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Funeral Family
29 pessoas acharam esta resenha útil
Jul 9, 2022
Completados 1
No geral 10
História 10
Acting/Cast 10
Musical 10
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How a Guy Speedran His Mid-life Crisis: The Movie

Now, I know what it sounds like when I literally rate this a 10/10 across the board but I swear I cannot overstate this when I say this is forever going to be one of my favorite movies for the rest of time. Director and writer Liu Jiangjiang was very humble when he said that some people might think it's an immature movie, with immature/inexperienced staff and actors, and with messages that might be too on the nose -- he went on to say that he just hopes everyone will appreciate the movie, even if just a little bit, because he and the rest of the cast and crew put so much of their heart into it. And you know what? Lighting Up the Stars exceeded all expectations, at least for me. Heartwarming, funny, profound, playful, a tearjerker... This film is the equivalent of finally coming home after being away for a while, of being wrapped in a blanket on a cold winter's day, of sleepovers with your friends in childhood, giggling after lights-out. Words cannot do justice to how this film makes you unlock emotions you probably weren't even aware of -- in a good way.

Before I go on with this review, I do want to stress that there's a scene near the start that's extremely uncomfortable to watch, showing Sange basically attempting to sexually assault his ex-girlfriend. It's obviously not shown in a good light, and nothing happens because they get interrupted by her new boyfriend who she cheated on him with while he was in jail. Still, I want to add this warning beforehand, because despite how much I adore this film this was the sole thing I absolutely despised.

It's a very straightforward story, but that doesn't detract from everything else at all, it's one of its strengths. The topics of funerals and death is one that has a lot of taboos associated with them, and choosing to tell the narrative from a child's (Xiaowen's) point of view gives the already novel subject matter a spin you don't often see. While ostensibly a movie about a little girl losing her grandmother and gaining a new family, it's about much more than that. Yes, Xiaowen is at the heart of the story; it is, in many ways, a story about her more so than the adults around her. But it's also about what family really means, it's about what you want in life, it's about love in all its forms, it's about what you do -- and what you don't do. It's about the very outlook on life and death, and how one small change can make the difference. It's about a little girl just wanting her grandma back, and a man who is disillusioned with the world desperately wanting to live up to his dead brother's image finding each other and being what the other needs.

Connected through a series of funerals (of course, what else could it be, when it's Sange's literal line of work), each one is distinct in not only execution but also atmosphere, set dressing, and so on; each one a beat in the movie showing the changes in the characters and driving the story forward. While the ostentatious one with the old man who pretends to be dead is by far the loudest and most colorful (and definitely the funniest), the funeral that stuck with me the most was actually one of the first, with the little girl. From Xiaowen pretending to be Sange's daughter to get her family's approval to manage her funeral to her drawing on the girl's cinerary casket which couldn't be washed off, to the girl's family bursting out into tears of gratitude because their little girl loved to draw and Xiaowen's scribbles are so much better than more impersonal casket it originally was... While to some degree you can see it coming, it definitely sets the stage and does so well to convey the unpredictability of life and death, and human's hearts. Liu Jiangjiang's family is in this business and it shows in the care and details he puts into every one of the funerals depicted, the people who are buried but also their friends and family who are grieving for them.

For a movie of roughly two hours, the pacing doesn't feel rushed or drawn out, and the character development, while at times a little flat for anyone who aren't the main leads, is still very well done. Sange going from "she's my arch nemesis" and "look how you're going to ruin me" on day one to appreciating her place in his life and wanting to keep and protect her not even a day and a half later is, yes, hilarious, but on a fundamental level it's so heartwarming to see his entire outlook on life change for the better because of her, and in such a short amount of time. It shows how much he really wanted something (someone) to care about this much, a sentiment echoed later by his ailing father. Vice versa, when Xiaowen gets adopted by Sange's friends (which happened through a hilarious turn of events, and for a movie about death, there's way more comedy than expected, or, perhaps, just the right amount to offset everything else) and nominally by Sange himself, she starts letting go of her grandmother and starts opening up, all of it culminating in her telling Sange that she knows he lied, but that's okay, she's not scared anymore because she's got a dad now.

It makes their separation all the more painful when he basically lets her mother (who! surprise! is not dead but just had horrible luck in life and hit rock bottom and went to jail like Sange and just wants to be a good mom now and loves her daughter deeply and means well despite everything and-- well. You get the idea.) kidnap her in the middle of the night. One might be frustrated at the lack of communication from Sange, but when you remember how he never really had a childhood growing up in a funeral house, and how he has inferiority issues and a slew of other problems, his actions become understandable even though still not justified. All's well that ends well though, and they reunite with a scene that had me bawling when I first saw the clip months ago, released as promotional material, and that made me bawl again watching the full scene, entirely attached to both characters.

The cast of the movie is phenomenal. Zhu Yilong has delivered probably his best performance yet, portraying a character entirely different from his body of work and doing it in such a way it feels entirely natural and immersive. In interviews, Liu Jiangjiang mentioned how he wasn't sure about Zhu Yilong playing someone like Sange -- isn't he too handsome? Isn't he too pretty? Isn't he well-known for playing gentlemanly, scholarly, soft-spoken types of characters? And to a certain degree, he's right; Zhu Yilong's entire image is that of a prettyboy actor who, despite being fairly well-known as a good actor beyond his looks, and simply does not get cast as an uncouth rogue like Sange. So, a departure from his previous works for sure but in the best way possible. Zhu Yilong as Sange shows once again how versatile his acting skill is, and what range he has as an actor. When shooting, everyone called him Sange; Han Yan (the producer) even said that once he'd cut his hair and they started shooting in Wuhan, Zhu Yilong wasn't there anymore: he was Sange.

The fact that the entire movie was mainly spoken in Wuhan dialect (Xiaowen mainly spoke in a Sichuan dialect, or Sichuan-accented putonghua) or Wuhan-accented putonghua (they couldn't have the entire movie be in the Wuhan dialect, for viewer's accessibility, so han-pu was the compromise) added a lot of depth to the film as well, really showing the locality and anchoring it in a way most films don't consider. From a personal point of view, it's also just such a breath of fresh air not to hear standardized accents from everyone when it's filmed and takes place in a very specific part of China where of course everyone would more likely speak in the local dialect. Zhu Yilong, a Wuhan native, was said to have added a lot of his own knowledge of Wuhan to Sange's character, from when to speak the pure dialect and when to speak han-pu, to which scenes he'd smoke cigarettes and when to mention something specific to the culture there. All of this shows in how real Sange feels as a character. While he's been known to be meticulous when crafting characters, this one, more than any other role he's played before, is the one that cements his status as character actor.

Yang Enyou, the other lead in this movie, was also amazing. While I generally don't approve of child actors (on moral grounds more so than lack of acting skills or otherwise), the fact of the matter is that as Wu Xiaowen she really was the glue that kept the movie together. It was a joy seeing her on the screen and her acting was convincing and emotionally poignant. For a debut movie, this role really made her shine. Zhu Yilong also treated her the way he thinks Sange would've treated her to help her with acting, and interacted with her in a way that was really sweet, as were the other cast and crew members. I will say that from cast interviews and behind the scenes clips there are things I definitely don't agree with in how they handled having a 7 year old on set, mainly how they intentionally ignored her or made her angry by teasing/bullying her to get her in character. While it's no Shelly Duvall in The Shining type of situation, it still feels needlessly cruel to be mean to a literal child purely for a better shot or a more "real" emotional reaction.

The actors for the side characters also did a great job, all with their own motivations and lives and relationships with each other and outside of the scope of the movie, brought to life (or not, haha) by the cast. I especially loved how every character, no matter how minor, was played with the utmost conviction and with every last bit of heart that the main cast had too. Lighting Up the Stars is a work of love, and the way every single actor brought that to their character shined through.

I also adored that everyone looked like quote-unquote normal people. As with the usage of Wuhan dialect over putonghua, the deliberate choice to cast actors who aren't conventionally attractive like idol dramas and movies (it's why Zhu Yilong's casting made such waves), and instead style everyone to look like someone you could meet on the street is probably an understated but no less important aspect of this film. It brings together everything else about the film as well; Liu Jiangjiang said he wanted to focus on the day-today lives of ordinary citizens, the nitty gritty of everyday life, and the styling of the characters reflects that vision. From Sange's floral shirts to the background characters' colorful (but not distracting, more like the bassline that adds to the symphony of the rest of the film) clothes, everything fits and has that feeling of "oh this really is a movie about normal people" to it. The only person who stands out, then, is Xiaowen's mother, who looks sleek and dresses fashionably, and is immediately branded as an outsider because of it. Even without everything else in the narrative telling the viewer she is different, this visual element tells a whole story in itself. And yet, it's also because she cares so much about Xiaowen that she looks like that, perhaps to leave her past behind where she failed her daughter, but more importantly to show that she can take care of her daughter now: look at her, all dressed up, visible make-up, brand name clothing and all.

Xiaowen and Sange being styled after Nezha and Sun Wukong was also a detail I especially loved. Xiaowen's feral little act, especially near the start of the movie, with her red-tasseled spear and her hair in two buns, drives home her resemblance to Nezha. Sange on the other hand doesn't look like a lot like the Monkey King (although the funeral where he's in opera get-up and starts twirling the staff to protect Xiaowen is incredibly reminiscent of Sun Wukong and his golden-banded staff), the resemblance being more narrative- and dialogue-driven. Their stories mimic those of Nezha and Sun Wukong to a certain degree as well, and there are a lot of jokes and references made to Journey to the West, especially with regard to Sange (memorably, "Are you Sun Wukong, always changing your shape so easily?!" because he changed his mind and wanted to keep Xiaowen by his side after wanting to get rid of her initially).

I'm sure there are things I've missed, things I couldn't think of or that I felt didn't fit in this already too-long review of a film about family -- I haven't even touched on the many dynamics in this movie that aren't the main leads' which I nonetheless truly loved. I'm also sure that there are people who think it was much sillier than I make it out to be, or not as good as I've praised everything from the narrative to the acting to the styling. In the end, though, the message of the film is very clear: if you think you hit rock bottom, adopt a child.


And if none of this managed to convince you: Zhu Yilong strips down to his underwear in this film.

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Lost in the Stars
6 pessoas acharam esta resenha útil
Jun 30, 2023
Completados 0
No geral 10
História 10
Acting/Cast 10
Musical 10
Voltar a ver 10
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Only Through Lies Can the Audience Get a Glimpse of the Truth

Lost in the Stars is a superbly made suspense/thriller film by relative newcomer director duo Cui Rui and Liu Xiang, but bears the fingerprints of its producer/screenwriter, Chen Sicheng, as well. Where Chen Sicheng's Detective Chinatown series is more humorous, however, Lost in the Stars takes a decidedly darker turn, and makes the viewer question and re-question what they actually know as the narrative unfolds.

Set in the fictional Southeast Asian country Belandia (or Bankal, if the film's signs are to be believed), He Fei (Zhu Yilong) is a bedraggled man begging an apathetic police force to look for his wife, Li Muzi (Huang Ziqi), who has been missing for over half a month. With his visa expiring in a few days, he has precious little time to find her. This missing person case then takes a turn for the unexpected when a woman shows up claiming to be her (Janice Man), with all signs pointing to the fact that she is, in fact, He Fei's wife. Finding himself entangled in an increasingly complicated web of conspiracy and deceit, his only saving grace is big shot lawyer Chen Mai (Ni Ni). Nothing is as it seems, however, as one by one the mysteries get peeled back, revealing a truth that was, perhaps, best left hidden.

Cinematographically, Lost in the Stars is a visual feast, with a distinctive flair that is engaging and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Fast cuts, unconventional camera movements, and bright colors underscore the lively setting and enhance the fast pacing, while also juxtaposing the actual tone of the film. There is barely room to breathe, with one thing happening after the other; while it can get exhausting, it adds to the experience. The audience is dragged along for the ride as much as He Fei is. The few moments of reprieve come in the form of flashbacks, at once more muted in color and slower in pacing. The score is beautifully crafted to reflect these scenes as well as the characters' emotional states.

Plot-wise, it is a well-written film with a complex mystery that keeps you guessing. There're hints throughout the movie, foreshadowing that is easy (or, easier) to catch on a rewatch, but with twists and turns that sometimes make it feel like the ground gets dropped out from under you. Unlike the hallmark of a good detective, which is that you can figure it out alongside the character(s), Lost in the Stars' intrigue that keeps you guessing is what makes it shine. There are parts that are "predictable", but only insofar that any suspense film will have tropes they rely on. Don't try to figure out what will happen, the experience is rewarding whether you overthink it or not. Even the things that initially don't seem to make sense, do tend to get explained; the few plot holes (if you can even call them that, they're more like... plot dents) are easy to overlook and shouldn't take away from the audience's enjoyment of the film. In fact, what happened to suspension of disbelief? Sometimes a thing not making sense is because it's a movie and not real life. The only real gripe I have is that they at times lean (too) heavily on ableist and racist stereotypes for the sake of plot.

Beyond the writing and cinematography, however, is the acting. Leading man Zhu Yilong has surpassed himself again in this film, showing a layered, multifaceted performance as He Fei. An attentive husband, a scheming bastard, a desperate gambler, a man on the edge (a man who has jumped over it a long time ago)... His nuanced portrayal sets the bar for the rest of the cast, who at times seem like they can barely catch up. While the ensemble all did great jobs, it is not an exaggeration to say that they paled in comparison to Zhu Yilong's force majeure (Ni Ni, his main co-star, I felt gave as good as she got, though).

When reviews first came out after the film was screened at the Hainan International Film Festival late last year, someone wrote that if you thought he was good in Lighting Up the Stars (a film which netted him not only his first Golden Rooster nom, but also the win), you hadn't seen him yet in Lost in the Stars. Having now seen and loved both, I am forced to agree. The many faces of He Fei leave the viewer pondering; not just the character and the film itself, but also human nature at large. There's a depth to Zhu Yilong's portrayal that seems almost wasted compared to what some of the minor characters were doing.

It's also a shame that there was more chemistry between the side characters than the leads. This is not to say that there was none between the leads, but when you get to the Manman and Li Muzi scenes, it feels more "real"... Or maybe that's by design, considering that the film builds up these characters as lying liars who lie and with every lie that gets uncovered there are more taking their place.

TL;DR: Lost in the Stars is a very compelling suspense movie. It is not just about the mystery behind the disappearance of He Fei's wife (and her(?) subsequent reappearance), it is about the lies we tell ourselves and others, and whether we keep believing them or not. It's a thought-provoking film that is absolutely worth a watch (and perhaps a rewatch).

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