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Thread: ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL Lincoln Center JUNE 29 - JULY 15, 2018

  1. #16
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    Jul 2002
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    THE RETURN (Malene Choi 2018)



    Root canal

    This quiet, haunting hybrid of documentary and fiction was made by Danish-Korean adoptee Marlene Choi in Korea and focused on the story of two thirtyish Danish Korean adoptees, Karoline (Karoline Sofie Lee) and Thomas (Danish TV actor Thomas Hwan), who come to Korea in search of their origins. Though feeling quite specific, they stand for many. As it turns out, since the Korean War in 1953 South Korea has been a major exporter of babies for adoption, over 200,00 having been raised mainly in Europe and the US.

    Karoline arrives at Koroot, a group home specially provided for Korean adoptees. Here Karoline meets Thomas and other visiting Korean adoptees who come from America and communicate in English. A hunky young man from America tells a radical story. This is his second time in Korea. The first time, he immediately felt at home, so much so that when he left, it felt wrong. His adoptive parents objected to his exploration of his origins, and, given a choice between them and that, he has chosen to live in Korea. Like the others, he has not learned the language. Has he ever seen a Korean film? His decision is passionate, instinctive. It may be an emotional reaction to growing up feeling like an outsider. He has no idea what he is getting into but certainly here, he will look like he fits in. It's complicated. He has simplified it.

    The visiting adoptees share experiences of being bullied in one way or another for being different, not being white. An older woman adoptee talks about her experiences of finding her biological parents and meeting them. When she met her father, she says she felt nothing. Only later she was very moved by the struggles of her mother, who became disabled relatively young, it turns out. She has returned to spend time with her mother.

    Karoline goes to the Holt adoption agency, where the representative offers her little hope of finding out anything. Records were not kept, she says. Thomas says they lie, and offers to go back with her, as they do. Eventually it does emerge from help reading her Korean documents from the agency that she was born in a hospital on a small island off Inchon.

    The truly profound scene is the one when Karoline and Thomas go to meet Thomas' biological mother, who has been found. They go with a female interpreter who translates back and forth between Korean and English. Thomas' mother is sweet, plying them with a meal prepared together in a small apartment. He was the result of a quick union with a boy who vanished, when she was very young. Her tale is of heartbreaking regret for having given up Thomas for adoption too hastily.She married, but never had children. All her life she has been haunted by longing to be with him. This quiet, underplayed scene is masterful in administering an emotional wallop with economical means. Realization that this sequence is staged, not "real," may undercut it, but not lessen its almost archetypal emotional power.

    The use of staged elements for the framework narrative of the film allows Choi to experiment. The film uses innovative, subtle camerawork, editing, and sound to convey vividly the feeling of excitement and dislocation, of confusion and emotional dissonance Karoline and Thomas feel from first arrival. This helps to strengthen a very thought-provoking film that conveys as well as any movie yet what it is like to be adopted from a far-away country and long to understand and be reunited with one's origins. The writer, Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen, has contributed substantially to giving the dialogue, particularly in Danish, a natural and specific feel.

    The Return, 87 minS., debuted at Rotterdam and was reviewed by Screen Anarchy (Paige Lim) and Variety (Alissa Simon) at Göteborg Feb. 2018. Reviewed there for Variety by Alissa Simon .
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-17-2018 at 12:14 AM.

  2. #17
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    Historical pleasures

    This historical fight movie from Korea is big-time eye-candy built around new local heartthrob Jung Hae-in, usually a smiling and boyish type who looks great topless. It begins with a background review that's animated, and morphs seamlessly into stylized movie mode. Yes, this is about a historical event, though reinterpreted here. It concerns a rebellion. A lot of the fight action takes place at night; hence the sword and bow-and-arrow fights are depicted in extreme chiaroscuro that is frustrating if you want blow-by-blow detail but makes for artistic effects.

    Jung Hae-in, who's thirty, has only been a name actor for four years, and thinks his fame won't last. (Maybe so, but he's enjoying himself for now.) He's known from TV series, a historical one, like this, called "The Three Musketeers," and a drama about three people who can foresee crimes, called "While You Were Sleeping." In civvies, Jung Hae-in has a slightly goofy look, like a surprised child. For Age of Blood he has been fitted with long, stylishly unruly tresses, a mustache, and chin whiskers. It makes all the difference. In this disguise, and various sharp period costumes, he sometimes looks dashing. He also looks goofy sometimes too.

    In this movie, Yeongjo is the reigning ruler, 21st king of the Korean Joseon Dynasty. He is reputed to have poisoned his brother to become king. Kim Ho (the Jung Hae-in) is an ace swordsman who has been waiting around for an appointment for some time. When it finally comes, he's astonished to learn he's been demoted to the level of prison guard. Little does he know that this will be the most important place to be in the kingdom, and that the night of his arrival will be a decisive time. The prison is a dramatic setting, sometimes seen from above, it is a long one-story complex in a rectangular shape with a big central enclosed space. Kim Ho encounters various guards (he doesn't like the uniform; they mock him for boasting that he'll rise to senior guard quickly), and several unsavory prisoners.

    A striking interlude shows an unbelievably handsome, hunky, and sexy prisoner, nude to the waist in white and hung up by his hands, awaiting execution. Denied a drink of water in a cruel and mocking manner by a guard, he manages to break free, grab a sword, and execute the guard.

    The main action begins when a group of conspirators break into the prison to set free their leader, who has been imprisoned, and Kim Ho takes them on. Joe Bendel, who has reviewed this film on JB Spins, adds more about the cast: "Hong Soo-a is also shows off some nice chops as Lady Yoo Seo-yeong, Kim Ho’s unexpected ally," and "Kim Ji-hoon’s Lee [the rebel leader] is arguably too cold-blood, but Jo Jae-yun is terrific as Do, the intense but honorable adversary." Kim Ho is arguably defending an illegitimate regime, established through a crime, but he is supporting the office, not the man. Anyway, all this, though entertaining and beautiful to look at, is only skin deep and shouldn't be judged too harshly as historical drama, even if that's what it it ostensibly is. There are discernible characters and there is a historical plot line, but the movie most notably exists as a stylish and polished excuse for a series of dashing battles and other displays of daring-do, with other visual pleasures thrown in.

    The Age of Blood/ 역모 - 반란의 시대 Yeokmo - banranui sidae ("Conspiracy - The Age of Rebellion"), 102 mins., opened in Korean cinemas Nov. 2017, and debuted on Japanese TV May 2018. It was screened for this review as part of the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival, where it shows at 12:30 July 4th. It can be watched free on Amazon Prime.

    A Korean movie blog in English, Drama Beans, provides a knowledgeable preview of this "gritty action sageuk [Korean historical period drama]."

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-03-2018 at 10:49 AM.

  3. #18
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    THE SCYTHIAN LAMB (Daihachi Yoshida 2017)



    Rich ingredients, small pot

    The premise of The Scythian Lamb, based on the manga Hitsuji no ki originated by Tatsuhiko Yamagami and Mikio Igarashi, is almost too good to be true. The city government of Uobuka, a little Japanese seacoast town of declining population, decides to cooperate with the prison system, which is trying to reduce its numbers by releasing low-risk prisoners early, provided they stay in an assigned location for ten years. Uobuka gets six parolees at once, all convicted of murder. The possibilities are infinite. And this is the charm of Daihachi Yoshida's movie. As it unreels some of those and holds others in check, it avoids getting pinned down to any one genre. There is film noir, murder, romance, melodrama, thriller, suspense, and it's all laced with comedy. Rumors, which can't be verified, say that experiments like this actually have been carried out to help repopulate Japan's dwindling rural areas. It's doubtful there's been an all-murderer program, though.

    At the center of things is a handsome and gentle young man who works for city hall called Hajime Tsukisue (pop singer Ryo Nishikido). Like any bureaucrat, he's stuck with executing an unappealing plan not at all of his devising. He must greet the new arrivals one by one, knowing only that they're ex-cons, at first, not their crime, and keep an eye on them thereafter. Nobody is to know who these people are, and they are not to know about each other.

    The movie provides an opening series of vignettes in which Tsukisue greets the new arrivals one by one, takes them for a drive, and treats them to dinner - six get-acquainted sessions for him, and for us. Hiroki Fukimoto (Shinjo Mizusawa), to start, an angular, nervous type, very ill at ease, who gobbles up food and drink like Robinson Crusoe. Later he will get to work at the barber shop. Is he alcoholic? Yes.

    Shinjiro Ono (Min Tanaka), even more angular, and ancient, is yakuza through and through, with a big scar down one side of his face. He doesn't warm to Tsukisue's "It's a nice town, with nice people, great seafood." But he scares away the gangsters that come to reenlist him. He thoroughly rejects his past life. And so, he's perfect for the dry cleaner's. Except his bad back isn't good for the ironing.

    Equal opportunity, or sort of: two of the six are women. Both are pretty. One, Reiko (Yuka), goes to work at the senior center. Which is fine, except she and Tsukisue's father enter into a romantic attachment. The other, Kiyomi Kurimoto (Michiko Hichikawa) is sort of sweet, but also a bit dour and spooky. She gets assigned to a crew doing street cleanup. She likes to dig, and she likes to bury stuff. No worries.

    There is one nice guy, Itchiro Miyakoshi (Ryuhei Matsuda). He has a positive attitude from arrival. He finds the seafood delicious. He looks and acts quite normal. Watch out!

    And there's the snarky Sugiyama (Kazuki Kitamura, an actor whose resume includes Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) and The Raid 2 (2014). He's a provocative type, with a menacing, sleazy grin. It's clear from the get-go that going straight is not his intention. He's not only dangerous but wants you to know it. He goes to work down at the docks; he has nautical experience. He's looking for trouble - and other bad guys to join up with.

    If Yoshida lingers over these intros, who can blame him? All the enjoyment of the characters doesn't get in the way of an exciting and suspenseful story-line.

    Murderers are a diverse lot. Some kill by accident, others by necessity. (One of the ladies did kill an abusive husband.) Others kill by profession, or in their line of criminal work. Or in a unique fit of anger. Anybody might do it. It can happen by accident. Others do so out of overriding compulsion, and that's not an accident. All these categories are represented in the group. All of them are, by their pre-arranged jobs, inserted into the fabric of the community. It's a really small town.

    Tsukisue, in a manga touch and a cool one, leads a sort of double life. In the daytime, his hair is combed back and he's always in a suit and tie. Off duty, he dons ragged jeans and T shirt, his hair flops over his eyes, and he's in a loud garage band. Clark Kent becomes a rock star.

    The population grows by one without government help, when Aya (Fumino Kimura), Tsukisue's high school crush, returns to Uobuka. Tsukisue persuades her to join the band and play lead guitar, like in high school. There's a guy who plays drums. Guess who wants to learn guitar? Miyakoshi, the friendly, normal-seeming guy, who now drives a blue and yellow delivery truck.

    The town has an ancient myth, and a giant bronze statue on a cliff to embody it: Nororo. Kids play around in a park one day stumbling like zombies, chanting "Nororo, Nororo!" - a neat way of introducing the theme. Nororo is a monster overlooking the sea. Legend has it that each year in olden times two men were thrown into the sea to appease Nororo's anger, and only one would survive. There is a Nororo festival every year today, with traditional costumes, and a young colleague of Tsukisue's, who has broken into their boss's computer and found out the identity of the new arrivals, unwisely arranges to have them all invited to participate in the Nororo festival. This makes for a dramatic and revelatory scene, with a dark night, a roiling sea, and men in white traditional costumes. But it's a photo of this in the newspaper that brings on the climactic sequence of events.

    Daihachi Yoshida and his writer Masahito Kagawa have contrived an adaptation of their manga source that works - even if there are a few details that may make more sense in an earlier, larger context. The Scythian Lamb concludes with both a violent, suspenseful finale and a happy denouement. It's a delightful, interesting, very Japanese film, a compendium of different genres and moods happily blended in an atmospheric bouillabaisse. Nice town, Uobuka - nice people. Delicious seafood. But some of the fish have to be buried.

    The Scythian Lamb / 羊の木 Hitsuji no Ki ("Sheep's tree"), 126 mins., debuted at Busan Oct. 2017, and has been included in five other festivals, including the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival, where it was screened for this review, and will show at 9:15 p.m. July 5.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-04-2018 at 12:43 AM.

  4. #19
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    Chinese gangster ladies in a gaudy-gorgeous Taiwan film

    This Eighties family crime picture from Taiwan is gorgeous, lurid, and camp. On one level it is little more than highfalutin trash, soap opera with better production values. But with its multiple formats and lush mise-en-scène, more often than not more visually complex than it needs to be, it's a delight to the eyes - whether one follows the complicated subplots from the history of Taiwan's political corruption or the mannered dialogue or not. Perhaps better not.

    But what one can't miss is, this posh gangster family is female-only. The trio of leads, all juicy roles, are three generations of the Tang family. At center stage is Madame Tang, played by Kara Wai, in the midst of a late-career resurgence. While her cover is an antiques dealership, she really works full time to profit by questionable land speculation laws, cultivates corruptible politicians madly, acting as a go-between for them and dirty businessmen, and waging psychological warfare on any competition.

    Madame Tang's daughter Ning (Wu Ke-xi) is her chief partner in crime, but also a liability due to her Valley-of-the-Dolls-style drug use as well as sexual overindulgence. This is lightly sketched in mostly with conversation, and her always having a cigarette in her hand and looking dreamy, but it's hinted that Ning is emotionally as well as morally damaged beyond repair by her mother's machinations. Chen-Chen (Vicky Chen, who's only fourteen, and who, like Kara Wai, got a Golden Horse award), the "innocent," doughty but slightly creepy girl in sailor-boy school uniform or puffy dresses, represents the third, youngest generation of Clan Tang.

    There is a mind-boggling, but fun, opening series of multiple formats thrown at us, including a wall of TV screens showing different new stories pertaining to the principals and Taipei politics, then a TV studio set as cluttered and pretty as anything in a film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, with an old lady plucking an antique stringed instrument and a man on the right chanting narration in traditional Taiwanese-Chinese dialect, as a framework of the main story. Then comes a fancy but tainted teatime for the grand and elegant Lady Wang (Chen Sha-Li), wife of a Speaker expected to become the top local politician. It's tainted by invasions from reporters, the daughter's odd behavior, and a costly gift that arrives with the hand broken off.

    In anticipation of a major developed project, Madame Tang has guided her political associates to buy up parcels in an otherwise sleepy rural district, using shell companies.

    Tea with Lady Wang is an over-elaborate but culturally nuanced mood-setter that would be worthy of a Godfather epic, were the filmmaking on a higher level and the plot richer. It shows, as Zhuo-Ning Su explains in his Film Stage review, that behind the "fake smiles, every word, gesture, look is code." Behind the elegant tea-time rituals, deals and bribes are being set up. Madame Tang speaks "Mandarin, Taiwanese, Japanese and her native Cantonese, which in itself fills in a lot of blanks with regard to her character’s back story, " Su notes, as well as indicating her level of ambition - information that provides a hint of how much the non-Taiwanese non-Chinese speaker may miss beyond the visual surfaces of this eye-candy movie.

    A big plot complication comes, the next day, with the massacre in their home of local bank director Lin along with his entire family, except for young heiress Pien Pien, left in a coma. Conveniently, the chief suspect is a groom, now disappeared, who was having an affair with one of Lin's daughters. Other deaths turn up. This morphs into a murder case - yes, it's a little bit police procedural too - and brings out Madame Tang's criminal activities, a process leading to what Elizabeth Kerr in her Hollywood Reporter review calls "a wonderfully tragic, lurid, soapy reckoning." Actually the ending is a little weak and anticlimactic, however.

    The summing-up by David D'Arcy in his Screen Daily review, "While grim, this story can also be wonderfully camp," is stating the obvious. This is at best a guilty pleasure, but one must give credit to the production crew and the actors and whoever thought up all the different visual formats to gild the overripe lily. Kudos to production designer Penny Pei-Ling Tsai and dp Ko-Chin Chen. Whatever its flaws, this movie leaves an impression.

    The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful / 血觀音 Xuè guān yīn ("Blood guanyin [goddess]"), 112 mins., debuted at Busan Oct. 2017 and showed at Taipei, Rotterdam, Singapore, Seattle, and Buenos Aires, and was screened for this review as part of the New York Asian Film Festival, where it's showing July 5 at 2:15 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-04-2018 at 11:17 PM.

  5. #20
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    Jul 2002
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    ON THE JOB Erik Matti 2013)



    Training days

    Erik Matti of the Philippines is a leading figure of Southeast Asian genre cinema. His new feature BuyBust, also included in the NYAFF, is his first pure action film. This one from 2013, also in the festival, is highly admired. It gained him international notice through inclusion in Cannes Directors' Fortnight , and was a New York Times Critic's Pick when reviewed by Jeannette Catsoulis. It shows Matti's élan and brilliance as a filmmaker.

    Mario aka Tatang (Joel Torre, who looks like Argentine star Ricardo Darín) is the central figure here, and the central relationship is between him and his cocky protege, Daniel (Filipino-American Gerald Anderson). Both are hit men, and both are prisoners. They are let out to do a hit, then go back in, a perfect cover. They live as ordinary prisoners - it's important to maintain a low profile - in a prison that's more like a cross between a fantasy boy's school and a teeming slum with gay-dominated independent laundry and food services. Tatang explains the game to Daniel, and is with him when he does his first and subsequent hits. The first hit is done by Tatang right out in the open in a crowded and chaotic market place location that's like something in the Bourne series, but more organic.

    Parallel to this pair is Francis, a classy, clean cut, and model-handsome NBI (like the FBI) academy grad (Piolo Pascual, a Manila TV matinee idol) who becomes the protegee of principled cop Acosta (Joey Marquez), but whose key relationship ultimately is with Manrique, a powerful politician (Michael De Mesa), due to marrying his daughter. That marriage, Francis learns, puts him in line not just for distinction in law enforcement but possible high political office. But before long he learns the assassinations have a source close to Manrique, and the whole system is rotten.

    Manrique schools and advises Francis as Tatang tutors Daniel. Francis is investigating the assassinations, which we learn are by hit men from various prisons. At first the film cuts back and forth seamlessly between these two stories without our understanding them or their connection. Also confusing is the fact that the two men not only hide from fellow prisoners what they're doing on the outside but hide from their families that they're even in jail. Tatang's family, including a daughter in law school, which he visits, thinks he's simply working in another town. Daniel only calls mom and pretends he's got a job in Dubai.

    It's all dark, messy, loud, and chaotic. But it's also got atmosphere you could cut with a knife. Our attention is held by the world-class gritty authenticity of the action as staged by Matti and shot by dp Francis Ricardo Buhay III, the skill of the editing by Jay Halil, which makes the film enjoyable even before we understand it, and the punchy score by Erwin Romulo, which adds pizzazz precisely when and where it's needed.

    Call this genre, call it a B picture or merely workmanlike, but up to the inevitable Godfather-style hospital kill and chase that leads to an action showdown linking cops, hit men, and politicoes, the writing by Matti and screenwriter Michiko Yamamoto is skillful in making all elements convincing. They draw us into Tatang and Daniel's weird lifestyle so thoroughly we start to worry when we learn that, now that Tatang has been notified he'll soon be released from prison, his job is over, and he may be put on Daniel's hit list. On the Job makes you enter a full-fledged other world, and Matti uses this B-actioner mode to critique real Filipino corruption and violence.

    On the Job, 118 mins., debuted May 2013 in Cannes Directors' Fortnight and has been in at least 13 other festivals. Its Metascore was 70%. This film was also featured at Toronto last year. It is being revived for the 2018 NYAFF at Lincoln Center, where it shows July 14 at 12:30 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-05-2018 at 04:53 AM.

  6. #21
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    INUYASHIKI (Shinsuke Sato 2018)



    Dangerous youth

    With the story of the meek salaryman or hirashain, Inuyashiki, and the teenager who're simultaneously struck by a a flashing white light like a cosmic ray and wake up turned into cyborgs, we are plunged into the world of manga at its least realistic, but still with plenty of human touches. (The original is by Hiroya Oku.) We also enter a franchise starting for director Shinsuke Sato, who has already done several cult manga films. The 2018 NYAFF includes a couple of other manga adaptations, the high school nightmare River's Edge (which makes one long for Eighties American youth pictures) and The Scythian Lamb, a highly entertaining genre mix, with its absurd but promising premise of a brace of convicted murderers dropped into a small town as part of a nutty "repopulation" scheme.

    Inuyashiki plays with several familiar Japanese tropes. There is the browbeaten salaryman or hirashain, the titular character, who uses his powers to do good, and there is the evil, malicious teenager who goes around murdering people, ultimately forcing Inuyashiki to stop him. The empowered teenager is Hiro Shishigami, played by Takeru Satoh of the "Rurouni Kenshin" series. (Takeru Satoh is a fantasy-manga-sci-fi star, but at 29 a bit old now for tthe role of an 18-year-old.) Hiro is a youthful bad seed. Whereever he goes, people die. A more haunting version of this type is Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure. (Takeru himself starred in Kurosawa's Real.)

    Shishigami seems more adept at using his cyborg powers than Inuyashiki, right away, as he shows them off to his pal Ando/aks/Chokko (Kanata Hongou), by crashing parked cars into each other in a parking garage. The powers are like a new technology kids have more of a feel for. When Inuyashiki catches on that his young counterpart is "shooting" people right and left by pointing his finger and yelling "bam!" he has to learn how to do the same thing in order to stop him - but it's hard. This recalls Josh Trank's 2012 Chronicle, where Dane DeHaan shone, about American high schoolers abruptly gifted with special powers who struggle to learn how to use them and make a mess of it. Like Hiro they have teen angst and superpowers are a bad thing to have with poor impulse control.

    The cyborg idea itself relates most notably to the seminal Nineties body-horror series Tetsuo directed by Shinya Tsukamoto, but this time without the creepy, haunting cyberpunk heavy metal style, only occasional dramatic flashes of CGI where man and boy sprout metal innards that flash, then fold back inside.

    When it comes to the browbeaten salaryman who becomes an unexpected hero, there is no greater or more memorable example of the theme than Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) in Akira Kurosawa's 1952 masterpiece Ikiru, whose profound humanism contrasts sharply with the falling off from moral values and good sense represented by manga and modern films. We must give Inuyashiki credit for highlighting feelings and behavior over violence and pure action, compared to many similar manga films; but in Ikiru, we're in the world of real life andInuyashiki, depicts a thin, comic book world full of cliché.

    Stopped by police for the family he killed after visiting his father, Hiro hides with a female admirer, Shion (Sumire Morohoshi). Then he begins killing people remotely through their PC or cell phone screens. He is mocked by trolls, so he kills 26 this way. He becomes the ultimate psychopathic young mass murderer now, deciding everyone is against him and that he must kill all of Japan, starting from the giant screen in Shinjuku. Now Inuyashiki becomes a disaster movie, with textbook fleeing, terrified crowd sequences out of Battleship Potemkin. Meanwhile the old salaryman tries to prepare to stop him, coached by Hiro's former best friend, Chokko.

    From then on for the last twenty minutes or so of this rather long movie it's a battle of the titans in the air and on the ruined tops of tall buildings in what, for Japanese cinema, is a pretty Hollywood-style display of grand special effects. Inuyashiki finally wins the respect of his hitherto utterly mean family (especially the female members) - even if the evil Hiro has a more prettily-sculpted torso.

    Sato directed the live-action film adaptation of Oku's Gantz manga, as well as its Gantz II:

    Inuyashiki / いぬやしき, 127 mins., debuted 20 Apr. 2018 in Brussels, at the International Fantastic Film Festival, also showing at Udine and at Montreal's Fantasia. It opened theatrically in Japan 20 Apr. 2018. It was screened for this review as part of the NYAFF, where it shows at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center Sun, 15 Jul. at 1 p.m.


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-09-2018 at 12:59 AM.

  7. #22
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    SMOKIN' ON THE MOON (Kanata Wolf 2017)



    Japanese ganja bromance

    Whether you take the action in Smokin' on the Moon seriously or not, it's fun to watch this first feature by Osaka-based musician and filmmaker Wolf (aka Yuichiro Tanaka) for its playful way with formats and punk visual style (including two animated dream sequences), which, except for the beginning, is vibrant without being overwhelming. Based by Wolf on his own manga, the film was filmed by dp Hiroo Takaoka in a manner that's intimate, yet clear, and gives the action and main characters a naturalism to counteract the fantastic stoned element. The main characters are appealing, and the story comes to a sweet, touching end. Wolf gives an engaging feel to his grungy slice of life with Hiroyasu Koizumi's intentionally decrepit set and production design (notably for the pair's mess of a flat supplied them by a wannabe rapper), idiosyncratic fast edits, and deliberately unrelated scene shifts. That's balanced by up-close camerawork of people that's surprisingly intimate, aided by the charm of the two main actors.

    The early scenes, a Kaleidoscopic whirlwind of vignettes of the guys' lifestyle, seem like pure visual play, as they introduce the frivolous, wigged out pair of buddies, thirtyish Sota (Arata Iura) and twenty-something, scrawny-stylish, tattooed and red-haired "rooster" Rakuto (former model Ryo Narita), who work at a Tokyo bar and deal marijuana on the side. Their affection for each other is the emotional anchor of the film. We meet other colorful characters, including an oversexed landlady (LiLiCo) and a loud-mouthed rapper pot dealer called Jay (Yasu Peron).

    Slackers are a poignant element in a Japanese society that doesn't afford a productive or lucrative spot for all its citizens. And we need to have sympathy for the two stoner pals in the foreground. They do most of the smokin', and spend life in a pleasant weed haze. That will end as the film moves along, going from stoner movie to crime story to medical melodrama, but the drug-inspired vibe and the spirit of visual play never completely disappear. A scene of extreme violence is mitigated, aestheticized, even, by casting it in low-resolution black-and-white, with splashes of red.

    The guys' constant high numbs them from from the real danger posed by the yakuza toughs who come into their Tokyo lowlife sphere as part of drug dealing. That works for them till Jay is executed by the mob, and a sadistic baddie called Hatta (Kanji Tsuda) turns up to make sure Sota and Rakuto are in the dark about this. Sota is shocked by this encounter into the realization that at thirty-four, he needs to get serious about his life, while Rakuta considers going over to the yakuza side in a peripheral, safe capacity; a "straight" job isn't much of an option for a middle-school dropout with flaming red-dyed hair and arms full of tattoos. Sota's dad (Eiji Okuda) runs a restaurant in Okinawa specialized in okonomiyaki grilled pancakes, and this is an obivious legit birth for Sota. He left that life because it seemed boring, but his eight years in Tokyo have yielded nothing but one strong friendship, with Rakuto.

    Flashbacks toward the end - the editing is constantly deft and playful - illustrate why Rakuto has nothing to go back to. He deeply resents his mother for not protecting him, or herself, from a stepfather who beat them every day - also in Okinawa. Now, perhaps to give back good for bad, he has become a surrogate dad for a little boy and his mother Tsukimi (Mary Sara), an old friend who's trying to kick a crack habit.

    The shift from slacker bromance to addiction drama to crime story to a focus on child abuse, drug addiction, and a fatal case of Hodgkin's lymphoma may seem a bit much, and certainly turns sentimental. It's hard to take it all seriously. But while the visual dynamics make it still fun to watch, Wolf's sincerity never seems in doubt. As Rakuto, Ryo Narita is an irresistible boy-man who's sweet and nice. It's all so various and playful that the two hours pass smoothly, at least for this viewer.

    Smokin' on the Moon / ニワトリ★スター ("Rooster [chicken] star"), 119 mins., screened for this review as part of the NYAFF, its North American Premiere, where it's showing Tues. Jul. 10, 2018 at 9:15 p.m. including a Q&A with diretor Kanata Wolf.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-17-2018 at 01:04 AM.

  8. #23
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    Jul 2002
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    SAD BEAUTY (Bongkod Bencharongkul 2018)



    Extremes of friendship

    Bencharongkul's Sad Beauty is a picture that delves into friendship of women, narcissism, spousal abuse, even murder, but it seems most notable (in this combination) for, as the title says, its beauty, a glamour and sensuality that's so strong even when a corpse is being fed to crocodiles, it's pretty. This somehow fits with the tropical magic of Thailand that's evoked by the country's most famous filmmaker, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. This is veteran actress Bencharongkul's second sortie as a director, and she seems to know what she's doing. This is a movie that's interesting and intriguing. It's an odd combination of elements, fashion shoots, a sordid beating and murder, a body disposal worthy of the Coen brothers with a touch of Patricia Highsmith, and then back to the night club scene where the model-failed actress Yo (Florence Faivre, well cast) looks glamorous even when she's bruised.

    Yo's best friend, companion and unpaid assistant is Pim (Pakkawadee Pengsuwan, excellent), who's smaller, seems younger, also more stable, but is sorely tested. Pim's diagnosis with serious eye cancer - following a club night and a steamy, sensuous shared shower - leads the two women to Pim's house, where her mother has been badly beaten, and the fatal confrontation of Yo and Pim with Pim's brutal, abusive stepfather takes place. The body disposal, requiring a trip to Pim's "uncle," her mother's ex-boyfriend, way up in the woods, is the central, most absorbing section in the movie. Sparse, Hemingwayesque hints at his remote house suggest he may have experience in combat and big game hunting, or maybe he's just a tropical he-man. But he's young. Though he's a total contrast, and not a talker, he plays the same role as The Wolf (Harvey Keitel) when Jules and Vincent accidentally have a corpse on their hands in Pulp Fiction.

    This is a hard act to follow, but one of Sad Beauty's best aspects is the assurance of its sudden shifts. Suddenly it's a year later but Yo and Pim, who had a bitter little spat after the corpse disposal (that was a long, tough night), are still friends. Pim has been having chemo. Yo is still making good money, but still has bad vibes in the business. She still is dissolute, has no purpose, is pursued by handsome guys after a good time, and now has nightmares inspired by that night of the crocodiles. Gradually it sinks in that this is a woman's picture, centered on an intense, dysfunctional woman's friendship, in which the killing is forgotten and the greatest crime is the failure to be there for one's friend at the crucial moment. But this failure is n't without repentance. This is a female director who can handle film noir with its appropriate violence, but also delve deeply into the complexity of a women's friendship. . The sensuousness also extends to things that are icky or disgusting, like the wrapped, seeping body and Pim's diseased eye, but also to a delicate handling of the lost friend that's sad without being sentimental.

    The Far East Film Festival 20 blurb points out interesting details about the film and the filmmaker. More known in Thailand as Tak Bongkod, or her acting name before being married, Bongkod Kongmalai (Thai names aren't easy!) Bencharongkul began acting at fifteen in 2000, the "early days of the New Thai Cinema era." She starred in more than twenty movies for Sahamongkol Film, including blockbusters, and has also starred in TV series. This film, her first as an independent writer-producer-director (fortunate position) benefits from cult film director Kongkiat Khomsiri for details of production. The writer suggests an expressionistic role in the camerawork, bird's eye view angles "perhaps to signify the patriarchal control surrounding the protagonists," and handheld camera movement "to stress the convulsive sensibilities and feelings of being female in Thai society." But that seems to me secondary to the way the images deliver beauty even at the ugliest or ickiest moments in the action - an effect that is both cloying and liberating. And beyond the style, this director has something important and heartfelt to say. An excellent and original film.

    Sad Beauty, 92 mins., debuted at Udine Apr. 2018, also Shanghai and Bucheon. Screened for this review as part of the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival, showing at the Walter Reade Theater on 14 July 2018 at 5 p.m.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-17-2018 at 12:34 AM.

  9. #24
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    BUYBUST (Erik Matti 2018)

    World premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival as its Closing Night Film.



    World premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival as its Closing Night Film.

    The heroics of a female cop, Nina Manigan (Australian actress Anne Curtis) are the highlight of a prolonged, scruffy gun battle of the Manila police against rank and file members of the local drug mafia in ace Filipino genre director Erik Matti's new film BubBust. The cops plan a "buybust" in which two teams infiltrate a drug deal with a local they've "turned," then surround and arrest. But in the event, the dealers change the location to an even seedier part of the city slums. Out of their element, they keep the audience waiting nearly an hour before the hard core action begins. Then, after the shooting starts, the police find themselves trapped when one of their own seems to have betrayed them. Armed members of the local population, enraged at being caught in the crossfire, turn on them too, and Manigan is a leader of the fight when they must struggle for hours to pull out without necessary backup. This is the essence of a chaotic, violent, and hard to follow action film (much of it takes place in the dark, in heavy rain) that is nonetheless, typically, well choreographed by Matti and his team. The elaborate production reportedly includes 1,278 extras and 309 stuntmen. Curtin does most of her stunts herself.

    A premise is that Manigan, a newcomer to the force and unhampered by old loyalties or corruption, has seen her entire squad shot out around her during a previous raid. Mixed Martial Arts star Brandon Vera co-stars. The project is billed as one of the most ambitious Philippine productions to date. Whhile not merely a series of hand-to-hand combats like Gareth Evans' ultra-violent, now cult status, The Raid: Redemption (ND/NF 2012), BuyBust does consist largely of hand-to-hand and gun fighting.

    Matti and his editor Jay Halili focus on moving rapidly around among the combatants. This makes the action sometimes confusing, but nice flashing light effects in the darkness photographed by dp Neil Derrick Bion and his team make the visuals often attractive and, however artificial, are necessary for the audience even to glimpse what's going on. The soundtrack includes the threatening broadcast voice of the drug gang leader, as well as loud, clangorous musical score by Erwin Romulo and Malek Lopez that often changes abruptly in mood and instrument, from guitar to strings to synthesizer to harpsichord to harmonica go drum. A harpsichord probably was never used to accompany a cops-and-robbers gun battle before.

    There are some very, very violent moments, including a beheading - and, seconds later, we get to see the head sitting in a puddle of burning oil - one of dozens of elaborately-planned vignettes that punctuate the chaotic, exhausting action. At one point when Manigan and Yatco, aka Rico (Brandon Vera) are fighting off - to the death - a gang of angry locals in a claustrophobic space, a short circuit of crossed wires from above (in the heavy rain) causes a shower of sparks that electrocutes some of the combatants, including Rico, whom Madigan must fight to revive. They will continue, though, as a team of avengers.

    There are moments of narrow escape for Manigan and Rico, but even three quarters of the way through this two-hour film, another crowd of angry, armed ghetto dwellers pours into a shabby square. There is more a sense of perpetual motion than of progress. One longs for the lean loneliness of a Western shootout. Finally there is a cool but deadly encounter between Madingan and the local drug kingpin, Biggie Chen (Arjo Alayde), and a final ironic voiceover that alludes to the current president's "war on drugs" to which perhaps this whole farrago of violence is an oblique allusion.

    This is an exceptionally elaborate and demanding production that's as impressive as it is grueling to watch. But the action, however varied, ultimately becomes monotonous. In human terms this not ultimately as interesting a film as Matti's masterful 2013 actioner On the Job, also shown at the New York Asian Film Festival (and reviewed here), which has a more complex trajectory and an interesting relationship between two convicts of different generations who carry out targeted assassinations during releases from prison. Hopefully now that Matti has proven that he can do complex virtually non-stop action, he will go back to films that have more human nuance and variety.

    The slum setting where the cops are trapped and must fight their way out of is a beehive of multi-storied makeshift cells, closed in, yet unprotected from the rain. This is a fascinatingly complex and picturesque feat of claustrophobic production design. But its basically uniform, indecipherable nature is one reason the action's logistics are hard to parse.

    Other cast members include Joross Gamboa, Mara Lopez, Nonie Buencamino, AJ Muhlach and Victor Neri.

    BuyBust, Phillippines 126 mins., debuted at the New York Asian Film Festival on Closing Night, 15 Jul. 2018 at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center, at 8:30 p.m. World Premiere. Q&A with director Erik Matti and actors Anne Curtis & Brandon Vera · Closing Night Party. It will show at Fantasia International Film Festival in Canada 18 July, on 19 July at Comicon as part of the 21st Annuel Superhero Kung Fu Extravaganza panel, and at Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, at Fantasia in Montreal 18 July, and opening theatrically in the U.S. 10 Aug.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-16-2018 at 09:10 PM.

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