankfully, I don’t have a life, and watching dramas is all I do anymore.

I played 1Dreamboy (so you don’t have to)

1Directiongames.com

I didn’t expect to be quite so incensed upon my completion of this virtual game, but here I go with it anyway. The night I spent working my way through the 1Dreamboy universe is going to haunt me forever; I’m going to be deeply regretting the hours wasted on that bullshit game while I’m on my deathbed, wondering where my youth went, probably.

An eroge (“erotic game,” as it were) is a type of video game centered on sexual content. Gameplay is often in the style of a dating sim (“dating simulator” — that’s just how we’re talking now), where you move through the story making occasional “choose your own adventure”-type choices in the hopes of attaining a relationship with one (or many?) of the characters. Sometimes the characters are pigeons. Sometimes they’re aliens. Sometimes they’re Harry Styles. Japan is a creative place.

1Dreamboy is kind of like that: it’s a romance-driven online game, and the player’s objective is to marry boyband One Direction within 60 days. Natch.

I lasted about two minutes in the realm of 1Dreamboy version 1.0. They expected me to sit through full audio clips ripped from YouTube of the boys’ original “X Factor” auditions, and Simon Cowell kept yelling at me to go away. Nope. Not even for true love. I decided to peace out and try the updated version with slightly better graphics, which was released in May 2014.

The story starts off on the first day of school: my teacher announces that Harry, Louis and Niall will be joining our class for the semester, while Zayn and Liam hold down the fort at “1D Headquarters,” which already makes no sense at all, but whatever.

Niall is the only one who appears to actually attend school; Harry and Louis stand in the hallway and are exceptionally rude. Harry says “Who the hell are you?” every time I try to initiate conversation, while Louis seems to respond best to me acting completely unhinged. When I select “LOUIS! MARRY ME!” as an opening line from the provided chat options, his response is, “You’re crazy, but I like it!”

Yeah, alright, let’s go with that.

1Directiongames.com

The first step of the game is to get to know the characters a little better. Zayn takes me to “the karaoke,” where I have to actually enable my computer’s microphone and sing along with a sped-up, Muzak rendition of “Best Song Ever.” Harry makes me play the piano while he rehearses “Little Things” (this is not only a difficult task to execute using my keyboard, but I had to mute my speakers through it as well because that song is god-awful).

Then, shit gets weird. At one point, Niall leaves me alone with Justin Bieber, who has appeared solely to participate in this scene. Bieber suggests that we split up and search the town for Niall as if he’s a lost puppy. When I finally find him, I discover that he’s been kidnapped by the cast of “Mean Girls” for some reason, and I have to engage in fisticuffs with Regina George. Now that’s romance.

The next day, Taylor Swift shows up to confront me about my relationship with Harry. I really don’t have one — as I said, he’s mostly rebuffed my advances. But she also wants to fight. And she also kicks my ass. Afterwards, Harry shows up and confesses his love for me, which is really the only reasonable reaction to this kind of situation.

Little did I know, this would cause some tension between Louis and Harry. Back in their hallway at school, Harry accuses Louis of playing me. Louis — ever the ladies’ man — tells Harry off, so Harry takes a swing at him. After the fight, they both demote me back to “just friends” status and delete their numbers from my cell phone. Rude as hell, but probably for the best.

I decide to pursue Zayn instead. Once I’ve formed a rapport with him by asking “Vas happenin,” I can ask him on a date, at which point the game becomes incredibly boring. He asks me to describe myself, and I lose points for giving him the “wrong” answers to questions like “What’s your favorite color?” Well, alright, Zayn. Maybe I’m just a little distracted by the disproportionate head-to-torso ratio this game’s animators have given you.

I suddenly realize that I’m running out of time, but Niall won’t accept any of my marriage proposals, so I find myself at an impasse. Once my 60 days are up, the boys determine that I don’t love them enough, so they decide to skip town. It’s the most frustrating conclusion imaginable. I don’t love you enough?! I just spent the better part of my night completing word searches and buying bouquets of flowers for you!

Once I come up for air, it’s 11 p.m., and I have missed messages on my phone from real, actual people who are out doing things in the physical world while I’ve been immersed in the 1Dreamboy universe. I can’t believe these are the life choices I’ve made.