The Meg franchise has been revived this summer for Meg 2: The Trench. The film follows Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) as he works with Jiuming Zhang (Wu Jing) at Juiming’s environmental foundation and also helps to raise his niece, Meiying (Sophia Cai). Together, along with a research team, they venture into Mariana’s Trench. Chaos ensues on multiple fronts as they encounter Megs and subterfuge from environmental naysayers, leading viewers on an action-packed ride.
Meg 2 is a nice mix of crowd-pleasing humor and action, lending itself as the perfect movie for a viewer hoping to duck into a movie theater to escape the summer’s heat to the disgruntled babysitter looking for an activity to keep the kids busy for the afternoon. Initially slow to kick off, the second half of The Meg 2 more than compensates for this with a whirlwind series of battles between Statham, Jing, their teammates, and the elements surrounding them that will have the rest of the moviegoer’s time flying by.
Viewers can look to DJ (played by Page Kennedy) to do most of the comedic lifting in the second half of the film. It is also advised to see the first movie in the Meg franchise, as there are several references to key plot points left over from the first film. Ultimately, Meg 2: The Trench is a movie best seen at home with friends and family, free to laugh not only with, but more importantly at the film, to your heart’s content.
NYAFF continued to showcase unique and fun films.
New York Asian Film Foundation and Festival at Lincoln Center revealed their lineup for the 22nd New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF). They selected the period piece Mountain Woman, which took place in Tohoku in the late 18th Century.
An outcast named Rin resided in a village suffering from food shortages. She gained courage from Mount Hayacine and its immaculate nature. According to her town’s legend, human souls ascended her after passing away. The film had a talented production team.
Takeshi Fukunaga directed the film. He wrote the screenplay with Ikue Osada. Mio Ietomi, Harue Miyake, Eric Nyari, and Hiroki Shirota produced the movie. Chikako Nakabayashi, Mike Shirota, and Shin Yasuda executively produced the motion picture.
To learn more about the film, read the interview transcript with Fukunaga below.
The Knockturnal: The nature in your film is stunning. How did you select the locations for which to shoot the film?
Takeshi Fukunaga: Most shots were shot in a town called Yamogota. We went to different places in Yamogota and tried to find something that feels, like, untouched in terms of nature. We were very, very lucky to find remote locations such as the forest with many one-hundred-year-old trees. There was the cave where Mountain Man lives. Many centuries ago, people used to live there. To say it simply, we found the locations with the longest history that feels like it’s removed from civilization.
The Knockturnal: Okay. How did your team select the cast members for their roles?
Takeshi Fukunaga: I had many discussions with producers. We started by casting the main characters and lead actors. The film is a period piece. We wanted the correct faces and people that feel the most authentic. We wanted not only great performers but people who could exist in that world. Anna Yamada has a very authentic presence, which fits the character. She brought so much to the character. For many other roles, we went one by one. I was happy to listen to auditions again.
One of my favorite casting choices was Ryûtarô Ninomiya, who played Taizo. I thought he had a kind of physicality and clumsiness, which fit the character. Also, it felt very real.
The Knockturnal: Okay. So, I noticed shadows reoccurred as a motif in the film. For instance, when the authorities accuse Inhae of stealing, his child, Rin, says that she did it. Right before her confession, she emerges from the shadows of the shed. I’m wondering why you chose to have the shadow motif running through the film.
Takeshi Fukunaga: I discussed it with a talented cinematographer named Daniel Satinoff. We tried to make viewers not fear the darkness. Back in the day, everything used to be so much darker even during the day. Inside a house, it would have been so much darker than how it is now. We wanted to embrace and emphasize the darkness. It helped us give the viewer the feeling of being there. We felt that it was a true representation of what life used to be.
In contrast, we wanted to embrace the natural light of the mountain. We emphasized the sunlight when Rin goes to the mountain. It was really our effort to express the authenticity of living in that time.
The Knockturnal: Right after Rin confesses, Inhe slaps her in front of the authorities. How did you film this scene?
Takeshi Fukunaga: Of course, he wasn’t actually slapping her. It was staged. As far as the “how,” the process consists of blocking the fight scene and discussing the movements with the actors. We were very specific about how to shoot those scenes. We had very experienced actors in the cast who were instrumental in terms of ideas.
The Knockturnal: How did the scene change the characters’ relationships?
Takeshi Fukunaga: It changed a lot. At the same time, Anna Yamada performed very beautifully and understood why he did it. For the family, losing the younger brother, who was the man of the house, would have been bigger than losing her. This is because it was a male-dominated society. If the family lost the father, they would not be able to survive. Inhe and Rin understood what was best for the family, even though he never really shows compassion to her until the scene at the stables later in the film. He didn’t really show it, but he did appreciate the decisions that she made.
The Knockturnal: Parts of this film tell a story without many lines of dialogue. Rin makes many observations on the mountain, which we see with her without any dialogue. We hear nature’s noises. We hear the squishing sounds of the elderly woman eating from a bucket. We hear Rin’s footsteps on the ground. Why did you choose to convey her observations in this way, without any dialogue?
Takeshi Fukunaga: I tried to convey Rin’s sense of awe towards nature. Back in the day, people used to have this. It’s still present in Japan, but not as strong as it used to be. That’s something that words could never express or explain to you. Using sound and visuals, giving this kind of spacial presence to nature was very important for the story. It recreated how people used to treat and relate to nature. Of course, she talks about guarding the mountain. Describing nature itself could never be enough.
The Knockturnal: After the scene on the mountain, the film cuts to a conversation between Taizo and Inhe. The characters talk about Rin’s whereabouts. This scene comes after a scene with no silence, which made it striking. Did you choose to do this with that effect in mind?
Takeshi Fukunaga: It just so happened in the editing, I think. I don’t think that was the order in the screenplay. Why? It’s a combination of things. It just felt natural.
The Knockturnal: Rin bows and prays to the mountain twice. What does the mountain symbolize to her?
Takeshi Fukunaga: It symbolizes many things. One of her favorite legends that she told Mountain Man is about the three sisters. That’s coming from the book The Legend of Toto. There’s a goddess of the mountain. She’s very compassionate to the weak. Rin relates to the goddess. On top of that, the spirits are supposed to ascend the mountain.
The Knockturnal: How does the Mountain Man change Rin’s perspective?
Takeshi Fukunaga: When she first passed the border, she wasn’t confident if she could survive. Once Mountain Man accepted her, she felt more embraced by nature. As far as her perspective, I think Mountain Man helps her embrace who she really is. Mountain Man embracing her personality gave her confidence. Towards the end, when Taizo brings her back to the village, she said she felt more human than she did in the village.
New York Asian Film Foundation and Festival at Lincoln Center revealed their lineup for the 22nd New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF). They selected the drama film December (2022), which discussed a complicated legal issue.
In the movie, Sumiko and Katsu divorced after their daughter’s murder. Despite this, they must reunite to fight against the murderer’s release. The film had themes of crime and justice. The film had a talented production team.
Anshul Chauhan directed the motion picture. Chauhan co-wrote the screenplay with Rand Colter and Mina Moteki. Executive producers included Simon Crowe and Fumie Suzuki Lancaster. Ke Maeda, Shinichi Okada, and Shigemi Sawa served as associate producers. Yuma Koda selected the music, while Petter Moen Jensen designed the cinematography. The movie had a skilled cast.
Shogen starred as Katsu, while Ryô Matsuura excelled in the role of Kana Fukanda. Miki Maya, Megumi, and Takashi shined in their roles as well. To learn more about the film, read the interview transcript with Anshul Chauhan and Shogen below.
The Knockturnal: So, how did the production team choose who to cast in this film?
Anshul Chauhan: For the role of Katsu, which Shogen played, I’ve known him for a long time. After I released my first film, I met him around that time. Since then, we are friends. I had this script for a long time. I planned to make the film in 2021. I sent Shogen the script’s first draft. I knew that I wanted to cast him for that role.
For the role of Kana Fakunda, the girl in the prison, I met the actress during one of my second film screenings. She came to watch the film. When I greeted people outside, I met her. I remember she had a very strong face. When I was casting the character, I remembered her even though I auditioned, like, ten girls. She was mainly a model. I auditioned her two, three times to make sure she was right for the part.
For the role of the ex-wife, we approached the actress and I auditioned her. I sat and talked with her. I recorded my conversations with her. That’s how we got that actress on board. She suggested her real-life husband, Singo Fujimori, who is a famous Japanese comedian. I wanted to somehow cast a comedian in a serious role. I went to meet him, but I didn’t know that he had already read the script. After five minutes, he said ‘Yes.’
The roles of the lawyer and prosecutor are past collaborators from my previous film. Also, I cast them because they already had done television shows about courtrooms. They had done a lot of episodes, so I thought it would be helpful to get them on board. We involved them in delegating the film’s court sessions. That’s how we got the cast together.
The Knockturnal: Okay, that’s great. At the movie’s beginning, we see a postal worker on a motorcycle. How did you film that scene?
Anshul Chauhan: The guy on the motorcycle was our casting director. First of all, we had issues finding the kind of motorcycle that we wanted to use. It took us some time to finally get the motorcycle from Tokyo. A guy delivered a motorcycle on a tow truck, which we call a “rekkāsha” in Japan. He got the motorcycle to the location. At first, it did not work, but, somehow, we made it work. I bought this postal worker costume online and had the casting director put it on.
It was very difficult to shoot. People were joking and laughing. The producer, cameraman, and I went into a car. We followed the postal worker and I drove the car. It took all day to get the scene out.
The Knockturnal: My next question involves the scene at the diner. Sumiko and Katsu couldn’t speak at her house. Instead, they spoke at the diner. In the scene, neither character was in the frame’s center. Instead, they sat in a booth on the right-hand side. Why did you make that choice?
Anshul Chauhan: I made this decision because I wanted to show them in the same frame. I wanted that because they have been separated for a long time. I wanted to audience to get this in their head. If I were to show them together, it would have shown that they were close. I wanted to show the distance between the characters, which took place over so many years. That’s why I never showed them together.
As the frames progressed, the audience saw the characters coming together. In the last scene, the viewers saw both of them together.
The Knockturnal: How did the production team select Kana Fukanda’s costume?
Anshul Chauhan: Picking her costume was not hard. In Japan, prisoners wear second-hand clothing. The people donate it to the prison. They are not allowed to wear any fancy stuff. The prisoners wear blue uniforms. I watched documentaries and took pictures of the outfits. From there, I found a company in Okinawa that makes those outfits. I ordered their product.
For the lawyers, they just wear normal suits.
The Knockturnal: There seems to be a reoccurring theme of blue throughout the film, especially in the scenery and the characters’ outfits. This seems to relate to the legal system as well, with the prisoners wearing blue. Was this done on purpose?
Anshul Chauhan: The color grading was done with a bluish tint. It makes the mood a bit colder. We picked blue for Satou San’s suit as well.
The Knockturnal: When Satou San takes the stand in court, he says ‘Is it right to ruin two lives to satisfy this misplaced sense of justice?’ It really struck me. Do you think that the film revolves around this statement and, if so, how?
Anshul Chauhan: For any kind of court case, there are two sides to it. If Kana doesn’t get out of prison, her life will be destroyed. She lost her family and everything. According to Japan’s legal system, she was not supposed to be in prison after turning eighteen years old. She’s supposed to be out. However, the characters have a big bias against her. In reality, in Japan, it’s only happened twice that a minor has gotten, like, twenty years in prison. The film is inspired by those events. We wanted to explore the themes of crime, punishment, and revenge. I hope that people get that, by the end of the film, Kana feels guilty and ready to confess what happened.
The Knockturnal: My next question is for you, Shogen. How did you prepare for the role of Katsu?
Shogen: There are tons of stuff that I have to prepare for this part. First of all, I need to make a relationship with the actresses playing my ex-wife and daughter. Before the movie production began, we hung out at a park together. We took a family picture and had conversations together. After that, especially with the actress playing my ex-wife, we contacted each other to talk about memorable events, like how our characters would have met. We talked about our characters’ histories and the details. That’s very important to the film because we didn’t have much time.
Anshul Chauhan: We started in September 2021. For three months, we scouted and cast people. Then, in January, everyone got COVID. We pushed back the shoots and then we started production. So, yeah, short time.
Shogen: We didn’t have much time at all, which didn’t help. The production team helped me make a music playlist to express my character’s emotions, like depression. That helped a lot. I had Katsu’s clothes and wore them to the shoot. I carried a flask of whiskey in my pocket. I just lived as Katsu.
The Knockturnal: What growth did you see in Katsu’s character?
Shogen: For example, when he’s drinking, he’s making some decisions in your head. He’s thinking ‘Okay, maybe I’ll confess tomorrow,” and he has a lot of anger. First of all, I created the character because I didn’t know about that mental state. Some people in Japan open their beers on the train. They can’t wait until they get back home to drink. They just want to drink right then. I didn’t understand why they can’t wait or what they are feeling. I haven’t felt that way. When I built the character, I started to understand.
Anshul Chauhan: From the writing perspective, alcohol supported his decision-making. He’s a lonely, depressed alcoholic person who drinks a lot. He found comfort in drinking. When he got really drunk and slept, maybe he found some kind of peace. When Sumiko got put back in his life, he hoped to get back together with her. He made the decision to put everything down and maybe change his life because of this. In the end, he stopped drinking and cleaned up his house. For a while, the alcohol supported him.
Shogen: I think it’s not only the alcohol. Throughout the film’s production, I was thinking, ‘If my daughter was here, what would she think about me?’ That’s why he tried to change his life. He wanted to quit alcohol. Maybe my character would start drinking.
Anshul Chauhan: Yeah. Your character said, ‘I want to become a man that my daughter would want to see.’
The Knockturnal: Okay. Your character wears many neutral colors and long-sleeved clothes. What does this communicate about your character to the viewers?
Anshul Chauhan: The film was shot during the winter season. Everyone was wearing neutral colors anyway. In flashbacks, Katsu wore summer tones just to show the separation. We were supposed to shoot in the snow, but it didn’t happen. Anyways, the colors were supposed to show his depression. His daughter got killed and then he’s living in the depression. In the whole film, we wore beige and green colors to show his character. In the last scene, spring comes after some time. Katsu is wearing a light blue color because of this. His hair is well-combed and all that. It’s really just to show what’s going on in Katsu’s head.
The Knockturnal: Could you talk about the scene where Sumiko testified in court?
Anshul Chauhan: We shot the scene as a single take. We zoomed in on Sumiko, which showed that Satou is finally in her head. He was trying to break her down. He put a lot of pressure on her. Also, he came out of his booth and started walking around, which put even more pressure on her. That’s what Satou was doing because he was a smart lawyer. He was successful. Mentally, Sumiko supported Katsu just because she likes him. Her thinking was not the same as his. He had a lot of anger, which she didn’t have. She realized that maybe she did a bit too much to support him. They had a fight after this scene.
The Knockturnal: Katsu calls Satou San on the phone. The pair meet at the bar and have a conversation. After Satou San leaves the bar, Katsu drinks a lot. Intense music swells in the background. He goes back to his dim apartment and hears his daughter saying “Papa” over and over. Can you talk about this scene?
Anshul Chauhan: That was actually added towards the end. Katsu was drunk, so maybe he was hallucinating, which caused him to see his daughter. We had two versions of it: not to shoot with her or to shoot with her. We ended up shooting with her.
Shogen: It happens in real life too. My grandma came to me in a dream. After you see someone in a dream, you feel empty.
Anshul Chauhan: You were in the character at that time.
Anshul Chauhan: But yeah, I had an incident similar to that. My grandfather passed away before I was born. I never met him. One day, it almost felt like he was sitting with me. Even though I was a grown man, I ran to my mother because I was so scared. It wasn’t hard for me to put that in the film.
The Knockturnal: I don’t have any other questions. Thank you so much!
Exclusive: Tom DeNucci Talks Directing New Film ‘The Collective’ Releasing on August 4th [Interview]
Tom DeNucci directed the film called The Collective, which will be on Digital and On Demand on August 4, 2023.
When I was conducting my mental list of my favorite movies of 2023 so far, I did not expect to place among the top spots a horror flick. I consider myself a horror aficionado, but it has recently felt like every scary movie has seemed derivative, devoid of creativity, and just…not scary. Talk to Me by the Australian Philippou brothers finally broke me out of the horror slump and presented me with a fresh, genuinely scary concept that has been the best scary movie, for me at least, since 2018’s Hereditary, also an A24 film.
Looking back at Hereditary, I can draw similarities between the two that make both hallmark horror films. For one, while we get the blood, guts, and ghouls in each film, the primary contexts that each establishes is one of conflicts within the family. To this end, Talk to Me is wonderful in its depiction of main character Mia’s (Sophie Wilde) trauma after losing her mother to an accidental suicide, which becomes her primary motivation for the remainder of the film. She encounters a group of teens that have come across an embalmed hand that allows them to haphazardly summon spirits of the dead for laughs and social media posts, and while they enact a strict 90-second limit to talking with the dead, Mia frantically surpasses this when the spirit that responds is that of her deceased mother. This is where the distinctions between this film and other, lesser films in the same genre begin— while another film may have attributed her “breaking the rules of the game” to teenage stupidity, as many do, this film has real, grounded motivations that frankly any of us would fall victim to.
Of course, surpassing the 90-second mark leads to a door to the spirit world opening, and all hell breaking loose. Once again, relationships serve as the main focus of the plot, with Mia’s relationship with her mother highlighted as she comes closer to finding out the secret of her death, her strained interactions with her father as she realizes he has been hiding something, and her guilt towards putting her friend’s brother in the hospital in a dilapidated state after her own selfish actions. The way these three threads are woven together is masterfully done, and leaves the audience on the edge of their seat almost constantly. This also very much gives credence to how a movie needs the “human factor” to satisfy, as without relatability and depth of character, little is impressed on the viewer’s mind other than cheesy scares.
While the story is absolutely brilliant, that isn’t to say that the special effects have been undermined with this film. The blood and gore are absolutely fantastic, and even while knowing that what I was seeing wasn’t real, my stomach lurched and a certain queasiness enveloped me. Almost all of the effects are practical, with CGI only used sparingly and invisibly. This creates a sense of realism that is exceedingly rare in modern cinema, and adds to the feeling that this is something that happened to someone, somewhere in the world (probably Austraila). There is one scene in particular involving Riley (Joe Bird), Mia’s best friend’s brother, that was particularly harrowing.
With all of this film’s intense successes, it’s hard to believe that the directors, Danny and Michael Phillipou, started off on Youtube posting homemade skits and special effect videos. This film marks their feature directorial debut, but watching the movie, it feels like they have been directing for decades. To direct for the first time and have the film immediately stand with other greats in the genre is an incredible feat, and this really speaks to the Phillipou brother’s talent that was honed over the years, as well as their dedication to all the endeavors they set their mind to. It gives the idea that greatness can really come from anywhere, and the brothers completely deserve the high reviews, the intense bidding war for rights to the film, and the eventual A24 purchase for rights to distribution. This is the birth of another defining directorial pair, and I for one cannot wait to see what they have in store for us next.
As we know them, fairy tales often involve a protagonist lacking control over her or his fate. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were driven into hiding, yet were doomed with a sleeping curse anyway—curses that could only be broken had their true love decided to awaken them. Rapunzel is locked away in a tower with no doors, needing a hero to rescue her. It’s exactly this what Siyu Liu set out to deconstruct in her directorial feature debut (and original screenplay) Flaming Cloud.
There are no villainous characters with wicked intentions to be found in Siyu Liu’s fairytale story, but Gods and Goddesses with voyeuristic tendencies and penchants for placing wagers pulling the strings. The story begins when two of the deities boldly place the most consequential wager any of them have ever witnessed—the existence of true love. Because of the wager, a randomly chosen baby, and the story’s hero, Sangui (played by Hu Xian Xu), is doomed to a curse of putting whoever he kisses to sleep, stripping him of agency over his destiny (or so we think?)
Branded a freak by his fellow villagers and socially ostracized at a young age, Sangui sets out on a hero’s journey, albeit one of a long period of loneliness, to the idyllic White Stone City. On his journey, he meets two women who represent fairy tale archetypes we’re well-acquainted with, each with their own wishes, but also unfulfilled needs.
Instead of making their own fairy tale wish come true, each character instead finds satisfaction in growing—by learning what they needed all along. For Sangui, this means finding the courage to confront his fears, and for the “wicked witch” character, who is very much the heart of this story, means facing her regrets. “Regrets can be curses too.” she whispers to Sangui in between exhausted breaths. In using surrealism, Siyu Liu reminds us that realizing what we needed all along can better than anything we can wish for.
Siyu Liu’s use of anachronisms in the costumes beautifully speaks to the timelessness of fairy tales, from 1920s flapper headbands to 1970s boho dresses—even the 1950s Philco Predicta televisions, which the Deities huddled around in sport to watch Sangui for a long period of his life. Combining the motifs and lessons of European fairy tales (and classic Disney films, by extension) and Chinese mythology, she masterfully tells a cross-cultural story, as seen from the moment the story begins with a kingdom of deities placing a wager on a “flaming cloud.”
Perhaps the biggest lesson of all from Flaming Cloud is that true love does indeed exist, but it does come to die one day—and yet, we all still reach for these stories for comfort. “Not everyone believes in true love,” Siyu Liu writes in the final frame of the film. “But we all long for that moment when it arrives with its magic.” Yes, yes we do.
Having seen both Barbie and Oppenheimer, I’m glad I didn’t do the Barbenheimer double feature, because Oppenheimer devastated me.