You may define your own banner on the settings page.
FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
Dave Chua
Brandon Wee
Wong Lung Hsiang
Felix Cheong
Foong Ngai Hoe
Adrian Sim
Chris Khoo
O Thiam Chin
Lau Chee Nien
Ambient Noise
Sarhan Rashid
Ying Wuen
Ellery Ngiam
Toh Hai Leong
Toh Hai Leong, Auteur
Wong Kar Wai
The Seduction of Wong Kar Wai
Tsai Ming Liang
Lav Diaz
Mikio Naruse
Leslie Cheung
Jonathan Foo Interview
Chinese Ghosts
Assassins in Asian FIlms
Sex in Asian Cinema
Erotic Cinema of the Shaw Studios
Homosexuality in Chinese Films
My Left Eye Sees Creativity
Hollywood Remakes
Comic Book Superheroes
One League of Social Consciousness
Emerging Trends in East Asian Cinema
Postwar Korean Cinema
Decline of Hong Kong Cinema before 1997
Rise of Afghan Films
Singapore's Mini Cinema
Creating A Singapore Cinema
Why Cinema is Important to Singapore
Singapore Film Industry
Rites of Passage
Replying to Critics
Daniel Yun Interview
Singapore International Film Festival
Bangkok International Film Festival
Tokyo International Film Festival
Toronto International Film Festival
Writer's Block
All Tomorrow's Parties
And Also the Eclipse
Another Heaven
At Five in the Afternoon
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Bangkok Haunted
Barking Dogs Never Bite
Batang West Side
Battle Royale
Bear Hug
Beautiful Boxer
Beijing Rocks
Bend It Like Beckham
Best of Times
Betelnut Beauty
Big Durian
Big Shot's Funeral
Bird Man Tale
Blissfully Yours
Blue Kite
Bounce Ko Gals
Brighter Summer Day, A
Cafe Lumiere
Cat Returns
Chinese Odyssey 2002
City of Glass
City Sharks
Color of the Truth
Color Blossoms
Confucian Confusion
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
Dark Water
Destination 9th Heaven
Divine Intervention
Double Vision
Dumlings: 3 Extremes
Enter the Phoenix
Era of Vampire, The
Eye, The
Eye 2, The
Eye 10, The
Fat Choy Spirit
Floating Weeds
Fog of War, The
Formula 17
Full Alert
Ghost in the Shell
God or Dog
Golden Chicken
Golden Chicken 2
Goodbye, Dragon Inn
Guru, The
Hana-Bi (Fireworks)
Harold and Kumar
Hidden Blade, The
House of Flying Daggers
House of Fury
House of Sand and Fog
Howl's Moving Castle
I Not Stupid
In the Mood for Love
Infernal Affairs
Infernal Affairs III
Innocence: Ghost in the Shell 2
Iron Ladies 2
Isle, The
Jan Dara
Jealousy is My Middle Name
Joint Security Area
Ju-On: The Grudge (2003)
July Rhapsody
Korban Fitnah
Kung Fu Hustle
Lan Yu
Last Life in the Universe
Last Samurai, The
Legend of Zu, The
Liang Po Po
Love Letter
Lucky Number
Marry a Rich Man
Me Thao
Medallion, The
Monrak Transistor
Moveable Feast, A
Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.
Musa the Warrior
My Left Eye Sees Ghosts
My Neighbors The Yamadas
My Sassy Girl
Naked Weapon
Name of a River, The
New Police Story
Nobody Knows
Nobody Knows How to be a Film Critic
One Leg Kicking
Perfect Blue
Phone, The
Ping Pong
Pirated Copy
Princess D
River, The
Road Home
Romance of Book and Sword
Runaway Pistol
S Diary
S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine
Scent of Green Papaya
Seoul Raiders
Seventeen Years
Shall We Dance?
Shanghai Knights
Shaolin Soccer
Singapore Gaga
Skywalk is Gone
So-Called Friends
So Close
Someone Special
Song of the Stork
Spider Forest
Spirited Away
Spring Summer Fall Winter Spring
Stories About Love
Storm Riders
Summer Holiday
Sumpah Pontianak
Super Size Me
Surprise Party
Swing Girls
Tale of Two Sisters, A
Tears of the Black Tiger
Teenage Textbook Movie
This Charming Girl
Three: Extremes
Tokyo Raiders
Touch, The
Tree, The
Truth or Dare
Twelve Storeys
Twenty-Four Eyes
Twins Effect
Twins Effect 2
Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors
Visitor Q
Volcano High
Warriors of Heaven and Earth
Way Home, The
Welcome Back Mr McDonald
Wesley's Mysterious File
When I Fall In Love With Both
Wishing Stairs
Wolves Cry Under the Moon
Woman is the Future of Man
Women's Private Parts
World Without Thieves, A
Zombie Dog
A Time to Live A Time to Die
e-mail me




Reviewed by Adrian Sim

Director: Kitano Takeshi
Writing Credits: Kitano Takeshi
Starring: Kanno Miho, Nishijima Hideotoshi, Mihashi Tatsuya
Genre: Drama
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Year released: 2002
Runtime: 114 min
Rating: *1½ (out of four stars)

You may like a film, or you may hate a film, or you may be indifferent to it. How you react probably depends upon several factors, including your personality, your previous experiences, and your current situation. However, when you assess a film, more often than not, you take a stance first, and then you muster all the arguments to support your bias. It is virtually impossible to change your conviction with polemics or logic.

Dolls is a good example where critical receptions tend to be quite polarized. There are those who lavish praise upon it, and then there are the detractors, like myself. Yes, I concede the cinematography is good (not great). Sad to say, Dolls struck me more as an excuse for Kitano’s perpetuation of visual calisthenics (think Hana-Bi and Kikujiro).

In terms of narrative, Dolls does not offer anything new as its three love stories touch on trite themes of devotion, obsession, and regret. It is a hodgepodge of inadequately developed ideas; the stories are rather shallow and contrived, the characters are poorly developed and the relationships are never fully realized. Of the three love stories, the one involving Sawako and Matsumoto, the "bound beggars", is the most promising. It is rife with mysticism. However, the chemistry between the two leads is sorely lacking, especially in the scenes of reminiscence.

There are some laughable "symbolic" scenes that seem to be trying too hard to call attention to themselves. One such scene involves a yakuza boss’ murder. In that scene, a sequence of shots suggesting the yakuza boss’ assassination is immediately followed by a static shot of a maple leaf descending into a pond. My understanding is the "redness" of the maple leaf signifies the "bloodied" assassination attempt. This montage of shots just came across as gratingly self-referential. Another example would be the cross fading of the fan’s face in the shot where cleaners are brushing off the obsessed fan’s bloodstains on the roadside.

Director Kitano could have synthesized the love stories more covertly, instead of relying on boisterous semiotics and epochal coincidences to string the already drab stories. A film that gets it right in this aspect is Cheng Wen Tang's Somewhere Over The Dreamland. In that film, although both the stories and aesthetics are kept spare, both aspects are not compromised. The spare aesthetics leavens the story as much as the spare story leavens the aesthetics. The "spareness" leaves a lot of room for the viewers' imagination and that approach is certainly intriguing. Thus, there is a consistent underlying "mysticism" in the Somewhere’s narrative.

The same can't be said for Dolls. The overt "look-at-me" aesthetics tend to override the lumpish stories. Worse still, the odd use of stark realism, i.e. the bloodbath involving the yakuza shootout, further de-emphasizes the supposed allegorical tone of Dolls. Are we supposed to believe that lovelorn couples behave like the "bound beggars" in "real" life, e.g. bound together by a red rope, donning "imaginary" bunraku costumes and walking aimlessly? Even if the story of the "bound beggars" is allegorical, then what do we make of the allusions to the other starkly realistic stories? The "bound beggars" story could have stood by itself and been developed further.

Although some found Dolls’ minimalist romanticism moving, I found Dolls neither entirely minimalist nor romantically moving. It is precariously gaudy (non-minimalist) in the visual department but minimally plotted, acted, characterized and paced. To me, Dolls is just a vacant pretty-looking picture that neglects to develop content and strives too hard on the aesthetics, to the detriment of the whole. Dolls’ sole redeeming factor is probably its newfangled approach to the above-mentioned love themes, i.e. its intertextual reference(s) to the bunraku play.

Note: The whole Dolls affair appear to be stultified by such vastly uneven tones:
1) "reality" vs. "allegory" -> a confusing mix of both
2) "story" vs. "aesthetics" -> too much of the latter...