Connect with us
Minami Hamabe as Yumeko Jabami in Kakegurui - Photo Credit: GAGA International Sales Minami Hamabe as Yumeko Jabami in Kakegurui - Photo Credit: GAGA International Sales

Film

Fantasia 2020: Kakegurui is a Flashy Joyride, Cult Classic (Review)

Photo Credit: GAGA International Sales

Published

on

Kakegurui is dripping with personality, its ‘gambling meets private school’ premise an instant conversation piece. Actress Minami Hamabe shines as calculated, seemingly reckless gambler, Yumeko Jabami. While Murasame’s [Hio Miyazawa] struggle to never gamble again, shows the low points of moralistic Solipsism when faced with external stimuli. When you take the higher ground all the time, there’s nowhere to go but down…

This impressions review contains spoilers to the live-action film adaption of Kakegurui. The film screened at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival.

Kakegurui leaps into its high stakes rollercoaster immediately from curtain open, no waiting around for long winded narratives, the way a good bet should be. Instant gratification. The film introduces a private high school where students either gamble away their lives with a misplaced wager or prosper off the misery of others by reigning victorious. In Kakegurui’s ultra capitalistic hierarchal system, for someone to enjoy immense wealth and a great life, someone else must sit at their heel.

Students that gamble and lose, sit in debt, while being humiliated by their classmates as servile “Doggies” & “Kitties” (as they’re called in the film). They find themselves working under the boot of their richer & higher status superiors, while being mocked for it. A subtle allegory to current society perhaps, and a cruel twist of fate. Or Lady Luck, depending on how you look at it.

There is no ‘fairness’ in Kakegurui, in fact, one character named Itsuki Sumeragi [Ruka Matsuda] pays her peers to let her win and buys student electoral votes. Sumeragi even has a pricey humanoid robot as her partner, showing that those who came with means to the school have a clear advantage. Circumstances do not reset to zero upon admission and this has a linear impact on the student’s success in Kakegurui. Even the odds can be shaped in one’s favor through various means of manipulation, either through currency or deceit.

Minami Hamabe as Yumeko Jabami in Kakegurui - Photo Credit: GAGA International Sales

Minami Hamabe as Yumeko Jabami in Kakegurui – Photo Credit: GAGA International Sales

The system is mostly unfettered and runs unrestricted outside of the whims of Student Council President Kirari Momobami [Elaiza Ikeda]. Who did a great job of portraying the school’s sophisticated, untouchable queen bee, reminiscent of Erina Nakiri on anime series Food Wars!

Those that abstain from gambling in life, end up doing so indirectly

For every standard bearing culture and pecking order, there’s a counter culture brewing by those disfranchised by their position in the hierarchy. Enter ‘The Village’ a group of students led by Jueri Arukibi [Haruka Fukuhara], a cult-like group dressed all in white who’ve declared abstinence from gambling. Arukibi attempts to recruit the best gambler on campus (outside of the Student Council’s President), Yumeko Jabami to their cause, an important point later in the film. Arukiba promises to rescue those who’ve fallen prey to their gambling debts, shielding them through sheer number against their ‘debtors’ inside ‘The Village’. Wearing all white Arukiba appears to be morally righteous at first.

The Village’s true leader however is Amane Murasame, who secretly once defeated the Student Council President Kirari Momobami and left gambling behind. Murasame’s driving force was his sister’s debts, which he wiped clean with a victory against Kirari but it was not enough to save his sister from her own shame. She jumps off a staircase with Murasame desperately trying to grab her, falling himself. Murasume receives a permanent scar from the event.

Yumeko Jabami goes into a confessional-like area to prod Murasame to return to gambling during a visit to The Village but he stays silent. The wildly unpredictable Yumeko Jabami comments earnestly that all she wants is some good desserts in the school cafeteria. That it is ‘such a shame a fine school would have such mediocre desserts’, one of the only times in the film Murasame smiles.

Minami Hamabe as Yumeko Jabami in Kakegurui and Hio Miyazawa as Amane Murasame - Photo Credit: GAGA International Sales

Minami Hamabe as Yumeko Jabami in Kakegurui and Hio Miyazawa as Amane Murasame – Photo Credit: GAGA International Sales

The Student Council decrees new elections through a combination of votes and gambling duels to those seeking power. While at the same time, threatening to throw a wrecking ball at The Village. Forced eviction. Thus, The Village has two choices, go down as pacifists, or gamble to change the culture and direction of their school by gaining power themselves. In Murasame’s words, he would just become another kind of monster should he gain power.

Eventually however, he comes to Arukiba’s ‘rescue’ fearing The Village will be destroyed without his intervention. Only to be betrayed in one of the film’s biggest twists. Arukiba, who loses to a game of Blackjack to Kirari (21) at the onset of Kakegurui, was intentionally throwing their paired game against Yumeko Jabami and her plucky, always worried sidekick Ryota Suzui [Mahiro Takasugi]. Arukiba believed humiliating Murasame in front of Kirari would win her favor… But Jabami accurately saw the move as cheating the thrill of gambling, deciding to play to lose herself to nullify it. Murasame takes the ultimate victory and with the blank life slate/book, writes Yumeko Jabami’s wish for better desserts as his only wish.

Minami Hamabe as Yumeko Jabami is a definitive highlight

Actress Minami Hamabe is exceptionally charming as Yumeko Jabami, frankly taking the spotlight of every scene she’s in. It’s of no surprise there’s already a 2021 sequel in the works for Kakegurui because Minami Hamabe can carry this live-action adaption of the franchise to new heights. Excellent facial expressions, a lot of likeability factor you can’t teach in acting class. Minami’s high point comes with a monologue to Murasume about no one ever actually wanting to be ‘saved.’ That there would be no fun in having someone else have that level of control in your life.

Yuma Yamoto as Jun Kiwatari was also a standout in the film, doing a lot of physical acting, noticeably advanced body language work when he’s on-screen. He added a lot of humor to Kakegurui.

Keep in mind… Kakegurui is quite faithful to an anime structure on-screen, meaning there are some exaggerated mannerisms by some characters. Depending on if you’re a fan of Anime, you’ll either see it as entertaining or overacting.

Kakegurui’s appeal is in its Japanese presentation and flashy style. From the clothes, sets, art style to even actress Yurika Nakamura (Sayaka Igarashi) saying “Open” a certain way at every card set.

Conclusion:

If you’re looking for a fresh premise with a twist, are a gambling aficionado, and constantly in-motion, high stakes entertainment. Kakegurui is a sure bet. A cult classic in the making.

Minami Hamabe as Yumeko Jabami on Kakegurui Film Poster - Photo Credit: GAGA International Sales

Minami Hamabe as Yumeko Jabami on Kakegurui Film Poster – Photo Credit: GAGA International Sales

– Follow the film @kakegurui_jp on Twitter and visit the official website, kakegurui.jp to learn more about the film. The film is directed by Tsutomu Hanabusa and distributed worldwide by GAGA Corporation.

– Follow lead actress Minami Hamabe on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and her official website.


– Learn more about the films that screened at Fantasia International Film Festival 2020 at this link. Kakegurui screened at Fantasia Fest 2020 on August 26th at 19:00.

Be sure to read Fantasia Fest 2020: Tezuka’s Barbara is a stylish, decadent elixir of dystopian cool (Review) and more coverage of Fantasia Fest at The Natural Aristocrat®’s Fantasia International Film Festival 2020 section.

Comments

Film

Marc Menchaca on Alone: ‘Probably, the most physical thing I’ve ever done’ (Interview)

Published

on

Marc Menchaca talks Alone - Jules Wilcox and Marc Menchaca in ALONE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing

Marc Menchaca spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about portraying one of horror’s darkest, colossally twisted villains in Alone and the final, muddied fight being one of the most physically demanding things he’s ever done.

This interview contains spoilers to horror picture, Alone.

The Natural Aristocrat : Your character in Alone caught me off guard a bit because I was so used to Russ Langmore on Ozark. Russ was good natured but troubled, while The Man is pretty much entirely a monster. The sharp contrast was quite jarring. Did you have any outside inspirations for The Man?

Marc Menchaca: They both have some good in ’em! I’m sure elements of other characters were playing subconsciously but I can’t think of something specific off the top of my head. The film had a pretty quick turnaround, so I’d say my inspirations were still within the script.

There’s an intense scene in Alone where The Man is driving and ambushed from behind by Jess. What was it like shooting the scene? Was it primarily a stunt double there?

No, I did all the stunt work in this film outside of one thing. It was definitely intense and it was as fun as can be doing it! The whole film was taxing when it came to the physicality of it. Obviously, the car was controlled as well in that scene. We were able to have a good time with it and thankfully, I didn’t break Jules’ nose or anything in the process.

Jules told The Natural Aristocrat the last fight scene didn’t need any makeup applied, that it was all down in the mud for real. What was it like filming that final climatic 1 on 1 fight between Jessica and The Man?

I think it was probably the most physical thing I’ve ever done. It was raining that day… I’ve never been that muddy in my life, not even as a kid! I remember when I took my coat off at the end it was soaked, it was coated in mud. There was a layer that stripped off. My shoes weighed about 10 pounds a piece and we had these buckets with warm water that we’d place our hands in, in-between takes because it was so cold.

Jules Wilcox in ALONE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

For me, the strongest scene in Alone was when The Man tries to manipulate Robert into believing Jessica is his sister and is having an ‘episode’. Essentially, discrediting Jessica’s story by anchoring it to bipolar disorder. I asked Jules about this moment as well. I was wondering your thoughts, being on the other side of this pivotal scene?

I love that part of the movie because you kind of find out that he’s (The Man) actually a good actor as well. I felt I had to be so convincing in order to get what I wanted. I had to really play that card that she’s actually just off her meds or whatever. I loved that scene in particular. It was just another obstacle to what I needed to get.

Jules Wilcox in ALONE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Why do you feel Jessica doesn’t take the gun when The Man is offering her a chance or perhaps challenging her to take it? Despite being hurt, it seemed like it was Jessica’ only chance at survival at the time.

You know, that’s a good question! I think because I know that she’s hurt… I think there was a moment in there when he was at his breaking point in that scene. The last thing that can happen for him is to be exposed. There very possibly was an element of ‘Just take me now, and I won’t have to deal with it.’

I thought there were some definite Ted Bundy vibes to The Man when his arm is in the sling and you approach Jessica’s car early in the film. Did you watch any documentary or film footage of him for the role?

No, I didn’t. I know who Ted Bundy is and I will say there was obviously an element of Ted Bundy in this. But I can’t really say I watched him in something beforehand.

You mentioned earlier that you feel there was some good in The Man like Russ Langmore on Ozark. Certainly, The Man’s double life gave him some ambiguity in his other ‘real life’ so-to-speak. He was at a loss for words when Jessica turns the tables and dials up his girlfriend. What did you think about the mysterious nature of the character?

I think it worked for the film, I don’t think we needed to know anymore about him other than what we find out in the phone call. Because then the film would become a completely different film instead of focusing on just the chase. Which is what I really like about the movie, that it just kind of boiled down to the barebones would I think it would have become a completely different film. Instead of focusing on just the chase, which is what I really liked about the movie.

It was just kind of boiled down to this barebones film. This is who this guy is, this is who this girl is, and we’re going to show you this chase that happens! I think that was one of the great things about the film, that you got a little bit of information about both of them. Even though that does inform you about who the characters are, the film doesn’t majorly focus on that part of their lives.

Marc Menchaca in ALONE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

I thought the scene where you first captured Jessica and bring her to that basement was one of the most brutal scenes I’ve seen in any horror film. Everything from the one-minute-too-early 911 call to when you tell her to strip and mock her pleading with you… Jessica’s tragedy with her husband. You just get the sense there’s nothing she can do at all, no immediate escape routes. That’s difficult to accomplish properly for any horror film. How did you feel about the way that whole moment?

Jules Wilcox in ALONE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

I feel what happens in the basement is you’re seeing The Man be intimate, it’s another thing for her but that was The Man’s way of intimacy. I think he finds peace in that grotesque manipulation.

Would you like to make a cameo in the last season of Ozark? A flashback maybe?

I’d love to! Put the word out!

Thanks Marc!

Thank you!

Theatrical one-sheet for ALONE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Alone Trailer and Where to watch the Film:

Be sure to follow Marc Menchaca @marcmenchaca and the film’s official account, @AloneMovie, on Twitter!

Alone can be seen now in select theaters and on Video On Demand services. Rent Alone on Amazon today!

Disclosure: TheNaturalAristocrat.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

– Be sure to read more interviews with the entertainment industry’s top talent in The Natural Aristocrat®’s Interviews section.

Continue Reading

Film

Jules Willcox talks Alone, breaking her foot for real in film (Interview)

Published

on

Jules Wilcox in ALONE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing

Jules Willcox spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about portraying Jessica in Alone, one of 2020’s darkest psychological thrillers, and breaking her foot for real during shooting in a reversed ‘life imitates art’ moment.

This interview contains spoilers to horror picture, Alone.

Jules Willcox illuminates Alone with her portrayal of Jessica, a woman forsaken by fate. You never know when you’ll meet the wrong person that sets off internal alarm bells across your chest. When you can’t shake an icy gut feeling about an unsavory individual. What if every cloudy intuition, every ‘don’t talk to strangers’ childhood lesson you ignored ended up being true? Perhaps, no scene in Alone encompasses this better than when Jessica believes her car is being followed by the film’s unknown antagonist and dials 911. She informs the operator it’s a false alarm after the car behind her passes but it wasn’t… Jessica had just dialed a minute too early.

Thus, the audience can easily place themselves into Jessica’s shoes, their worst fears escaping the nightfall jail of their 3 AM nightmares. Forcibly shipwrecked on land via a slashed tire. Only the will to live, to survive, driving Jessica to escape her island, her captivity in an unmarked basement. After all, if you scream in a forest and nobody is around to rescue you, did you really make a sound?

Interview with Jules Willcox:

Jules Wilcox in ALONE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

The Natural Aristocrat : For me, the strongest scene in Alone is post-escape when The Man claims you’re his mentally ill sister and that you’re having ‘another episode’ to a third party. Naturally, the third party (Robert) is confused & unsure who’s telling the truth. There’s so many layers to this twisted interaction. It’s a commentary about society not explicitly believing those perceived to have bipolar disorder or otherwise. As if the label disqualifies their credibility instantly. What was it like shooting that moment?

Jules Willcox: It shows how manipulative Marc’s character is… He’s playing chess, you know? I don’t even think Jessica realizes how sick of an individual he is! He really took it to another level. In a way, it also presents Jessica as an unreliable narrator of her own story.

It was a tricky scene and it showed what depths The Man was willing to go down to. He was working on a physical level and on a psychological level. It’s not only ‘Woman Against Nature’ as we find with the river scene but ‘Woman vs The Physicality of a Man’ & also on a mental level.

When Jessica takes that big plunge into the river, was that you or a stunt double?

It was both, Michelle Damis was my stunt double and she is incredible! Michelle had to do quite a bit more than she thought she was going to do because I broke my foot in the second week of filming. So, two thirds or three quarters actually of the film I’m in a walking boot which you can’t see in the final edit.

You broke your foot while filming on-set?

It happened during filming, it happened during a stunt. It was just a freak thing! I was running barefoot in a cleared path, when I was running away from The Man and getting out of the house, and we went for a couple of takes. Then they’re like, ‘Let’s do one more and then we’ll throw your shoes back on,’ you know because they wanted to see the bare feet. The stunt coordinator was amazing and he had cleared everything, and we’d walked the path several time. And that one last time… I hit a root that was sticking up out of the Earth!

Jules Wilcox in ALONE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Wow, so it was practically just like what happens in the movie?

Yeah, we had to improvise because the really bad wound that Jessica was supposed to have, was the gunshot through the shoulder. But because I broke my foot, we had to put that limp in that I naturally had. That’s when they rewrote the scene of Jessica stepping on that.

I thought the opening of Alone was captivating. The film was really able to build this foreboding sense of being stranded just like its namesake. What was your routine to get into this anxious, panicked state for each take?

We were shooting in the Pacific Northwest and it was beautiful of course and it’s wide open. I was living in Manhattan at the time so I didn’t have a ton of time to prep on the film. It happened really fast! So, I flew out to Oregon, and I’d worked with the director before on a television show. They needed an actor who could do all the grueling physical stuff and also the emotional stuff, and so he contracted me to do it. I really connected to the grief that Jessica was experiencing. We’ve all experienced grief in our life and it’s such a universal experience. She’s really running away from her grief in the beginning with her husband killing himself.

Jessica’s wanting to get a new start, she’s not wanting to talk her mom because her mom is going to want to talk about things and emotions… And she doesn’t want to deal with all that. When you’re alone, you’re confronted with the truth in your mind whether you like it or not. I think Jessica does whatever she can to try to push things away. But ultimately, having The Man show up, forces her into a very present state, where she has to be active. She has to fight.

I think I really prepared by being in nature, it’s such a beautiful place. You wake up really in the morning, 4 AM, whenever the call time wise and watch the sunrise. I’d just put myself in the circumstances of where Jessica was, having lost someone and trying to escape from that.

The scene where Jessica freaks out initially and calls 911 when she thinks she’s being followed really throws viewers into a loop. For a second when the car passes, you really think she’s okay. Then the film pulls the rug under out from viewers, before relief washes over the audience. What did you draw on outside of the script to craft that moment?

We question ourselves all the time when something really crazy happens or even just in an abnormal way. I find myself wanting to have the benefit of the doubt for the other person, probably because I’m mid-western! (laughs) Surely, they didn’t mean that! There’s a little bit of, ‘Am I blowing this out of proportion?’ There’s a little bit of her questioning herself and I can connect to that in my own mind. Can people really have such harsh, mean intentions? I’m a glass half-full person, so I hope for the best! I think in that scene there’s almost a disappoint when seeing, oh that wasn’t what I thought, maybe I am ‘blowing this out of proportion.’

Jules Wilcox in ALONE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Have you ever had such a gut instinct about person like Jessica does in the film? There was some definite Ted Bundy vibes when The Man approaches Jessica’s car with his arm in a sling and asks for assistance.

Gosh… I think probably in the early days of moving to Hollywood! (laughs) Again, being a midwestern girl, I had to be quite careful and skeptical of people’s intentions. We were actually shooting when all the Weinstein stuff was coming out, really the height of the Me Too movement. We talked about that a lot, all the gas-lighting of women and how they’ve been taken advantage of for so long. I’m from Missouri, the ‘Show Me’ state, ‘Show me who you are with your actions.’

Jules Wilcox and Marc Menchaca in ALONE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

I’m curious how were you able to film that final fight scene with a broken foot? Were the scenes shot in narrative order?

We shot in order, which was crazy! I was in the Whitewater rapids with a broken foot, with a boot on. (laughs) Our stunt coordinator would help me. I was in crutches most of the time with the boot, and the stunt coordinator who’s just a massive human being, lifted me up and put me in the water. (laughs) I knew he felt bad every time he did it because it was so cold, we were shooting in November in the Pacific Northwest.

Director John Hyams filming a scene for ALONE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

That last fight scene was on our last day of shooting. We had rehearsed the fight in the fight coordinator’s jiu jitsu gym. We practiced on mats several times, and between me and Michelle my stunt double, we just did it all. It’s also choreographed to be very scrappy. We’re not professional fighters, Jessica doesn’t have any training. She is just relying on pure adrenaline and at that point, so was I. We were in our costumes, I also had layers of freezing cold mud.

So that wasn’t makeup on your face, that was legit mud?

(laughs) Oh, it was legit! That was legit! When I was crawling out of the car, they were like, okay are you ready? I was like ‘Oh jeez, I’m putting my face in mud!’ My skin has never looked so good, it’s like a spa treatment. But the mud weighs a lot, once it starts caking on to your clothing, so the movement starts to get so much harder. You’re like basically caked down in clay.

You’re rolling around on the ground, the kind of stuff that Michelle, the stunt person would be doing would be like kicking with both legs because I could only kick with one leg. We really went for it! Thank God it was all on the last day because I was exhausted after! (laughs)

Why do you feel Jessica doesn’t go for the gun when The Man offers her an opportunity to even out the playing field in the forest?

I think at that point, she didn’t trust him at all. There’s a perceived opening but why is that and why? She’s going by instinct, period.

The scene where The Man takes Jessica to the basement is one of the most brutal scenes I’ve seen in a horror movie because it looks like she has zero chance. Usually horror movies leave the door open a little bit but Alone makes it clear Jessica has nowhere to go, no immediate escape routes, nothing to plead with her captor… Then The Man tells you to “remove your clothes.” Viewers are definitely going to have strong, unsettling feelings about that whole section. What was it like filming such a traumatic moment?

Yeah, she’s caught in a trap, Jessica’s a helpless animal at that point! She’s just trying to do whatever she can do… You know, she asks The Man, ‘Can I go to the bathroom?’ to buy time. You’re left wondering, how many people has this happened to?

Jules Wilcox in ALONE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

A friend of mine, he’s a playwright, wrote a play about a person being held captive because he was so influenced and traumatized by those young women who were held captive in Cleveland. They were released several years later. Unfortunately, this happens, these things happen. I really had to put myself in this person’s shoes, what are you going to do? How can I manipulate in any way? Can I beg, can I plead? She does all this and there’s utter hopelessness at this point.

You understand that it’s not just brute force he’s after… He’s playing this sick mental game by leaving her there, and confronting her with her emotional trauma, as opposed to physical trauma. I truly think The Man is one of the most evil characters I’ve ever seen, just how twisted and dark he goes. And Marc Menchaca is the most lovable person on the planet!

Marc Menchaca in ALONE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

I was definitely surprised because I was so used to Marc Menchaca’s character on Ozark!

I know! (laughs) He does such a great job. That monologue when I’m in the bog in the forest is just pure evil!

Did you enjoy Jessica’s final revenge on The Man, when she calls his girlfriend?

Oh yeah! I think what was so shocking is when Jessica escapes, she can hear The Man talking on the phone and his life is totally normal. He’s making a sandwich. It’s like ‘Hey Buddy, you know that normal life you think you can have? No way! That doesn’t exist anymore!” At that point she thinks ‘I’m going to die. Hopefully, someone will come to get me but if this guy is coming after me, I’m definitely going to try to kill him.

I’m going to try to survive! But odds are… I’m not going to make it. So I need somebody to get my body and get Robert’s body and let Robert’s wife what has happened to him.’ Jessica’s an ethical person, she’s not like The Man. She’s trying to escape at the beginning but she’s moved by the kindness of strangers, by Robert taking her in and helping her. Even though she’s skeptical because she’s been through so much.

At first, when Jessica gets in the car with Robert post-escape, I thought he was going to drive her right back to The Man. That Robert was in on it. Did you think that’s where the story was heading initially?

Oh God, I’m glad you think that because I thought that too when I was reading the script the first time! (laughs) ‘Oh no! He’s in on it!’

I felt The Man’s civility while on the phone with his girlfriend, preparing the sandwich was part of what made Alone work as a film. It was just so convincingly real, you’re left wondering, ‘How many people like this live double lives?’ It reminded me of the film The Strangers a lot, that film also didn’t give direct names to its antagonists, preferring Man in Mask, Dollface, Pin-Up Girl like The Man in Alone.

Yeah, it’s this alter-ego. It’s not who he is in ‘real life’ but what he does on the side ‘anonymously’. There was the documentary recently on HBO about the Golden State killer (I’ll Be Gone in the Dark) and The Man reminded me of that. That somebody could have this kind of evil double life.

I feel Alone’s grounding in reality will hit people harder because they can picture the possibility of it happening to them. No matter how low the percentage of that is… The situation is not impossible and that stays in your mind. It resonates with a person’s core fears of random strangers.

I think during this time in quarantine, when people are feeling isolated and alone the film is timely in a way. As if we’re confronting ourselves.

Thanks Jules!

Thank you!

Theatrical one-sheet for ALONE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Alone Trailer and Where you can watch the Film:


Follow Alone star Jules Willcox on Twitter and Instagram! Be sure to also follow @AloneMovie on Twitter!

Alone can be seen now in select theaters and on Video On Demand services. Rent Alone on Amazon today!

Disclosure: TheNaturalAristocrat.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

– Check out The Natural Aristocrat®’s exclusive interview with one half of tomandandy’s composing duo, Tom Hajdu, on The Strangers soundtrack.

– Be sure to read more interviews with the entertainment industry’s top talent in The Natural Aristocrat®’s Interviews section.

Continue Reading

Fashion

Mulan hair, makeup, prosthetics designer Denise Kum talks creative process (Interview)

Published

on

Yifei Liu as Mulan in Disney's MULAN. Photo credit: Jasin Boland. © 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo credit: Jasin Boland / Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Denise Kum, Makeup Designer, Hair Designer, and Prosthetics Designer for Disney’s Mulan spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about her diligent, academic-like exploration of historic Chinese culture for the live-action film adaption.

Denise Kum is a well researched student of history, incorporating classical Chinese culture in every element of her designs from the days of the Tang Dynasty, Five Dynasties, Qin Dynasty, Han Dynasty. Occasionally, also being inspired by an Alexander McQueen runway show or two. Each aspect of Kum’s design work is intricately though out, there’s always a reason for its existence.

Li Gong as Xianniang behind the scenes of Disney’s MULAN. Photo credit: Jasin Boland. © 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Whether it’s Xianniang’s white makeup matching the color palette of a Hawk well with the Chinese symbolism of a mysterious, cunning, powerful individual or Böri Khan’s personifying scars… Which she drew directly on actor Jason Scott Lee’s face while he did live facial expressions. There is an exceptional amount of sophistication behind crafting a ‘face in motion’ visually.

Interview with Mulan’s Denise Kum:

Disney’s MULAN – Pictured: L to R: Groom’s mother, Matchmaker (Pei-Pei Cheng), Xiu (Xana Tang), Wuwei (Rosalind Chao) and Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Natural Aristocrat : The matchmaker scene is one of the film’s most visually aesthetic moments, and there’s a lot in this movie, preciously because of the way the makeup is styled on Mulan. What did you use as a reference or inspiration for the colors to vividly burst like that? I particularly noticed the blueish-green eyebrows.

Denise Kum: It’s quite a fun scene and a comedic moment too! I mean, one thing we really wanted was to have something with not just visual dynamism but a lot of fun in it. So that lots of little girls would watch it, or anybody really and just laugh. I think the way that Pei-Pei plays matchmaker was just so endearing for those of us that are Chinese. We can all really relate to living with a stern, patriarchal figure… From the matriarch. (laughs) The matchmaker was this stern matriarchal figure, that we were all afraid of.

For the matchmaker, we really wanted her to be quite over the top. You probably noticed that a lot of the makeup, whether it’s the makeup that’s on the matchmaker or the ceremonial makeup that’s put onto Yifei as Mulan is being presented up for marriage… A lot of those colors & the hair ornamentation kind of come from the late Tang & Five Dynasties time. The structure of all the hair, the high buns & the shapes, are often decorated with different kinds of flowers and ornamentation. Many opted to buy wigs in that particular time. So we really wanted to make use of that and I looked at a lot of sculptures & figurines of that early period where they have these kind of hair styles.

Xana Tang as Xiu and Rosalind Chao as Li in Disney’s MULAN. Photo credit: Jasin Boland. © 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

We just pushed it over the edge a little bit more. Often in that time too, they wore very heavy Rouge, often covering the cheek along the jaw line. They often refer to this look as red clouds at dawn and it’s kind of been associated with the story of the female musician at the palace. You know, put her face on the screen and there was like scatter marks running down your face. A lot of these lovely stories come up when you start researching about lyrical ideas to makeup I suppose.

In any particular society, people kind of copy things that well-known people or aristocrats have done. Also on the actual matchmaker are little scar-like crescents on her face. Every mark comes from a little fable. These scar-like marks emerged from the northern and southern dynasty. Apparently, because we don’t know what’s true and what’s fiction, a palace maiden was doted on by an emperor because she injured herself which left scars on the side of her face but the emperor continued to adore her. (laughs)

In any particular society, people kind of copy things that well-known people or aristocrats have done.

This serves as an endorsement for this kind of trend of beauty and then fiction, where I had these very symbolic shapes, which also look slightly cartoony. I would draw them onto the matchmaker, she also has these little dimples on both sides of her mouth, these kind of beauty marks. On Yifei herself in that scene, the props we used for the makeup application when she’s getting ready. The white powder is whittled into rice powder, and then you’ve got the yellow, the blue, and the red.

Disney’s MULAN -Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It’s all very much Primary Colors, I also wanted them to pop because those are the colors were used in early Disney. Mickey Mouse & Donald Duck. The primary colors are the beginning of all color palettes, alls colors are mixed out of those. It was also to be very heightened. There’s a lovely joke in the film, ‘That winter storm could not ruin this makeup!’ So, it is the fact that it is really over the top. She has so much makeup on because she’s being presented & the fact that she’s like, ‘This is my happy face! This is my sad face!’ (laughs)

The primary colors are the beginning of all color palettes, alls colors are mixed out of those.

It was really about working within the tone of that. The eyebrows, that bluey-green pigment that you mentioned, it’s like a peacock color. We used the yellow because the yellow forehead was extremely popular around the time of the Tang Dynasty. There was an idea in the Tang Dynasty that it exuded an auspicious aura as well as a symbol of good luck in Chinese culture. I really also wanted to use not just what the primary colors were but the symbolism of every single color, particularly in Chinese culture. A mix of symbolism and primarily palette.

Was that you directly applying the makeup on Mulan in the film? And if it wasn’t… Do you wish it was? It seemed like art imitating life, full circle.

It was actually meant to be me because we had written a little script for what we were going to do and Niki , the director & Mandy , the DOP. We discussed with them what they wanted to see, what would be good because it’s very much a visual scene with the powder in the air, the fabric being wrapped. But on that particular day, I was also working with Gong Li (Xianniang). So, the lovely Georgia , who was the makeup artist who was helping to look after Yifei, that was her doing that.

She was heavily pregnant at the time so she had to kind of keep her belly out & stretch her arm out because obviously we couldn’t risk to have her in the frame! (laughs) It was supposed to be Rosalind (Mulan’s mother), and when we did shoot the scene, Rosalind did a few pickups where we had her in the frame. But all the closeups were done by the makeup artist.

You mentioned scars before. I felt the scars/eyeliner on Böri Khan went a long way into furthering his look of ‘villainy’. Do you generally have a playbook for creative touches like that or is it typically directly referenced in a film script?

Well, it kind of came about from early discussion about his character and at that stage also, Niki had said to me that she wanted his whole group to be ground dwelling. They’re tribal & nomadic and they move around. Obviously, we wanted Böri to have a history, so the history of him was that people have tried to kill him many times but have not succeeded.

Disney’s MULAN – L to R: Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and Xianniang (Gong Li) -Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

There’s one shot where you can see scarring not just on his face but on his body, I think when he’s washing in the tent. He has quite a big keloid scar, the whole thing is the group just keeps stitching themselves back up and carrying on being bad guys! (laughs) Early on also, when people do scars on the face it’s always the go-to types of scars where they may have had an injury. But with him, we really wanted to think about how those scars might have occurred. When he first started to do facial expressions like pulling faces, he was also practicing a Māori dance which is done with a stick, called a Taiaha. I know that Jason had been practicing that while over in New Zealand, it’s like a martial art.

It’s similar to when the Māori people do what’s called the haka, if you ever watch Rugby they do a version that at the beginning of the game. It’s like a welcome or a blessing but also a challenge. Often warriors would use the Taiaha, it’s quite a powerful, for a lack of a better term, a welcome. When you do that as a warrior, you have a lot of facial expressions, you stick your tongue out & move your face, and Jason would be doing this in the makeup chair. That really informed where I felt I wanted a lot of the prosthetics. Basically, I would get him to move his face and then I would just draw directly on, before we made attempts to do sculptures. You know, sculpt out the appliances of where the scars should be.

Jason Scott Lee as Böri Khan in Mulan – Poster provided by Disney

So they should look like nicks, gouges, and old scars. But they were very much designed around his face. I don’t recall if any scar was mentioned in the script, at all actually. I think we just built that directly out of his character and Niki wanting to tell the story of him having had a history. It’s definitely something we developed for his total look as was his guy liner & his hair pieces so that he doesn’t look as refined and as handsome as he is in real life! We wanted to make him a little larger than life and villain-like.

It’s definitely something we developed for his total look as was his guy liner & his hair pieces so that he doesn’t look as refined and as handsome as he is in real life!

That’s pretty amazing Jason did live facial expressions while you applied the preliminary prosthetics!

Yeah, it was just the approach that I took with this because it’s a face in motion. How he would screw up his nose, how he would move his mouth, how he’d do things. Also, because you have to think critically how it will all come together.

What was the inspiration for Xianniang’s half painted face? I felt it greatly enhanced a sense of mystery around her.

It was quite a few different things for inspiration. When I started to look at a lot of artwork for that time, particularly from 600 to 800 AD, which is kind of loosely the high period of the Tang Dynasty, there’s a lot of pottery figures that have dancers. There’s an artist named Zhou Fang, and he used to make scroll paintings because there was no photos in that time. All the women had like a white central panel on their face and across their forehead.

Disney’s MULAN – Xianniang (Gong Li) – Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

This of course is probably the idea of the rice powder that is patted on the face, similar to what we were doing in the matchmaker scene. We decided to isolate that particular central panel and if you look at a lot of the old pottery, not only did they have them with bright red cheeks, they also have like a little veil of white. I liked how this was very of that period but also symbolically, white is kind of the color of mourning in Chinese culture.

It’s seen as one of the five elements, which is indicative also of moral purity. On the stage in Chinese culture, a white face can denote treacherous cunning but dignified person. So I liked how, there were these motifs with the color white, that there had been the symbolism in these paintings.

Disney’s MULAN – Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Around a little bit earlier than that, probably during the Qin & the Han Dynasties from 200 B.C. to about 200 AD, there was quite a nice little feminist thing where the woman’s morals were much more cherished as opposed to her physical beauty during this period. And how the Chinese woman would dress in clothes similar to men, and the Chinese began to relate the White complexion with power. So I quite like all these different notes that kept seeming to pop up. So, it wasn’t just like, ‘give her a mask,’ I wanted to decide how that would set conceptually.

The whole idea of the mask came because we wanted it to be mysterious. It also came from the theatrical idea of having a disguise to hide by because we don’t really know who Xianniang is when we first meet her. There was a fantastic runway show by the fashion designer Alexander McQueen and he had a very similar panel of white across the face.

Gong Li as Xianniang in Mulan – Poster provided by Disney

So I kind of merged all of those things together really. And then we kind of put it through the strain of doing illustration and thinking about it very much with the costume & the crown. The crown wasn’t developed so it was set really well within that. It’s much more a process of bringing together a lot of different influences, from Avant-garde fashion to Chinese symbolism.

It’s much more a process of bringing together a lot of different influences, from Avant-garde fashion to Chinese symbolism.

The idea of what a disguise would offer rather than do eyeshadow and lipstick.

So is white both a color of mourning and power in Chinese culture?

The color white has always changed through time. It’s indicative of moral purity but it’s also seen on the stage with the Peking Opera, a lot of the Chinese there wear a white mask with things painted on it. It’s also denoting as I said, a cunning & treacherous person. Through time, people related that when people would use a lot of white on their face, became something that was related to power. Taking all these different histories of what white means to Chinese culture is why I decided on that color as opposed to any other color.

Also, it just really, really worked well with her color palette because her look is based off the hawk. The way that her eye shadow is slanted and the kind of spine that goes around her crown and forms her hair. It’s all additive, everything is related to everything. It’s not like ‘this is a good idea, let’s do that!’ there’s many, many layers into how to build a character.

Disney’s MULAN – L to R: Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and Xianniang (Gong Li) – Photo Credit: Jasin Boland © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Looking at good old fashioned tomb pottery had good references in there! (laughs) That’s how we built our witch! I mean she has prosthetic talons as well, which are weapons and come out. She’s a bit of a shapeshifter. I really wanted the makeup on her to be very supernatural and very eye-catching.

She’s a bit of a shapeshifter. I really wanted the makeup on her to be very supernatural and very eye-catching.

Mulan’s long locks flow eloquently after she reveals her true identity. What kind of work was invested in creating this look of freedom in femininity?

Long hair with wind machines, wire work, working on horses, and doing stunts is always very difficult so all the individual hair pieces had to be set & baked every day. Yifei’s own hair had been treated with three types of product to get her curls to set properly. Which we had to change out depending if we were shooting in snow, humidity, or the very dry climate of LA. You’ve got three different elements which with hair is very different. It’s a lot like baking a cake, to make sure it would rise at any different type of window with any type of situation.

Disney’s MULAN -Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo Credit: Jasin Boland © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

There was some old fashioned fishing-line truth be known, to pull things out in the matchmaker scene when her hair tumbles down. And also again when her hair is released after Mulan decides, ‘Stuff this, I’m going to reveal myself!’

Disney’s MULAN – Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo: Jasin Boland © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It’s good you noticed that because it’s not something happens without thought and a lot of prep.

Yeah, no one wakes up with their hair looking like that.

(laughs) But of of course, it has to be seamlessly done, and all of that had to be replicated on her stunt doubles & stand-ins. Even though she did the majority of things herself.

Disney’s MULAN – Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

How many stunt doubles did Yifei have?

Oh gosh, I can’t remember off the top of my head because it depends if we were shooting on unit or two. She had running doubles, riding doubles, some of them are used just for trick scenes. Pretty much Yifei was in almost every single scene.

Disney’s MULAN – Mulan (Yifei Liu) -Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

When we were filming in China we had to have a double do a lot of the running on the roof tops and stairs. We obviously had a lot of stand ins for the actors because while they get ready, someone has to be on set and to lineup.

What did it mean to you personally to showcase Mulan’s story to a new generation? Particularly, the transformation from restriction (dirt on the face, hair always covered up, shame) to Mulan embracing who she really was and acceptance.

It’s really fantastic! I think even though the story is very endemically at its heart Chinese, it’s incredibly universal. It’s a very timely story. I think for me, what I like about it is she’s probably less of a princess and more of a warrior, which I think is a modern interpretation of a Disney princess or Disney story.

Disney’s MULAN – Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo: Stephen Tilley © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The key central female role plays very strongly with how the world is now. Showing her emotional journey, there is that worry about being found out and then obviously, relinquishing that. But of course, there were threats in that time and that’s show in the film.

Disney’s Mulan – Photo provided by costume designer Bina Daigeler – Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Expulsion and death were real threats that would happen to you if you had betrayed.

Disney’s MULAN – Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo: Jasin Boland © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The key central female role plays very strongly with how the world is now.

So, it’s not necessarily just because she was in shame or embarrassed. She knew she would dishonor her family get killed, or expulsion which is actually worse than death. Bringing shame to the family is I think the main thing she was trying to avoid.

Yifei Liu as Mulan and Tzi Ma as Zhou in Disney’s MULAN. Photo by Jasin Boland.

How much did you use the 1998 animated film adaptation of Mulan (if at all) as a reference point?

Well, there were iconic scenes that we referred to but not really. I didn’t ever try to copy every frame. There were a few images like the reflection scene, that really had more to do with iconic things like her hair comb. That plays quite heavily in the animation and we obviously have that in our film, the father knows when she’s left because it’s the same hair comb Mulan wears when she goes to the matchmaker.

Tzi Ma as Zhou in Disney’s MULAN. Photo by Jasin Boland.

We also had Ming-Na Wen, who’s the original voice of Mulan. She had a cameo in our film, there were nice little parallels like that. Ming-Na Wen appears in the scene in the palace, when Mulan comes in to meet the Emperor , Wen presents her. She says ‘Your excellency, introducing Hua Mulan!’ There’s a very hidden layers like that as you go through the film. Wen was hugely influential in terms of the first two animated films.

Disney’s MULAN – The Emperor (Jet Li) – Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The scene where Mulan is praised by the Emperor is visually stunning all around, looks practically like a painting. Was that the scene that took longest to put together? It felt like it had an incredible amount of investment in every detail.

The set was really incredible! All of the costumes, it was so stunning to just be in there. I mean, of course, we have brevity, the scene has to be shorter on-screen but everything was so beautiful. It did look a lot like a painting.

Everybody had clothes and hair accessories & wigs that were all bespoke, so everything was built. Every single person was individually ‘fine tuned.’ We had the monks and the scroll writers, we really wanted the scene to be quite opulent to show the status of the Emperor. Yeah, it did take quite a long time to put together. I don’t think it gets as much screen time as is allowable but it’s great you liked it!

Every single person was individually ‘fine tuned.’

You can definitely tell you’re watching a big budget Disney production in that scene. It makes an impression instantly.

Yeah, it took a long time to get everyone’s hair and makeup because a lot of the women had hair that was built on hair cages, which are quite difficult to wear. The wigs were built over a structure more like sculpture some of them because a lot of the hair is very big.

You’re the hair, makeup, and prosthetics designer on upcoming film, Operation Mincemeat, by Director John Madden. How’s production of moving forward currently?

We just finished pickups for Operation Mincemeat in London, we did all of the principle photography right before the lockdown actually. So, we just managed to finish it! And we’ve only had five days of reshoots.

What was the spark that made you want to pursue a career in hair, makeup, and prosthetics?

It’s kind of similar to how life is a funny twist of fate really. I mean my background is as an artist, I’m an exhibiting artist and I pretty much make sculpture, painting, and Installation art. When I was an art school, we would make our own little short films, music videos, the typical art school kind of way. We all bunk in and you all do things for each other. I would always be tasked with doing the makeup, the hair, the wardrobe the art department.

That kind of segued into being very interested in developing that further and doing more training. I kind of did it alongside my art career & then I was asked to work on films and be paid to do it! So, it kind of grew out of that. It wasn’t me deciding, I’m going to be a makeup artist. I think it’s also that language you learn visually to paint and sculpt. As a conceptual artist, it’s having the ideas of how to build something together.

Mulan Poster Art provided by Disney

Thanks Denise!

Thank you!

About Denise Kum

Denise Kum on Disney’s set for Mulan – Photo provided by Denise Kum

View more of Denise Kum’s impressive portfolio of film work at Casarotto Ramsay & Associates!

Watch Mulan on Disney+ right now with Premier Access!

Disney’s MULAN – Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Be sure to read:

– The Natural Aristocrat®’s Mulan Review: Gorgeous, dazzling visuals paint sublime action (2020 Film)

– The Natural Aristocrat®’s Interview with Mulan and Mrs. America costume designer Bina Daigeler

Check out more interviews with the top talent in the entertainment industry in The Natural Aristocrat®’s Interview Articles section!

Disney’s MULAN – Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Continue Reading