Turning Red (2022)

The full list of my favourite films of 2022 is here but I’m posting fuller reviews of my favourites. There aren’t too many animated films in there, because I don’t go to so many of those anymore, which it turns out is fine because Disney is barely making an effort to get them into cinemas, so most need to be watched via their streaming service. Hence this one, which I gave a shot to because it seemed to come from a more interesting perspective than fairytale princesses, and it is indeed very lovely.


It’s somewhat sad to me that Pixar films are so rarely nowadays shown in cinemas, because the attention to detail in the design and the animation that shows in films like this, or the previous year’s Soul, deserve the big screen but instead we have to subscribe to Disney+, which somehow lessens them. It also leads to factoids like it being the biggest money loser for a cinematic release (even though I’m fairly certain it was barely placed in any cinemas worldwide).

However, Turning Red still strikes me as one of the better recent crop of animated films, which both tells a discernable story from a specific perspective (a young girl from a Chinese background growing up in Toronto, voiced by Rosalie Chiang), but makes it both metaphorically rich and also cartoonishly cute at the same time. A lot of elements feel familiar from any coming of age/high school American movie, with its cliques of friends and confected schoolyard drama, but there’s a real strength to its focus on the setting, the details of the family temple such that even the supernatural plot twist (and I think the posters and marketing make it fairly clear that a large anthropomorphic red panda is involved) feels grounded in an authentic expression of familial ties and Chinese-Canadian culture.

Turning Red (2022) posterCREDITS
Director Domee Shi 石之予; Writers Julia Cho, Shi and Sarah Streicher; Cinematographers Mahyar Abousaeedi and Jonathan Pytko; Starring Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh 오미주, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Ava Morse, James Hong 吳漢章; Length 100 minutes.
Seen at home (Disney+ streaming), Wellington, 2 July 2022.

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

Hello! It’s been a while since I posted a non-Criterion review on this site, so let’s jump back in. Cinemas may now be (more) open in certain parts of the world, but home streaming is still A Thing, and probably… always will be? Well, time will tell, but here’s another week of “random stuff I’ve watched on Netflix” because it’s still the most popular option.


I’d watched the first two instalments (several years ago) and honestly couldn’t remember much of the plot. I wrote little capsule reviews at the time, but they’re not much longer than a sentence and barely convey any information beyond “it was quite fun”. Then again, it’s been a day or two and I don’t remember much of the plot of this one either now, so I don’t think that’s really the key to the trilogy and won’t affect your enjoyment. Basically, it’s about our rotund hero Po (voiced by Jack Black) ‘finding himself’ and discovering his powers and his empathy as part of a quest to defeat a legendary big bad guy, Kai (J.K. Simmons), who has just managed to return to the mortal realm. Po has his buddies and he has his antagonists, and I’m not sure the plot itself is particularly deep but it’s also fairly blandly positive so I can’t really fault it for that, but it’s a good excuse to get together some cute characters and show off the fine animation skills of the DreamWorks artists. I do raise my eyebrows somewhat at the writing team for this China-set film, along with getting notably non-Asian actors to voice some of these characters (Dustin Hoffman as an elderly sage called “Master Shifu”??), especially when they are called on to do an accent — but Jack Black at least isn’t doing that and isn’t really intended to be anyone but himself, and he and the filmmakers make it a likeable enough ride and an excellent conclusion to the trilogy.

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)CREDITS
Directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson 여인영 and Alessandro Carloni; Writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger; Starring Jack Black, J.K. Simmons, Bryan Cranston, James Hong 吳漢章, Dustin Hoffman; Length 95 minutes.
Seen at home (Netflix streaming), Wellington, Saturday 3 July 2021.

Safe (2012)

I’ve not yet seen enough Statham movies to discern the particular mechanics by which he has acceded to action film superhero status — aside obviously from his competence at fight choreography — but comparing this film to the recent Homefront suggests that being a father figure to young, life-hardened but yet vulnerable girls is part of his persona. In Safe, for example, he has to protect Mei (Catherine Chan) from a triple threat of Chinese triads, Russian mafia and corrupt New York cops. The script, also by director Boaz Yakin, is hardly going to win any plaudits for its sensitive portrayal of New York’s criminal underbelly, but then the action film genre is hardly the place to do this. Instead, what the film has is plenty of taut, well-directed and well-staged action sequences — which at least puts it ahead of the aforementioned Homefront — and some small but touching hints at vulnerability on the part of Statham and his pre-adolescent charge.

Statham here portrays Luke, an ex-cop now reduced to violent cage fights, who finds his life turned upside-down when he botches one such fight that he was supposed to throw. Pretty soon his (unseen) pregnant wife is murdered and he’s on the run from a vengeful Russian mafia boss. Meanwhile, in a parallel story, young maths whiz Mei is kidnapped by triad boss Han Jiao (the venerable James Hong) to assist him in his criminal enterprises. She does a bit of, you know, mathematics and stuff, to prove her capability, but her chief function in the film is to remember a number which, it is implied, holds the key to all of Han Jiao’s not inconsiderable fortune — it’s not clear exactly how, or why, or… I mean… seriously, WHAT EVEN IS GOING ON with her special superpowers — but that’s beside the point. What’s important is that as a result of her knowledge, she now becomes the target of the aforementioned Russians, quickly joined by corrupt NYPD Captain Wolf (Robert John Burke), and when Mei escapes it brings her into contact with Luke, and etc. etc. you get the gist.

As I hope you can tell, it’s all really a bit silly just how this young girl can be the key to everyone’s fortunes, but she doesn’t really need to bear the weight of convincing us all of this tortuous plotting (since who could really believe it), meaning the youthful Chan does well with what she has to do. Statham, though, has to convince as a man down on his luck who finds meaning in protecting Mei, and this he does rather well. It’s a touching scene when the two meet, as Luke is at his lowest point, lurking on a subway platform contemplating suicide to escape the dark and despairing world he’s been drawn into. Beyond that, Burke (best known for playing oligarch Bart Bass in teen TV melodrama Gossip Girl) is effective as the oleaginously creepy Cpt Wolf, while James Hong brings gravitas to his bad guy as he always does.

Getting invested in all the twists and turns of the plot is not so much the point, as the way everything is put together. I was only previously familiar with director Boaz Yakin from his film Fresh (1994), a well-wrought coming-of-age-in-the-‘hoods story partly drawn from his own experience and which, it turns out, is a rather singular work in his otherwise fairly action-oriented filmography. What this means is that while he can effectively bring some serious dramatic pathos where required, he’s also got the chops to nimbly execute a good explosive action setpiece, of which there are plenty. Nothing here feels out of place or ridiculous, it’s a generic story told without condescension by a group of actors who are equal to the material. That can sometimes count for something.

Safe film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Boaz Yakin בועז יכין; Cinematographer Stefan Czapsky; Starring Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Robert John Burke, James Hong 吳漢章, Chris Sarandon; Length 90 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Friday 27 December 2013.