Tag Archives: military

Capsule film reviews: Foreign LGBT movies (part 4)

‘The Way He Looks’ (Brazil)
Release Date: April 10, 2014
Director: Daniel Ribeiro
Starring: Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi and Tess Amorim
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of Vitrine Films.

“The Way He Looks” is actually a wonderful, creative coming-of-age movie. It centers on Leo (Ghilherme Lobo), a blind Brazilian high school student, who longs to gain his independence and study abroad in the United States despite the fears of his overprotective parents. The solid relationship he has with his best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim) is challenged when he begins pursuing a romance with Gabriel (Fabio Audi), the new boy in school. This interesting story is a breath of fresh air for the coming-of-age/gay teen romance genre. There are so many things “The Way He Looks” does well. The budding young love is perfectly paced, and the awkward jealousy between best friends when one starts dating is beautifully illustrated. Even Leo’s parents are well-written, complex characters that offer depth to the story rather than serving as stock characters to further the protagonist’s plotline. The film handles both Leo’s blindness and his sexuality tactfully, and it results in a really well-done, believable film.

‘Velociraptor’ (Mexico)
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Director: Chucho E. Quintero
Starring: Pablo Mezz, Carlos Hendrick Huber and Alan Aguilar
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Fantasy
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of TLA Releasing.

I have been looking forward to watching “Velociraptor” for a long time: a Spanish-language gay drama set against the backdrop of an apocalypse? That is right up my alley. And I’m so glad that the film exceeded my expectations. In “Velociraptor,” Álex (Pablo Mezz) and Diego (Carlos Hendrick Huber) are best friends spending some casual time together as the end of the world creeps closer and the people around them react accordingly. For Álex, who is gay, it particularly bothers him that he’s never found a guy he trusts enough to go all the way. And Diego is a really (really, very, very) supportive friend. “Velociraptor” greatly succeeds because of the amazing chemistry between the two leads, who are (for the most part) the only real characters in the entire movie. The characterization is believable and the tangible sexual tension is captivating. The storyline is excellent and super unconventional, which makes “Velociraptor” such a valuable contribution to queer cinema. I also love the well-executed flashback scenes that add depth to the story, as well as the voiceovers reporting on the status of planet Earth. “Velociraptor” will make you think about friendship and the ways people limit themselves in order to fit into society. Definitely one to check out.

‘How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)’ (Thailand)
Release Date: Feb. 8, 2015
Director: Josh Kim
Starring: Ingkarat Damrongsakkul, Thira Chutikul and Jinn Jinna Navarat
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

Photo courtesy of Wolfe Video.

On the eve of Thailand’s annual military draft lottery, now-21-year-old Oat is haunted by memories of his childhood and his first experience with the drafting process. The majority of the film takes place in flashbacks to Oat (Ingkarat Damrongsakkul) as an 11-year-old orphan growing up in the outskirts of Bangkok with his aunt, younger sister and older brother. “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” shows Oat beginning to lose his innocence and grow up as his brother Ek (Thira Chutikul) prepares to face the draft lottery and the corrupt system that is stacked against them. While Oat trains himself to beat Ek at a game of checkers so he can finally be allowed to accompany him to the gay bar where he works as an escort, the young boy also learns how adults “win” at real life: by doing whatever it takes. Although I would have liked to see more development of adult Oat in the present-day sequences, I think “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” is a great, well-done film. I enjoyed the characterization of Oat and Ek, as well as several supporting characters, including Ek’s more privileged long-term boyfriend Jai (Jinn Jinna Navarat) and their friend Kitty (Natarat Lakha), who is exempted from the draft because she is transgender.

‘Jongens’ (aka. ‘Boys’) (Netherlands)
Release Date: Feb. 9, 2014
Director: Mischa Kamp
Starring: Gijs Blom, Ko Zandvliet and Stijn Taverne
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C+

jongens

Photo courtesy of Pupkin Film.

“Jongens” (translated from Dutch as “Boys”) is all right for a quick little teen angst/romantic drama. Fifteen-year-old Sieger (Gijs Blom) lives with his single father (Ton Kas) and rebellious older brother Eddy (Jonas Smulders) after his mother’s death. He and his friends spend most of their time training as key runners on the local track team. When he is chosen as one member of a relay team that will compete in an important upcoming race, Sieger begins developing feelings for Marc (Ko Zandvliet), another boy on the team. Blom’s acting is pretty good: he does an impressive job conveying a lot of emotion with minimal dialogue, often by exchanging pointed glances with Zandvliet as Marc. The scenery is nice, and the accompanying soundtrack is a good complement to the storyline. Unfortunately, the plot is not particularly captivating or original, and the ending of “Jongens” is disappointingly ambiguous and anticlimactic. I didn’t dislike the film at all, but I probably wouldn’t watch it again. I would recommend this film, but I would recommend it to someone who hasn’t seen many films about gay romance yet, so the story may still be intriguing and new.

Check out more capsule film reviews of foreign LGBT movies here, here and here.

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Live: Big Bang ‘MADE’ World Tour Final in Seoul

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G-Dragon performs onstage at Big Bang’s MADE World Tour final concert in Seoul on March 6. SCREAMfmLondon

Last year, I saw the first two concerts of Big Bang’s MADE World Tour, where the group introduced the first singles from the “MADE” album series. Over the past few months, Big Bang’s “MADE” songs have dominated the charts and racked up awards while the band has performed a record-breaking tour around the world (the biggest k-pop show held in Canada, the largest k-pop arena tour in the US, the largest crowd a foreign artist has drawn in Japan).

On Sunday, March 6, Big Bang officially performed the final MADE concert back home at Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul. The final show (the last of three Seoul concerts this weekend) was livestreamed worldwide and reached more than 3 million viewers. For those of us in town, the sold-out shows inspired fans to queue for hours in the pouring rain hoping for last-minute tickets (yes, including me, hello).

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Taeyang performs at Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul on March 6. SCREAMfmLondon

The show opened and closed with a bang — three, to be precise. “Bang Bang Bang” was the unofficial song of 2015, sweeping year-end awards and blowing everyone’s minds with its powerful chorus, extraordinary lyrics, and ultra-catchy dance beats. The song’s best lines set the tone for the night’s atmosphere: “Today, this place is lawless. / I’ll set this place on fire to burn up your heart. / I wanna make you go crazy.” Let’s go!

Throughout the night, Big Bang powered through the majority of their “MADE” hits including “Sober” (during which the band members donned fabulous glittery jackets of varying styles), the heart-breaking ballad “If You,” and “Zutter,” the amazing hip-hop duet featuring G-Dragon and T.O.P. Last April, Big Bang introduced “Bae Bae” and “Loser,” the tracks from the first “MADE” EP, at the Seoul concerts. This time around, the group performed “Bae Bae” twice, and fans throughout the arena held up signs proclaiming “Big Bang is my everything.”

The band members treated Korean fans to their usual solo stages as well as some additional silliness. Seungri performed a dance to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” and self-proclaimed dance god/ghost T.O.P also really cut a rug in the strangest manner possible. GD sprawled out on the stage in front of me, cuddled with a stuffed panda, and then descended into the audience to cause some pandemonium — to our utter delight. The Big Bang members are ceaselessly charming and brimming with talent. There is a reason hundreds of us huddled under our umbrellas all day for the chance to see them live.

As the show wound to a close, we were all sad to see the end approaching. In addition to concluding the MADE World Tour, these shows also marked the 10th anniversary of the band’s debut in 2006. Before leaving the stage, Big Bang announced plans to hold a 10th anniversary festival this summer, earning shrieks of joy from fans who have been worried about the band’s future as the time for the members to enlist for their mandatory military service draws closer.

Finally, the band showed off their ten years of experience and expertise with an encore of “Bang Bang Bang” as well as the seminal 2012 hit “Fantastic Baby.” As always, Big Bang is a sight to behold. I fully intend to be there for the day-long anniversary festival this summer, and wherever the road takes them after that. After all, Big Bang is my everything.

DMZ: Imjingak, Observatory and Unification Village

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Barbed wire fences lining the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone. SCREAMfmLondon

The Korean Demilitarized Zone is, in fact, the most heavily militarized border in the world. At the end of the Korean War, the DMZ was established to create a barrier (2.5 miles wide) between the Republic of Korea on the south side and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north.

Somehow, though, this area has become a kind of dark tourist attraction where you’ll spot carnival rides, fried food and smiling cartoons on the South Korean side, despite the fact that the countries are still — technically — at war. Just this August, there were two notable incidents at the DMZ: two South Korean soldiers were injured after stepping on landmines allegedly laid on the southern side of the DMZ, and at the end of the month, North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire in response to some disputed audio broadcasts that were being made via loudspeakers across the border.

Regardless, the DMZ remains a huge tourist attraction in South Korea. There are a number of places available for visits if you want to learn more about the relationship between the Koreas. Here is my guide to a few of these spots:

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The Korean DMZ. SCREAMfmLondon

Imjingak

Imjingak is a park located in the city of Paju, north of Seoul. It’s sometimes called Imjingak “resort,” and it’s a little disconcerting.

On one side of the village is a sizeable amusement park where people play on bumper cars and there is continuous pop music blasting from overhead. There are gift shops selling Korean souvenirs, and there are a wide variety of vendors selling delicious street food around every corner. There’s even a pretty thorough soybean museum detailing all the uses of the beans and offering samples. The whole feeling is like being at a state fair.

But the other side of the village is a stark contrast. Barbed wire fences surround the area where the Bridge of Freedom juts out into the distance. The bridge was formerly used by South Korean soldiers returning home from the North and is now decorated with brightly-colored ribbons that are memorials for lost family members or messages to those still living in North Korea. In front of the bridge is the Mangbaedan Alter, which was constructed so that people separated from their families or hometowns in the North could gather on traditional Korean holidays such as New Year’s Day and Chuseok.

Imjingak displays a very strange dichotomy: there are war memorials just outside the doors of a Tony Moly cosmetics store. It’s pretty somber until some laughing children run past you to get on the merry-go-round. But it’s also very hopeful. One of the most poignant spots at Imjingak is a wall of bricks, each representing a country that endured a civil war or other division but was eventually united again.

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South Korea on the left. North Korea on the right. SCREAMfmLondon

Mt. Ohdu Unification Observatory

The Unification Observatory is a five-story museum from which you can look out over the Han and Imjin Rivers and see North Korea up close.

From the roof, powerful binoculars allow you to see all the way from Seoul to Mount Kumgang in North Korea. As I was gazing out across the landscape, I watched a tiny figure riding a bike down a dirt road on the North Korean side. According to the employees at the observatory, most of the visible North Korean buildings are for propaganda purposes — meant to make the area just over the border look more prosperous than it is. I watched the little figure riding his bike for a long time, wondering who he was and what he was doing and if he was thinking about all of the eyes peering at him through binoculars from the other side of the river.

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A depiction of a typical North Korean home. SCREAMfmLondon

Inside, the museum offers a variety of information on North Korea and the DMZ. There are a lot of interesting North Korean artifacts and maps to help illustrate important locations such as the military demarcation line. Two grim dioramas depict typical rooms in a North Korean elementary school and a home. In the classroom, you can walk inside and peruse the books taught in North Korean schools. In both rooms, the portraits of North Korea’s former supreme leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, keep watch over the comings and goings.

In one part of the museum, visitors can leave messages urging for the reunification of the Koreas, and a mock-up of the Berlin Wall crumbling down serves as inspiration.

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A soybean feast in Tongilchon. SCREAMfmLondon

Tongilchon Unification Village

Tongilchon is a very small agricultural village near the DMZ. There are few buildings in the area save for the market where you can pick up Korean souvenirs (again), ginseng, liquor and soybean products. The village is centered on farming, and those living within this area are exempt from paying taxes and from Korea’s mandatory military service.

Tongilchon is located so near the Civilian Control Line that entrance to the village is strictly guarded. Military officers boarded our bus and checked everyone’s identification before letting us continue.

In Tongilchon, we stopped into a fantastic little restaurant to feast upon everything soybean. I have never had tofu so delicious, but everything at the Tongilchon feast was perfect.

The town is a very peaceful spot, and it’s a unique place to stop while exploring the infamous DMZ and its surrounding areas.