Tuesday, March 14, 2023

HBO's The Last Of Us: From Game To TV (by Atty)

HBO's game to TV adaptation series The Last Of Us is a rare beast. The 9-episode live action series is an engrossing odyssey of survival during an apocalypse when humankind is rapidly being infested by a type of cordeyceps fungus.

Just like in the game created by Naughty Dog, the show's viewers follow the journey of a weary man named Joel (Pedro Pascal) and snarky teenager Ellie (Bella Ramsey) as they travel to a revolutionary militia group called The Fireflies. Ellie is immune from the fungus' effects, and the Fireflies are supposed to be able to create a vaccine with Ellie's help. While making their way through the ruined landscape of the US, Joel and Ellie fight off dangerous people as well as the infested, also known as clickers.

There have been several attempts to adapt popular game franchises to live action shows, but most of these endeavours never quite hit the mark. Live action adaptations like Resident Evil and The Halo lacked compelling storylines, and were not able to create the sense of urgency or horror you get when you are playing the games. One of the better adaptations is Netflix's The Witcher, which has managed to please most fans - at least for the first season. Fan favourite Henry Cavill's screen presence as main character Geralt of Rivia has helped make the show somewhat bingeworthy.

For most cases, Red Dot Diva thinks game adaptations fare better if they are animation shows, with Netflix's Arcane (based on Riot Games' League of Legends) at the top of her list. With its engrossing story and gorgeous animation by French company Studio Fortiche, Arcane is a must-watch.

Back to the topic of The Last Of Us series, Season 1 ended in the same bloody and emotional moral quandary as Part 1 of the game. The show racked up acclaim for the cast's performance and production values when the first couple of episodes aired, so HBO has already green-lit the post-apocalyptic drama for a second season.

Red Dot Diva's geek gal pal Atty, who is a gamer, gives her thoughts on why the series works as live action adaptation. Check out her write-up below:


Thoughts on why the HBO adaptation works.

When I first heard that HBO was adapting The Last Of Us into a show, I was skceptical. Video game adaptations, especially movies, have had a reputation for not being well-made (I will, however, admit my everlasting love for 1994’s Street Fighter).

Various factors come into play: sometimes, it’s the odd casting choice, like Jake Gyllenhaal playing Prince Dastan in Prince of Persia. Other times, it’s because screenwriters decide to stray away from the source material itself, resulting in a creation devoid of what made it enjoyable in the first place. Nevertheless, I went ahead and gave The Last Of Us a shot. Why? Because I absolutely love the game and because most HBO shows have a track record of being *Tony the Tiger voice* greeaaaaaat!

I’m happy to say that The Last Of Us was fantastic. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey were both phenomenal as Joel and Ellie.

By having Neil Druckmann, the game’s original writer-director onboard, the show was able to retain the heart of the game and at the same time, gave us more. It reminded me of manga-to-anime adaptations, where each scene seemed to have been taken out of the manga shot-for-shot, and then you have filler episodes where you can get to know more about the characters. In The Last Of Us, these filler episodes were ones where they gave heart to characters like Bill and Frank (who was only mentioned briefly in the game), and gave more context to why Ellie is immune to the cordyceps.

Essentially, it’s not about adding new things just for shock value, it’s about bringing a piece of media—in this case, a very successful video game—to a new audience and not changing much of the original so that you’ll get the same reaction from new viewers as you did from video gamers.

Most importantly, they understood what needed to be done: Don’t fix what ain’t broke.

Speaking of adaptations, check out my review of Season 2 of Netflix’s The Witcher.


View one of teasers for The Last Of Us below:

For those in Asia (selected territories), you can still stream The Last Of Us via HBO Go.

Have you played The Last Of Us games before? What did you think of Season 1 of the HBO series?

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Interview With Actor-Producer Jonathan Cheong About Award-Winning Action Short Film Bullet For Vengeance

At the age of 26, local actor-producer-action director Jonathan Cheong not only owns a film company called Raging Fire Productions, he already has a couple of award-winning action short films under this belt. Jonathan played a conflicted hitman in his 2021 film “Deadlock”, and he was awarded Best Actor at the World Film Carnival Singapore (WFCS) for the role. “Deadlock” also won Outstanding Crime Film and Best Outstanding Director for Samuel Delitans Lee at WFCS, and was selected for seven international film festivals.

Fueled by his passion for action genre films and ardent admiration for veteran martial arts actor Donnie Yen, Jonathan consistently puts in time and effort to hone his craft. His latest Raging Fire Productions offering entitled “Bullet For Vengeance” is an action thriller about the personal feud between between a criminal and a police inspector over a shooting gone wrong. The short film written and directed by Raphael Lim, stars Jonathan Cheong, Gary Gan, Johanna Van, Agnes Goh and Kris Mavericko.

To date, “Bullet For Vengeance” has clinched an impressive total of 8 Awards, 8 Official Sections and 7 Special Mentions at the local and international film festival circuit. This includes Best Cinematography by Benny Tan at the World Film Carnival Singapore (WFCS), Best Supporting Actor awarded to Kris Mavericko and Best Supporting Actress to Agnes Goh at the Golden Reel International Film Festival (Massachusetts, USA).

Ahead of the official release of “Bullet For Vengeance” for the general international audience, Red Dot Diva grabbed hold of Jonathan Cheong to ask him some nosy questions:

Red Dot Diva (RDD): What was your inspiration for “Bullet For Vengeance”?
Jonathan: Besides the love for the action genre, my inspiration for “Bullet for Vengeance” was because of my hero and role model, Donnie Yen. As someone whom is heavily inspired by him, I have always wanted to make a film expressing all my love for his more modern contemporary action cop films like “SPL”, “Flash Point”, “Special ID” and “Raging Fire”. It is also to thank him indirectly & to show how much inspiration he has over my career. This is however not a Donnie Yen fan film, but rather a film inspired by him.

Red Dot Diva (RDD): What were the first steps you took to put this film project in motion?
Jonathan: I approached Raphael Lim (director of the film) back in January 2021 to talk about making a film together. I knew Raphael back in 2020 when he was one of the crew members of the Star Wars Fan film, “Legend of Hope”, and at that time, Raphael spoke about potentially working together someday. After meeting up for a discussion, we then decided to script a project that would allow Raphael to creatively express his directorial flow and for myself to be able to express the way I want to. Which in this case, is to action direct a film that is inspired Donnie Yen’s fight scenes. Raphael then came up with the script that would encompass both our creative desires.

Red Dot Diva (RDD): Is it difficult to find funding for making short action films like these? Did you manage to stay within budget?
Jonathan: I would say that it generally depends on your direction and what you would want out of it. I know some go through a crowdfunding route, while some seek for private funding. But it all depends on the individual, and it also depends on which organisation or association you are seeking funding from. For myself, because my films are made mostly due to my passion, it is usually self-funded. This is because I do not have the ideas and direction adjusted to accommodate external factors. But, even more so, a major reason is that generally, “action” films are still not a very widely accepted genre currently here in Singapore. Therefore, you can say it is a fight against status quo and pushing the boundaries. I am nonetheless still moving towards the goal of funding opportunities or sponsorship some day for my future film projects. We managed to stay on course for the film's budget for “Bullet for Vengeance”. It is a shared cost between myself, Raphael and Benny, who provided the majority of the film equipment. We stayed below budget for the entire film without having to compromise anything, and for that, we were very pleased about it.
Red Dot Diva (RDD): That's pretty impressive. Good job!

Red Dot Diva (RDD): The last we had a chat, you were a guest on my Live with Red Dot Diva livestream in 2021. How have you improved your craft as an actor and fight choreographer since then?
Jonathan: I guess with anything in relation to the arts, like martial arts, or fight choreography in this case, it is always a work in progress. You can never stop improving yourself and continue to learn. As an actor, I am always taking up acting gigs whenever I can. With regards to stunts and fight choreography, I would say that I took up more martial arts classes, and am training more constantly, even before I had the idea for this film. Besides, I got to learn even more, and add to the arsenal of knowledge I had after getting accepted into a local stunt team.

Red Dot Diva (RDD): And, do you have a mentor?
Jonathan: Yes I do. His name is none other than Douglas Kung. Some of you might recognise him from “It’s a Small World, 国记交易所”, the hit Mediacorp Channel 8 variety show hosted by Mark Lee. Kung played the Hong Kong student. What most people do not actually know is that he is also an action director & stunt coordinator. He has been choreographing stunts for over 40 years, both in Hong Kong and Singapore. In fact, he has been heavily involved in stunts for our local TV station since the early 1990s. I met him in 2021 when he decided to form a stunt team recruiting a younger generationof stunt men, and I was one of the first two who followed him at the start. Our stunt team is called, “Kung-Yote Action Team” and I have been following him to do stunts mainly for Channel 8 dramas since. Kung, along with some of my stunt team members, were also doing the stunt coordination and safety for “Bullet for Vengeance”.

Red Dot Diva (RDD): Those who know you are aware that you are a huge Donnie Yen fan. Have you ever met your action film hero in real life?
Jonathan: Yes I did. Twice. Once in 2019 when he was in town to promote “Ip Man 4” and the second was most recent in January when he was in town to promote his latest wuxia movie, “Sakra”. The first time I ever asked him for an autograph in 2019, he rejected me due to the amount of crowd then but just as fate planned it out, he signed an autograph for me during his meet & greet here in Vivo city. I was truly nerding out so badly and I wish I could meet him in person again but this time round, to thank him for changing my life.

Red Dot Diva (RDD): I see that “Bullet For Vengeance” has been won awards at a few local and international film festivals, like the Tokyo Film Festival (Japan), Golden Reel International Film Festival (Massachusetts, USA) and World Film Carnival Singapore. Congrats!! How did you get the completed project into the international film festival circuit?
Jonathan: Thank you so much. I submitted the film out through a film festival platform, which shows all the film festivals happening around the world. I have submitted my past films to some of these festivals before, so I also make a judgement based on my own research and experiences for which festival would be best suited for “Bullet for Vengeance”.

Red Dot Diva (RDD): What are your aspirations concerning your film-making endeavours?
Jonathan: I hope I will be able to produce more action films in the future. I hope that one day, these projects will help bring Singapore action cinema to a standard worthy of drawing an international audience, much like those produced in Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand. These are some countries which have made quality action films that have wowed audiences around the world. I also really hope that more Singaporeans will enjoy and support our locally-made action films, so that there will be a higher chance that our action films will make their mark internationally.

Red Dot Diva (RDD): When will “Bullet For Vengeance” be released so your action-loving movie fans can get to watch it?
Jonathan: The official film trailer is set for release on 12 March 2023 on the Raging Fire Youtube channel. The film itself will be officially released on 19 March 2023. So, stay tuned on my social media sites! You can follow me on Instagram @Jcheong97, and subscribe to my productions channel, Raging Fire Productions on Youtube. By the way, you can also watch all of my produced action films there. You can also follow my productions Raging Fire Productions Instagram account. I hope the audience will enjoy it!
Red Dot Diva (RDD): Oh, and we also have something special for our local geeks coming up on the last week of March, isn't it?
Jonathan: Yes, we do!! There will be something interesting happening with Red Dot Diva. So, do look out for the announcement right after the film's release date!

Check out the teaser trailer here:

To prepare for this interview, Red Dot Diva was given the chance to catch an early preview of “Bullet for Vengeance”. In just about 16.5 minutes, the thriller manages to pack in both an emotional story and well-staged fight sequences. It is an exciting and laudable piece of work by Jonathan, Raphael and their team.

Getting traction for local films internationally is always tough, but after watching “Bullet for Vengeance”, Red Dot Diva thinks that perhaps there is hope for locally made action films after all. So, show your support, and don't forget to catch the film when it premieres online on 19 March 2023!

Friday, March 3, 2023

Diva's Movie Review: Missing Is A Riveting And Twisty Screenlife Thriller

Sony Pictures' Missing is the next installment of their critically acclaimed 2018 screenlife film, Searching. In this film genre (also know as desktop films), the audience is led through a series of events which unfolds mostly in front of a computer screen or smartphone. Directed by Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick, and a screenplay by Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian (the creators of Searching), Missing is not a direct sequel to older film, but it does follow the same formula. To its benefit, Missing manages to supercede its predecessor with a tauter and twistier thriller, and a touching mother-daughter relationship.

In Searching, Daniel Kim (John Cho) is a frantic father looking desperately for his missing teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La) via her online activities. The situation is somewhat reversed in Missing, with June (Storm Reid), a Gen Z teenager trying to trace the whereabouts of her mother Grace (Nia Long).

June has been sulky and emotionally distant from her widowed mother recently. She had lost her Dad since she was a toddler, and as Father's Day approaches, June is still trying to cope with her sense of loss. Grace, on the other hand, has been feeling lonely all these years. After getting close to her new boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung), the couple decides to travel to Columbia for their first romantic holiday together.

Grace instructs June to pick them up at LAX a week later. However, neither Grace nor Kevin turns up at the airport, and Grace is not responding to June's phone messages. Trusting her own instincts, June knows that something has gone awry, and makes urgent calls to the police, the FBI, foreign embassy (featuring a very yummy Daniel Henney as Agent Elijah Park) as well as her mother's close friend Heather (Amy Landecker). Unfortunately, they all not able to provide many useful clues as to where her mother is.

Time is running out, so June digs in and, with the help of her bestie Veena (Megan Suri), she embarks on her own investigation by using her digital know-how and all the tech arsenal available to her, including social media posts, Google maps, travel sites, location tracking, live cam directories, and dating apps. In a rather clever move, she even connects with Columbian errand runner Javi Ramos (Joaquim de Almeida) through a GoNinja app, who also provides her with some much needed 'fatherly' advice and support.

The more information June unearths from Grace's digital footprints, the more shocking secrets about her mother's life are revealed. It goes to show that no matter how close you think you are with your parents, they may not want to tell you everything that has happened or is going on in their lives. The situation gets even more urgent when June finds out who Kevin really is.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg of how and why Grace went missing. As June cracks another new password, or finds more hidden emails and distressing messages, the story takes you to many twists and turns before the mystery is solved in the last act.

Even though Missing's whodunnit is told primarily through the medium of digital screens, and that June's laptop camera is switched on almost all the time (who does that?!), Red Dot Diva found the movie to be riveting and immersive. The thriller kept her on the edge of her seat, as it hurtles along at an intense, breakneck speed - thanks to skillful film editing, a well-crafted script and familiar visuals of the apps and websites.

Lead actress Storm Reid (whom was last seen as Riley in the HBO's The Last Of Us latest episode) is compelling and likeable as a smart ass teenager born of the digital age. Her heartfelt portrayal of June's testy relationship with her Mom draws you in, and their bond becomes the emotional centre of the movie.

Missing is a cautionary tale about the current digital age. Most of us live our lives online, and the amount of information we expose about ourselves every day makes us as vulnerable as the characters on screen. If you want a crash course on cyber-stalking, Missing may be it. (Do not use your birthday as a password, people!) It also makes Red Dot Diva wonder what kind of digital traces will be left when she shuffles off from his mortal coil. Will people get a sense of her personality, or what she only chooses to disclose? But there is one thing that still continues to haunt Red Dot Diva after watching the movie: Should she leave her Google/ smartphone location tracking on, or off?

Check out the trailer for Missing:

Missing has premiered on 2 March 2023, and is now showing at local theatres. It is rated PG-13.

PS: There are Easter Eggs on Searching and Run. Hope you spotted them!