Floyd Norman: An Animated Life

Words: Desmond Childs
Growing up, my “blackness” wasn’t necessarily something that I struggled with. I had a very diverse group of contemporaries, and although our teachers were often white–many were married to Blacks, Hispanics, or even Asians. I say this as a sort of reflection on the state of social issues. Comparing today to yesteryears, and I’ve definitely been singled out more so now as opposed to my childhood. Whether it’s jobs or even being picked first for basketball games simply because I was black. The color of my skin, not my values, are what many people have used as a way to interact with me.

The key difference between myself and legendary Disney animator Floyd Norman, is that he wasn’t a black man looking for a job with Disney—he saw himself as just another artist looking for a good gig with an iconic company.

This documentary mixes segments of animated anecdotes and biographical recollections about the historic career of one Floyd Norman–one the greatest, most consistent animators you’ve never heard of. From his work with Disney to his career as a writer and comic strip maker, and also his stints as an animator and writer with Hanna-Barbara. There’s even a well placed segment detailing Norman’s independent production company that focused mostly on Black history. The film doesn’t shy away from the struggle-hustle days of Norman’s making informational videos and his serving as a photographer in Nam’ before returning back to Disney to resume work on projects such as 101 Dalmatians. There is a segment, in which Floyd begins to throw out some of the names of shows he worked on throughout his career–some I heard of, others I was unfamiliar, but there were many that I absolutely loved and still do. However, instead of listing them here I suggest you look up Norman’s work yourself. Seek out his artwork, his legacy, and his impact.

My favorite part of this film had to be the discussions of how Floyd handled stress. Whether it was his drawing silly, yet insightful doodles of company bosses and co-workers; or quietly dealing with a separation and ultimate divorce from his first wife. Norman never was an emotional, excitable type. Actually (and arguably more unhealthily), he was a man who had trouble expressing his pain and heartache. Floyd did not vent often, at least verbally to others; he preferred to vent through his artwork. Interviews with his children, co-workers, and women in his life gave solid insight to Floyd’s dealing with his shortcomings and setbacks.

There are other segments that were just as engaging, but this is definitely not a film I want to spill into details over. Please do yourself a favor and check out Floyd Norman and his incredible run on Netflix today. Here’s the trailer below:

Passport to Love (2009)

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Directed By: Victor Vu (pictured above)

Writer-director Victor Vu has penned and directed 6 big screen adaptions. Some of his more recent works were Inferno, Spirits, and First Morning. Mr. Vu has won 2 notable awards with one being for a student film (Firecracker) and the other being a Judge Award for his movie, First Morning at the San Diego Asian Film Festival. One thing I found interesting about Vu’s helming this film is that he noticebly wrote a part of himself into the characters. Vu was born in America, and has moved to Vietnam to work for a living. In a similar manner, one of the leads in Passport to Live leaves to get a degree in America in hopes of returning to Vietnam to put it to use. What really makes this film special, is the way Vu blends an American sense of humor into an Asian romantic comedy. Which isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do. But Mr. Vu wisely relies on a comedy ingredient that transcends language and culture: raunch. I’m not saying the film is a mess of raunchy misadventures; but there are scenes and situations sprinkled throughout that give the film just the right amount of “spice” it needs to stay afloat.

 

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This film centers on two friends traveling to America hoping for a chance to become successful. Or at least that seems to be the case with one of our lead characters named Hieu. Hieu is a guy that seems to have it all together; he’s engaged to the perfect (although submissive) woman, and he is set on getting a college education in the United States. His mother has a friend in California whose willing to help Hieu out and so his goal of earning a degree has started to take shape. The other lead character in the film is a young man who seems to be content “living in the moment”, partying harder than the next guy, and sleeping with only the hottest women. Khang is the son of a wealthy business man, and seems to be trying to do whatever he can to step out of his father’s giant, wealthy shadow. Khang is forced to go to America by his father who is finally fed up with his son’s antics. Becoming a successful man in America is Khang’s last chance at a respectful life living off his own merit.

To start off, I’d like to say that Passport to Love is not a film about the misadventures of the odd couple like protagonists were the debauchery runs non-stop. In fact, as I mentioned before, the raunch factor of this film probably registers a 1 or 2 on a scale of 1 to 10. The film instead spends time showing us the very conflicted Hieu’s balance act of video dating his fiance and having pity sex with a student he is supposed to be tutoring. Now that I think about it, that situation alone probably bumps the raunch rating up to about a 4. Meanwhile, Khang makes his American debut rather unceremoniously, getting a DUI and falling in love with the cop who cited him. Yes. He is smitten with the Vietnamese cop (she is pretty hot) who basically forces him to shape up or ship out. Khang’s dad also threatens to fly him back to Vietnam if he can’t behave. The juicey moments of the film are usually when Hieu is gulping down his guilt while trying to cheer up the “blond” student who is upset that everyone thinks she is a shallow, ignorant, rich girl. The sub-plot involving her supposed transformation is uninspiring and rushed, but the fact that her attraction to Hieu is as strong as Hieu’s finance’s is what makes her character essential. The question Hieu faces is an obvious but difficult one to answer: Should he ditch his “destined love to be” in Vietnam for this American girl? Or should he “take a chance for love” and see where his relationship with the student he’s tutoring goes? The somewhat funnier, cheesier, by-the-numbers (-ier?) part of the film that focuses on Khang is a nice complement to Hieu’s story. Khang, through a series of scenes where he’s working “undesirable” jobs, is slowly becoming self-sufficient. Khang’s story resloves on a lighter note than Khang’s but I got the feeling both characters were rewarded justly for their actions or lack thereof in the case of Hieu.

I liked the experience of the film. There was a mild touch of humor throughout that helped offset some of the more, sometimes, melodramatic scenes we see in this movie. The players on screen were all very solid and steady with the exception of Kathy Uyen (Khang’s police officer love interest), who may have even distracted herself having to switch between English and Vietnamese during her scenes in the movie. Passport to Love is a cute, thoughtful film which many would find useful as a stay at home, date night feature on Netflix.

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Recapped!: “BestSeller”

Author’s Note about Korean Names:

Mark this down, people. This is the day I looked up on google about how to read Korean last names. So someone whose name looks like say, Jeong-ho Lee, his first name is Lee. This was an easier example, and makes me look like a dope; but believe me i’d rather look dopey than uneducated anyday of the week.

“My daugther told me! You don’t have to believe me if you don’t want to!”

words: Desmond “Neo” Childs

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 Who was it that said, “What we have here is a failure to communicate!”?Oh yeah, it was that jerk-warden from Cool Hand Luke. The separated couple in BestSeller, are having problems communicating. And in an uncommon shift of roles (at least in cinema) the woman is without question the problem. Chan-sik is a famous author in the vein of  J.K. Rowling; who has released her latest page-turner. Unfortunately for her, she is later accused of plagiarism and watches life tailspin and then nosedive. Her publicist hasn’t lost faith in her; but thinks it would be a good idea for her to take a trip out into the country to work on her next novel. What happens is truly a unique blend of the supernatural, mysterious, and even thrilling elements into one pretty engaging piece of reel. Was it a little uneven sometimes? Yeah. For the most part though, ‘Bestseller’ delivers the goods in a exciting, “seat-of-your-pants” thriller that actually plays out like one of the main character‘s novels. So in a sense it’s a little meta, but not enough to draw you out of the movie’s story. Before I dig a little more into what I thought about it, let’s take a look at the director, Jeong-ho Lee.

Believe it or not, ‘Bestseller’ is actually Mr. Jeong-ho first directorial effort. He’s primarily been either a producer or assistant director on the majority of his projects. He has assistant directed such works as ‘A Man Who Was Superman‘ (2008), Skeletons in the Closest (2007), Vampire Cop Ricky (2006), and Dead Friend (2004). In regards to his style, there was only a few things that stood out; and not necessarily in a good way. First, the editing of some of the scenes made for a rushed tone early on in the movie. The scenes even out later but the initial half hour or so of the film would’ve used some of the cutting room floor scrapes added back on. For example, the relationship between the author and her “fed up” husband doesn’t seem genuine. And when the twist is revealed, their relationship seemed as if it had plenty of problems; even before the birth of their daughter.

“If you do this, I don’t want to see you again!”

I do, however, want to give credit to Mr. Jeong-Ho’s touch toward the end of the film; regarding the eerily cheerful town. As I mentioned before, the author and her daughter take a trip to a small town. Now two years removed from the allegations of plagiarism; the writer is hoping to pen a novel so original, as to leave no doubt as to who truly came up with it. The town they arrive at is expecting them. Luckily for our protagonist, their welcoming her with open arms. Well, for the most part. In a pretty crafty fashion, the film slowly builds toward a long forgotten tragedy that befell the town long ago. Suddenly, the townsfolk become more suspicious to our heroine. And what about this “friend” her daughter keeps talking to? What part does the “friend” play in all this? And why is the daughter (Sa-rang Park) the only person who can talk to her friend? Sure, there is intrigue all throughout the movie, but I feel like we have to sit through a pretty rushed, conventional wash at the beginning to get to it. I will say that the end result was somewhat worth the wait. As usual, the film is available on Netflix Instant watch. For how long? I don’t know.

Check out the trailer below:

Hot Summer Days (2010)

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Not even a heat wave can keep us from being in love!

Words: Desmond Childs

One of my first reviews on this blog was a film called Haeundae (Tidal Wave) and it had the distinction of being Southern Korea’s first “disaster movie”. The trick to what made Haeundae a pretty engrossing film is the way director Yoon Je-Kyoon managed to mesh a (at times) slapstick, witty dramedy with a terrible, tragic disaster movie. Mother nature truly felt like a character in the movie even before the destruction began, and once things did start to break down, the audience had been given enough character “dev” to actually care whether or not the characters survived the destruction. Hot Summer Days seems to also use the weather as a character in the film, however this time record-breaking heat is the problem the characters on screen are having to live with. Not only is it hot, but the demand for working A/C and electricity has sent the city into a civilized frenzy of sorts. People all over are rushing to every shop, corner store, and stand to pick up whatever they can. More to the point, this film focuses on the relationships between friends, family, and lovers with the narrative switching between 3 or 4 stories. So while the heat does somewhat play a role in the story, it serves as more of a subplot (oddly enough) for the love lives of the players we get on screen.

Directed by: 

Tony Chan and Wing Shya

 

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Synopsis and Analysis: “Young Love in a crunchy, seasoned nut shell”

Tony Chan and Wing Shya, winners of the 1993 Sundance Film Festival (Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award), for their feature Combination Platter. In addition to Hot Summer Days and Combination Platter, Mr. Chan has also worked as writer-director in the 2011 film, Love in Space. Wing Shya has served as Director of the Camera and Electrical department on all three of the duo’s projects and currently has the latest feature, Love in Space in post-production.

What probably stuck out to me the most about their work on Hot Summer Days was the way each character’s stories were well woven together to form the overall story’s plot. The camera and production values were solid, but are rarely the focus in romantic comedies anyway, with most of the details being paid toward character chemistry and development. The players onscreen definetly give Chan and Shya something to work with, and even though some choices were made that didn’t really pan out; the movie pays for itself. As for the pacing, I really feel this aspect of the feature was the weakest in excecution. Although stories were coherent and believable, I always felt as if I were watching Hot Summer Days with the “fast-forward x2” activated on my DVD player. Sometimes, in movies, details (as petty as they tend to be) add a bit more flair to romantic comedies such as this. The other issue is that this film just wasn’t all that funny. In fact, I spent very little time laughing, with most of the humorous scenes barely getting a smile out of me. Now don’t get me wrong, because Unknown Pleasures, Passport to Love, and even some parts of Tidal Wave were pretty hilarious. In comparison, Hot Summer Days seems more of a romantic drama, than a comedy. I also mentioned that the movie pretty much pays for itself in the end, however I wasn’t as interested as I would have liked to have been by the conclusion. For this reason, Hot Summer Days was mostly an ambitious attempt at juggling an ensemble cast gone awry. The movie is available on Netflix for instant watch, by the way.

 

The Man From Nowhere (2010)

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“…because I’m her next door neighbor. I’m also quite bored, and bitter over the death of my fiance.”

Words: Desmond Childs

Cha Tae-Sik is a quiet, unassuming pawn shop owner; operating out of a cluttered workspace within a small neighborhood. And it’s these small, unassuming truths are exatcly the reason he appears so suspicious. Not suspicious in a “I’m actually a mass-murderer” way, but there appears to be more to the guy that meets the eye. Not to mention that he’s a bit of a recluse, preferring to keep to himself. In fact, only a neighbor’s daughter is nice enough to even conversate with Tae-Sik. While this one little social contact seems insignificant enough, Tae-Sik himself apparently values the “friendship” of this little girl well enough to embark on the rescue mission that serves as this films primary plot. I was very impressed with this movie, and have officially accepted it as the proper replacement for the entertainment value “I Saw The Devil” gruesomely robbed from me. Both rescue missions and quests for revenge require high stakes. I Saw The Devil was a revenge film in which the “protagonist” (outside of losing his finance) never really had to risk anything as opposed to his nemesis in the film. In this movie here, Tae-Sik is risking his life for the friendship he shares with this kid. I know that sounds pretty paper thin to bet a life on, but as I mentioned earlier Tae-Sik is a recluse and those types are always a little weird. Take Bruce Wayne for example, that guy leaps around pretending to be a winged mammal.

Directed By:

Jeong-Beom Lee

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Synopsis and Analysis: “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN!?”

Mr. Lee has yet to make a significant impact in the moviemaking industry although some have marked The Man From Nowhere as being his big breakthrough. Prior to his work on this film, Lee’s only other project was Cruel Winter Blues in which he wrote and directed. Debuting with Cruel Winter Blues and following up with a feature such as The Man From Nowhere, this writer-director has already showcased some skill.Although I have yet to see his debut film, the visual flair The Man From Nowhere carried throughout was a very entertaining experience. Many filmmakers strive to be able to tell an engrossing story to go along with all the blood and guts. Mr. Lee’s The Man From Nowhere helped the guy flex some movie making muscle. Lee’s already got a formula to build on, an engrossing, viceral experience is the craft he’s looking to master then perfect.

As I mentioned earlier, this movie is about a pawn shop owner named Cha Tae-Sik. The story kicks off when his next door neighbor, who is apparently a drug smuggler (Hyo-Jeong) who has double crossed the origanization she worked in. Now, to avoid losing her expensive product, see secretly hides the narcotics in Tae-Sik’s pawn shop. The organization captures both Hyo-Jeong and her daughter (So-mi) after learning that the product is with Tae-Sik. Then the organization sends henchmen to rough up and explain the reason for the kidnappings to Tae-Sik. However, Tae-Sik, mysterious past and all, beats the hell out of them and sends them running. He than embarks on an adventure to rescue the two from the organization. A lot of questions as to Tae-Sik’s past are answered throughout the film, such as the terrible tragedy he suffered many years earlier. There’s even a shocking little sub-plot involving serious child-labor law violations. And I mean serious violations. The Man From Nowhere succeeds in a number of aspects but, specifically shines in developing it’s tragic hero in a way I couldn’t help but compare to Robert Ludlum‘s The Bourne Identity. This film’s stylized action scenes also help justify that comparison with Tae-Sik’s fighting style being nearly indistinguishable. Awesome film though.

The Man From Nowhere can be found on Netflix‘s “Instant Watch” feature. Check out the trailer below:

Recapped!: “The Great Happiness Space”

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*this is a documentary

 Wanna get a way? We all have our “happy place” we like to sneak off to and relax. These places rejuvenate us physically, mentally, and spiritually. However, how many of you can say that your “happy place” costs hundreds or thousands of dollars per visit? Sounds like it defeats the purpose of going to a “happy place” if your paying for it out the wazoo. However, let’s say your job (as stressfull as it is) pays better than most of society, including salary-business jobs. Would paying for your “happy place” be worth it then?

The women who visit the Rakkyo cafe often come for an all nighter. Many fall in love with the hosts there (Guys who dress to look cool and beautiful) and some even propose or ask for sex. The hosts are at the mercy of these women. Priding themselves on being able to “sell dreams” to these customers, they often bounce around the cafe from one patron to the next doing what ever they can to make them all happy.

After 30 or so minutes the cafe looks harmless enough, until we get to learn the personal and private lives of many of the patrons that frequent Rakkyo cafe. That’s when the movie takes a dark turn and we see the dramatic irony reveal itself. Imagine prostitues using the money they’ve earned from their work to pay the hosts at Rakkyo for hours and hours of their time. Very few want sex. All want meaniful relationships. However there is a certain sad awareness that no one within these host clubs can be trusted; because their jobs demand that they say whatever to make the patrons feel good. Some of the interviews reveal how warped and detached many of the hosts and patrons have become from the bonds formed at the cafe. One “relationship” between patron and host had lasted 5 years and was celebrated by the hosts and the patron drinking 5 bottles of champagne ranging in cost from $10,000 to $200,000. Personally, I’m good with a $1 bottle of Coke Cola. I’m just saying. Without spoiling too much more of the film, I’ll say it really takes any notions you had about fun places like host clubs or even strip clubs and turns them on their head. There’s a reason that many people call patrons of such establishments “sleazy”. There’s also a reason that the customers at these host clubs keep spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (yen) just to be able to drink with the pretty boy hosts of the Rakkyo cafe. Here is a 10-minute preview of the film on Youtube.com

You can watch the whole movie on Netflix Instant Watch.