Back to the cinema

JULY 18 ― Now that cinemas are allowed to operate again, I’m sure there are many of us out there just itching to finally be able to watch a movie on the big screen after months of being cooped up at home streaming stuff.

It’s perfectly understandable, because however fancy our home theatre set-up may be, unless we’re lucky/rich enough to live in a house big enough to accommodate a home theatre room the size of a small multiplex hall, nothing beats sitting in the dark staring at movies projected onto a huge screen.

With Malaysian cinemas now entering their third week of operations, the only problem now is that since a lot of other places in the world are still in lockdown mode, not that many new movies have been released so far.

This probably explains why more than half of the movies screened in Malaysian cinemas now are re-runs.

Christopher Nolan fans have been excitedly waiting for his new film Tenet to open, because the publicity was that it was going to open in early July, which then got pushed to late July, and with the Covid-19 situation in America still not getting much better, it’s looking very likely that the release date will be pushed again to a later date.

So it’s up to horror and Asian films to save the day in terms of new releases, with almost all the new films released so far falling into the horror genre.

I’m definitely not complaining since I’m always game to watch any interesting new horror flicks, and with horror films coming in from Thailand, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and even Russia to grace Malaysian cinema screens in the last few weeks, I even found myself having to pick and choose which ones to watch!

Peninsula

A sequel to the global hit Train To Busan, this one actually plays more like a spin-off or one of those Cloverfield sequels, in which there are no direct links in terms of characters from the original film, but more in terms of the “incident”, which in this case is the zombie virus outbreak that we first saw in that original film, or should we say original “live action” film, because prior to Train To Busan, its director Yeon Sang Ho had already made the animated film Seoul Station.

Comfortably the weakest film in the trilogy, Peninsula suffers from feeling just like any other cookie cutter (but technically sound) film from the South Korean film industry.

There are thrills, a very large dollop of melodrama, and enough wonky CGI to make it feel just like another Hollywood wannabe Korean film, without any of the excitement and spark that made Train To Busan the international sensation that it was.

I only got excited in the beginning when it seemed for a moment that Peninsula was going to be an allegory about the international refugee crisis, before it abandoned all that to become another tired Mad Max wannabe.

Low Season

Thai comedies, especially Thai horror-comedies, can be very hit or miss, because their tendency to rely on pulling faces and slapstick pratfalls lives and dies on the accuracy of timing (which more often than not totally misses the mark) and the charisma of its actors.

While there are still plenty of missed marks here when it comes to comic timing (and of course lots of cringe-inducing face pulling), the easygoing charm of the film’s two leads ― Ploypailin Thangprapaporn as a girl who can see ghosts and Mario Maurer (of Pee Mak fame) as a writer stuck with said girl ― makes the film, even at 125 minutes, which is way too long for a horror rom-com, an agreeably pleasant and enjoyable ride from start to finish.

Nothing fancy here, just a sweet, typical and predictable horror variation of the Thai rom-com that comfortably gets the job done. Worth the money if you’re looking for a bit of that in these trying times.

Baba Yaga: Terror Of The Dark Forest

A word of warning, even though this is a Russian horror film (how cool is it that we’ve steadily been getting a bunch of Russian films in local cinemas for the last few years), the version that’s playing in our cinemas is the English dubbed one, so depending on your preference (and tolerance), this might already be a deal breaker.

Although I’d prefer a subtitled version instead of a dubbed one, the dubbing here is quite competent and acceptable, nowhere near the hilarious 70s and 80s kung fu flicks.

That obstacle done with, this is the latest film from the director of Mermaid: The Lake Of The Dead and The Bride, so while initially it did live up to what I was expecting based on the director’s previous films, with quite stylishly staged scare tactics, Baba Yaga ― which tells a folk tale in which a witch abducts children, which their parents, families and communities will then instantly forget about and think never existed ― takes an unexpected turn into Young Adult fantasy territory in its second half, and becomes a surreal combination of the Insidious movies, Hansel & Gretel and the Harry Potter franchise that just never quite clicks.

But if that description intrigues you, and believe me it’s pretty accurate, give this one a try just for the experience.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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