Shentonista Recommends — Films for November

Life is about change. In these films, we follow characters through changes both big and small, be it gradual change that takes place over years, or becoming someone else entirely. If you’re looking for a new perspective, check out these recommendations from the team.

200 Pounds Beauty — 2006

Genre: Romantic comedy
Director: Kim Yong-hwa
Cast: Kim Ah-joong, Joo Jin-mo, Sung Dong-il, Kim Hyun-sook

Plot Summary: The overweight Hanna moonlights as a phone sex chat operator, but is actually a gifted ghost singer for Ammy, a famous and svelte but untalented popstar who demeans Hanna for her weight. Hanna has a crush on Sang-jun, who is a director and the heir to the entertainment company they work in. When Hanna discovers that not only are her affections unrequited, but that his friendship with her is only because of her value to the company, she attempts suicide, but is interrupted by one of her regular customers on the phone sex chat line, a renowned plastic surgeon. Wanting a shot at a new life, she persuades him to perform head-to-toe surgery on her. After a year spent in recovery, Hanna returns under a new name, beautiful, slender, and determined to succeed both professionally and romantically—as long as she manages to keep her true identity under wraps.

Why we liked it: This simple and lighthearted rom-com is a Cinderella story updated for 21st-century Korea. Whether as the underdog pre-surgery or as the rising star post-operation, Hanna is a thoroughly likeable and relatable character whom it is easy to root for. Though it is a major plot point, the film’s message is not that plastic surgery is a solution to life’s problems; rather, Hanna’s new appearance is just a crutch that helped her gain self-confidence and for others to see her as she truly is. The laughs come readily, especially during the various scenes where Ammy, Sang-jun and others come dangerously close to uncovering her true identity. Though it has been more than a decade since the film’s release, its commentary on the harshness of show business in Korea and outward-appearance-versus-inner-beauty warrants another viewing, even without taking its entertainment value into account.

Watch the trailer here.

5 Centimetres per Second — 2007

Genre: Drama/Animation
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Cast (voiced by): Kenji Mizuhashi, Yoshimi Kondo, Ayaka Onoue, Satori Hanamura

Plot Summary: Set in three acts, 5 Centimetres per Second follows the life of Takaki Tono over two decades. When he first befriends Akari Shinohara in elementary school, the two quickly grow close, and while they continue to keep in touch by writing letters, the distance proves insurmountable, and they gradually drift apart. In the third act, Takaki, now in his late 20s, continues to pine for Akari, causing him to neglect everything else, from his job to his present relationship.

Why we liked it: The film makes us think about the nature of communication, especially in the ’90’s and early 2000’s, before the widespread use of computers and when physical distance was often the deciding factor in the longevity of most relationships, platonic or otherwise. The recurrent themes of loss and longing are drawn out subtly without being melodramatic, and the scenes are beautifully animated.

Watch the trailer here.

Whip It — 2009

Genre: Drama/Comedy
Director: Drew Barrymore
Cast: Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis, Drew Barrymore

Plot Summary: Stuck in small-town Bodeen, Texas, Bliss Cavendar is struggling to fit in in high school. Outside of her part-time job at a diner and taking part in beauty pageants at the behest of her mother, a former beauty queen, she has no direction in life. On a shopping trip with her mother, she discovers roller derby and is captivated, jumping headfirst into this new world. She discovers she is surprisingly talented at roller derby, with new friends and something to fight for.

Why we liked it: Whip It walks a fine line between a sports movie and a coming-of-age drama while deftly avoiding the oft-repeated tropes in both. While there is a romantic interest for Bliss, the arc their story follows is not that which you’d find in a typical teenage romance, and in fact her own journey of self-discovery comes first, which audiences will find refreshing. That said, Whip It also defies common expectations of typical sports films—there are no melodramatic turns and twists, and the game scenes are filled with well-executed surprises, making them all the more exciting to most audiences for whom roller derby is not a familiar sport.

Watch the trailer here.

Chef — 2014

Genre: Drama/Comedy
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr.

Plot Summary: Despite running the kitchen of one of the most popular fine dining restaurants in Brentwood, California, chef Carl Casper is in a creative rut. After a scathing review by a prominent food critic and a public meltdown leaves him disgraced and with nowhere to turn, he embarks on a road trip with his young son Percy, along the way starting up a food truck business and re-discovering his love for cooking.

Why we liked it: In order to bring his vision to life, director and star Favreau brought on renowned chef Roy Choi as a co-producer and technical advisor, and shadowed Choi in his restaurants to gain perspective on kitchen work, as well as to learn the ins and outs of the food business. His attention to detail and dedication has clearly paid off in the form of cooking scenes which are realistic and thoroughly enjoyable, without any of the grand, over-the-top flourishes common to other food films. Parallel to the road trip is the gradual warming of the parent-child relationship between Carl and Percy, whom he has long neglected due to his work. The awkward dynamic between the two at the beginning is also explored and the rift between them is palpable, thanks to young co-star Emjay Anthony’s portrayal  of Percy as disaffected and distant.

Watch the trailer here.

The Florida Project — 2017

Genre: Drama
Director: Sean Baker
Cast: Brooklynn Prince, Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera

Plot Summary: Just near Walt Disney World in Florida, the Magic Castle is a budget motel that is home to many drifters and poor people. Among the motel’s residents are six-year-old Moonee and her young single mother Halley, who drifts through odd jobs in a continuous attempt to make a living. Moonee spends her days wandering around the property and having fun with her friends, children of the other residents who call the motel home.

Why we liked it: The film is an honest and empathetic look into the lives of people on the fringes of society. Stylistically beautiful, the film has many scenes saturated with warm pastel hues that would barely be out of place in a Wes Anderson or Disney film. Another small stroke of genius: “The Florida Project” was the original title for Walt Disney World, and is also a nod to America’s ‘projects’: dense clusters of housing typically in impoverished neighbourhoods. This is just one example of the quiet brilliance that underscores this film, underlining the irony of how the characters eke out a living somewhere that is just neighbouring the quintessential wonderland, and yet is a world away.

Watch the trailer here.

Have a film you’d like to recommend? We’d love to know—leave a comment below, or write in to hello@shentonista.sg.

Image credits:
200 Pounds Beauty
5 Centimetres per Second
Whip It
Chef
The Florida Project

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