2000 AD DVD Review

2000 AD is a 1999 Hong Kong release from director Gordon Chan, starring pop star Aaron Kwok. Though the plot is essentially an instrument for getting from one action sequence to another, the action is sufficiently well-planned, performed, and photographed to make this a worthwhile popcorn flick.

The Film

As the title of the film might suggest, the plot is loosely centered around some notion of the Y2K bug, though it is never particularly clear what the mechanics of the supposed computer risk really are. Considering that Y2K seemed a much bigger deal in 1999 than it does now, it is actually better for the film that the details of the "computer warfare" behind all of the intrigue are left ambiguous. Suffice it to say that this new breeding ground for international conflict involves multinational corporations, the governments of Hong Kong and Singapore, and of course, the CIA. Caught in the middle is Peter Li (Kwok).

2000ad1.jpg

It turns out Peter's brother, Greg (Ray Lui), is somehow mixed up in all of this. His visit to Hong Kong to see his brother is not just a pleasure trip, and it is no coincidence that a computer security company's corporate aircraft is shot down shortly after his arrival. Further levels of intrigue are added with the arrival of Greg's fiancee from America (Phyllis Quek) and a special forces commando sent undercover by the government of Singapore (James Lye).

2000ad2.jpg

Though the true motives of many of the characters is not immediately apparent, it is at least clear that Kwok is our protagonist and that CIA agent Kelvin Wong (Andrew Lin) is the bad guy. Putting aside for a moment the "big bad CIA" cliche at the heart of this character, Lin is at least somewhat creepy without making it totally unbelievable that he could actually hold such a pivotal government job (unlike, say, Gary Oldman in Leon; I mean, I love that movie and Oldman's performance in particular, but is it really possible that such a nutcase could retain a supervisory position in the DEA? I hope not). Lin does well enough with the material he is given, and is an adequate villain for us to root against.

2000ad3.jpg

When Greg makes copies of some mysterious secret files while staying at Peter's apartment, Peter and his comedy sidekick Benny (Daniel Wu) become embroiled in this murky web of intrigue. To be honest, the plot is much more murky than it is intriguing. The effort to keep the audience guessing about various character's motives and loyalties is excessive and merely results in depriving most of them of any coherent motive or loyalty at all. The same is true of the vague computer warfare element, which is essentially a cobbled together version of the most superficial elements needed for a technothriller: incomprehensible computer babble, several international locations, and close-ups of Zip disks.

2000ad4.jpg

So the plot is nothing to get excited about, but at least the actors do well with what they were given. Special praise goes to Francis Ng, whose Hong Kong police officer is absolutely believable in his professionalism and empathy.

What truly saves this film from mere mediocrity is its action sequences. They are spaced throughout the film, which does raise some pacing issues (particularly at the end, which feels rushed and anticlimactic compared to early scenes). But they are worth the ride, as Chan and action director Yuen Tak have put together several very exciting action pieces. With a good surround system, this is just a fun way to spend an hour and a half.

Style: 4 (out ot 5)
Substance: 2 (out ot 5)
Overall: 3 (out ot 5)

2000ad5.jpg

The DVD

2000ad.gifAs I have come to expect, the Region 2 PAL release by Hong Kong Legends is quite good. The video is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, and it is sharp and clean, as ought to be expected from such a recent film.

There are two language tracks: the original Cantonese and a dubbed English track. Both are presented in DD 5.1 channel surround sound. I never listen to dubs, so I can't comment on the quality of that track. The Cantonese track is adequate throughout, though it only shines in the all-important action sequences. In particular, the first battle sequence, with the rooftop sniper, is a lot of fun with a good surround system.

The main extra is a HKL staple, the audio commentary with film expert Bey Logan. He is always interesting, and here he is joined by the director, Gordon Chan. They have a good rapport, and though Logan is usually capable of handling a commentary himself, putting him in more of an interviewer role works quite well in this case, where Chan obviously knows even more about the film. Other extras include a featurette with pretty interesting behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Kwok (20 min), as well as interviews with the director (14 min) and with Andrew Lin (17 min).

Video: 4 (out ot 5)
Audio: 3.5 (out ot 5)
Extras: 4 (out ot 5)
Overall: 4 (out ot 5)

The Age of Wisdom

I've been considering the idea of someday trying to read the Encylcopedia Britannica. So I was looking at their website when I came across this curious advertised detail:

Many new and revised articles cover subjects relative to today's world, such as "Ecoterrorism," "Botox," and "The Williams Sisters."

Maybe I should rethink that idea.

Congratulations to Iraq

They may not be perfect, they may not be the answer, but I think the elections in Iraq are a step in the right direction. And when so many Americans can't be bothered to make it to the polling booths despite complete safety, I think the Iraqis who voted today deserve our respect for refusing to bow to the threats directed at them.

I would never presume to make light of the deaths that did take place today, but I think a handful of suicide attacks on the very day of elections might demonstrate the weakness, not the strength of the insurgents. That's not a prediction, nor a robust assessment of the security situation. But in light of the threats that were made, and the concerns voiced both there and here, I think initial reports suggest the day went rather well.

Saulabi DVD Review

Saulabi is a 2002 release from Korea, though I'm not sure anyone there would admit it. It is a failure on almost all fronts, from production to plot, acting and directing. There is nothing redeeming about the film, and the technical quality of the disc itself is an affront to the hundreds of better films that have not been granted such a presentation on DVD.

The Film

I wish I could tell you what this movie was about. I wish it were about something. Instead, the scattered elements that might have made a plot serve simply to convey outrage at the evil Japanese and their treatment of Koreans. I probably would not even have understood that much without reading online synopsis of the film. From what I gather, the film is centered on a small group of Korean expatriates who were driven from their land in humiliation.

saulabi1.jpg

All but a pair of their young warriors are killed in an early attack in the film (why this attack occurred, where it was located, and who started it are beyond me). One of these warriors is (apparently) sent on a mission to restore the village's ancient rights by reassembling the "Heaven's Sword." To do so, he must travel into another village to meet a swordmaster (I think), who stumbles around drunk and is almost killed before the young hero intervenes.

saulabi2.jpg

I could attempt to parse out the plot of the rest of the film, but there really isn't one. The young expatriate hero falls in love with the daughter of a local aristocrat, who is of course already promised in marriage to the local warlord. As it turns out, neither the girl's father nor the warlord are pleased by this relationship. Much enmity ensues.

saulabi3.jpg

The battle scenes are sparse and uninteresting. The love story is cliched and uninteresting. The sets are cramped, unadorned, and uninteresting. It is nearly impossible to figure out where any of the scenes are taking place or how far apart any of the locations are. Any sense of drama is washed out by cliche, any possibility of a climax is washed out by incoherence. Also, the acting stinks.

saulabi4.jpg

Let me speak plainly. This is an awful movie. If you have the good fortune of reading this review BEFORE renting it, then do not rent it. It has no redeeming qualities. It is not bad in any sense that might allow cult worship, like Rocky Horror or even Showgirls. It is bad in the most inane and mind-numbing way. Avoid at all costs.

Style: 1 (out ot 5)
Substance: 0 (out ot 5)
Overall: 0.5 (out ot 5)

saulabi5.jpg

The DVD

saulabi.gifWhat a waste of a perfetly good DVD. With so many fine Asian films yet to receive a decent anamorphic transfer or surround sound audio (let alone DTS), it gives me no pleasure to acknowledge that the technical specs on this Region 0 Infinity Entertainment release are pretty decent.

The video is not pristine, and with any other 2002 film I would actually register surprise and displeasure. But it does a more than adequate job of conveying the dull photography in a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. The Korean language track is not the most robust track you will ever hear, but both the DTS and DD5.1 are more than the film deserves. The subtitles have a lot of grammatical problems, and at first this will seem quite frustrating. Ultimately, however, I realized that they are most frustrating because the plot does not make any sense, and the subtitles do adequately convey that. The sparse extras are all Korean language only, which in this case does not bother me at all.

Video: 4 (out ot 5)
Audio: 4 (out ot 5)
Extras: 0.5 (out ot 5)
Overall: 3 (out ot 5)

Limited Edition DVDs

There is something at least a little bizarre about my recent interest in limited edition DVDs, primarily purchased from a nice gentleman in Colorado who imports them from overseas and operates as theDVDetective. It would be truly bizarre, in my opinion, if it were just a matter of collecting the things because they are rare. That would be silly, though there are any number of examples of just such hobbies. Instead, the limited editions often come with really nifty extras, either in the packaging, the content, or both.

Then the question is, are they worth it? The answer is almost certainly no. When I look at the limited edition sets that I've collected, I feel a lot of excitement and not a little embarassment. I imagine I would feel the same way if I had a Mercedes parked outside. It is not merely limited or relatively rare, it actually has tangible advantages over a less expensive car. But there is also vanity, and the notion that one must spend money on something, and I am unsettled by both.

Productivity

It should not be much surprise to hear that after 20-odd consecutive years of schooling, I'm a little tired of it. It's not that my classes are not interesting. They are certainly not rigorously intellectual, but that is a bit refreshing after taking five semesters of relatively serious courses. Rather, there just comes a point at which even a person who treasures their quiet time, as I do, needs to feel the pressures and pleasures of activity and responsibility.

I felt it this past summer, despite my abundant skepticism about work in a law firm. I even felt it briefly the summer before, when my research work for a professor turned to concrete issues in a pro bono case. It may well be that after months or years of fulltime work, I will look back at a post like this and laugh at how eager I was to escape from a life that gave me so much leisure. And I certainly try to make the most of my leisure time, with my continuing obsessions with books and movies. But no matter how many good books I read, or good films I watch, the lack of production nags in the back of my mind.

Beginning Again

One of the difficulties I have in blogging is that when, for whatever reason, I go a few days without writing anything, it is that much harder to start again. So whatever disincentives there already are, be it time, inclination, or lack of content, are compounded by the notion that I need to come up with some reason why I should "restart" the blogging. Or that anything new ought to be really interesting. But frankly, that's stupid, so I'm just going to write whatever I want.

Government: Eat Less, Exercise More

My fiancee wanted to make sure everyone saw this groundbreaking new diet advice from the federal government:

The government on Wednesday told Americans to slash their calorie intake and exercise 30 to 90 minutes a day, updating guidelines that advised people to lose weight but gave few specifics on how to do it.

"Eating fewer calories while increasing physical activity are the keys to controlling body weight," the guidelines said.

The guide also suggests moderation in consumption of salt and alcohol. You heard it here first.

Divisions Within the Insurgency

Very interesting story from the Associated Press this morning on the possibility of growing divisions within the Iraqi insurgency between Iraqis and Bin Laden-inspired foreing militants:

Osama bin Laden has vowed to turn Iraq into the front line of his war against the United States, but Iraqi insurgents seem worried that he's out to hijack their rebellion.

Earlier this month, a posting on Ansar al-Sunnah's Web site told foreign militants to stop coming. The group, which defines itself as both nationalist and Islamic, said it needed money, not more recruits.

"We have concrete information that a sharp division is now broiling between" Iraqis waging a nationalist war and foreign Arabs spurred by militant Islam, said Mouwafak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi government's national security adviser. "They are more divided than ever."

Al-Rubaie said one reason was the perception among Iraqis that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant whom bin Laden endorsed as his deputy in Iraq, was of little help during the American onslaught on the Iraqi insurgent hotbed of Falluja in November.

A very superficial analysis would suggest that any divisions amongst those we are fighting would be good in the long run, although in the short run it may be a recipe for even more bloodshed in Iraq.

Laughing at UNICEF

I'm ashamed, I really am. For the second time in two days, I heard a UNICEF ad on the radio. It starts out detailing the destructive results of the recent tsunami, and the effect on children. And then it suggests, no kidding, that we "create a tsunami of our own. A tsunami of compassion." And that made me laugh. Both times. Congratulations to that ad's creator; you made me laugh at tsunami victims.

A Big Step Sideways

I do not know enough about Michael Chertoff to give an opinion on whether he will be a good homeland security chief, but I must say as a career move I do not understand this:

President Bush on Tuesday nominated federal appeals court Judge Michael Chertoff to replace Tom Ridge as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Bush made the announcement from the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

"When Mike is confirmed by the Senate, the Department of Homeland Security will be led by a practical organizer, a skilled manager and a brilliant thinker," Bush said.

Maybe being a federal appellate judge is not all it is cracked up to be. And maybe being in charge of a superfluous and bloated bureaucracy is more than it is cracked up to be. But I don't think so.

How to Make Friends at Work

This is a good way to let people know who's in charge:

On his first day on the job, the new sheriff called 27 employees into his office, stripped them of their badges, fired them, and had rooftop snipers stand guard as they were escorted out the door.

The move Monday by Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill provoked an angry reaction and prompted a judge to order him to rehire the employees.

"It appears ... that employees of the Sheriff were terminated without cause" and in violation of the county's civil service rules, Judge Stephen Boswell wrote in granting a 30-day restraining order.

Hill, 39, defended the firings and said the new sheriff has the right to shake up the department in whatever way he feels necessary. He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he fired the employees to "maintain the integrity of the department."

There's a lot more to this story, especially the possibility of strong racial motivations. Apparently Hill is one of several new black officials in a county previously controlled by whites, and the murder of DeKalb County Sheriff Derwin Brown is still fresh in some minds.