Asian Film Festival of Dallas 2011: Wrapping up the festival’s second half
This year’s Asian Film Festival of Dallas (AFFD) has a wonderful line-up of films representing all manner of countries in the East. Unfortunately there’s just not time enough to see them all. I am the lone GATWer covering this festival so instead of doing full reviews of all the films, which would take forever, I’ll be giving shorter critiques in a couple of recapping posts to give you a wide look at everything this ten-year-old fest has to offer.
CITY UNDER SIEGE (2010)
Writers: Benny Chan, Chi-man Ling
Director: Benny Chan
A group of circus performers go exploring in an old cave that contains some possible treasure. Once inside they find the gold bars they were looking for but soon after release a toxic gas that infects their blood streams. These toxins in their systems enable them with some superhuman abilities, but they are also grossly transformed in the process. Along with them is a kinder member of the troupe who they toss overboard their boat in a storm and assume he’s dead. Sunny lives through the ordeal and has gained the same abilities without the grotesque physical alterations. His devious co-workers wreak havoc and try to capture Sunny while he, his news reporter friend Angel, and a couple of special police attempt to stop them.
Right off the bat this is a pretty goofy film. Much of the story is full of humor, even while in battle, and it’s the kind of silly humor. All of the action is very fast, defying the laws of physics with plenty of wire work. The stunts are kept pretty interesting but their execution, along with the wire work, is a bit sloppy and comical. I think this is partly where the movie succeeds. Sure, it would be great if things got a little more serious in the battles while keeping the laughs confined to the dialog but that’s not what Chan chose to do. Some really were not a fan of this over-the-top silliness but it really works for me and keeps things light – a welcome change for a sci-fi/action flick.
One of the low points is the bits that get a little too sappy between the love plots of the two cops or Sunny and Angel. At one point there is even a very '80s romantic montage with a slow love ballad. Can you say cheesy? All can be forgiven for this movie as it contains possibly the best reaction by a guy walking away from an explosion ever.
ENEMY AT THE DEAD END (2010)
Director: Owen Cho
An unhappy stroke patient, Min-ho, in a Korean hospital is trying everything to take his own life. He’s depressed since his incident and doesn’t want to live. Soon the target of his aggression changes as his new hospital roommate is someone he recognizes and does not like. Sang-up has been through major brain trauma and has temporarily lost his memory and any movement. As the days pass, Min-ho tries his hardest to kill Sang-up with anything he can get his hands on but his limited mobility is a debilitating factor in his quest. Everything is going fine until Sang-up’s memory begins to return and he realizes just who is in the bed next to him.
I have seen quite a few Korean revenge movies, and they makes some downright nasty ones that fill my blackened heart with glee, but this is a first that has so many funny moments. As shocking as it might sound this film about a partially paralyzed man trying to kill another is actually hysterical in some places. Both of the men are quite grumpy and have their own twisted personalities, it’s almost like a darker version of THE ODD COUPLE. I spent a lot of the runtime replacing the actors with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in my head. It’s a shame they are dead because that would be one American remake that anyone could get behind.
The ways they inflict pain on each other can get downright ingenious. There are the normal attacks like bars of soap dropped in pantyhose or trying to push the other off a cliff, but Min-ho also takes a very Rube Goldberg approach to his deathly devices. Using a length of rope he tosses one end with a slipknot around Sang-up’s neck, then up over the ceiling fan and holding the other end in his hand. Now all he has to do is flip the light switch and viola, Sang-up is being strangled. Fantastic!
The only real downfall of the film is the ending. Not the whole last act is bad there are just some very eye-rolling moments in climax that many horror/thriller fans are getting sick of seeing. SAW, we’re looking in your direction. Still, ENEMY AT THE DEAD END is quite entertaining, funny and the intimate location really adds a lot.
LOVE IN A PUFF (2010)
Writers: Ho-Cheung Pang, Heiward Mak
Director: Ho-Cheung Pang
Due to some very strict smoking restrictions in Hong Kong all of the nicotine addicts must huddle together in back alleyways between buildings for their fix. These groups of smokers bond together and congregate at the same time in huddles away from their respective jobs. Amidst the haze and high levels of gossip two of the group find a spark. One is an advertising guy named Jimmy (Shawn Yue) who is recently single and fairly down until he meets the lovely new woman who works at a nearby cosmetics store, Cherie (Miriam Yeung Chin Wah). The two hit it off immediately and begin a rather quick courtship bonded by cigarettes and laughter.
This is only my second Pang film and it’s very different than the other – a super gory horror flick DREAM HOUSE. This is a romantic comedy with no excessive bloodshed. I know that sounds like no fun, but I assure you that it is a success. These two characters are very familiar and show an extremely real depiction of the beginning stages of a relationship. All of the fun and excitement with just a tad more smoking. The comedy aspects of the film help to elevate it beyond and into that realm of charming. Jimmy and Cherie poke fun at one another and this playfulness really leaps off the screen and makes you smile.
Some former smokers might find themselves fidgeting in their seats. There is just so much smoking and it can cause a flood of memories and cravings. Still, it’s worth resisting that urge to see such a funny and sweet film. Be sure to keep watching once the credits start to roll because there are plenty more laughs to come. Some of my favorites, in fact.
MIDNIGHT FM (2010)
Director: Sang Man Kim
On the evening of Seon-Yeong Go’s last broadcast of her popular late-night radio show things go from sad to horrific. Soon after the show begins she gets a call from a crazed “fan” who has infiltrated her home and taken her sister and two kids hostage threatening to kill them all if she doesn’t play his songs and games.
The plot to this one is a fairly simple one and it follows those standard cat-and-mouse types of rules but manages to keeps it interesting and tense the entire time. Right off the bat Kim will get film fans (or at least film music fans) into this flick’s world as her show, “Late Night Soundtrack," is one that just plays music from movies. I know that some of the satellite channels and the likes of internet radio stations have all film score/soundtrack stations but that’s crazy to have one on the terrestrial airwaves. Not to mention have it be so popular. I would have killed for something like that when I was growing up. This film also gets a bonus for mentioning PUMP UP THE VOLUME and playing Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” from the film.
But this movie isn’t just about the music; it’s about the chase. The crazed individual responsible for all of the problems is Dong-soo Han and Ji-tae Yu (who you may remember as Woo-jin Lee from OLDBOY) plays him wonderfully. This man can really make your skin crawl with his nefarious actions and the cold eyes behind his devilish grin. The action starts off with a bang and slows down a little before pushing the pedal to the floor. By the end of the film your heart will be racing and don’t be surprised to find your hands gripping the arm of your chair a little tighter than normal. While there is nothing really new here it is an adrenaline fueled ride that is well worth the time.
TRIPLE TAP (2010)
Director: Tung-Shing Yee
This film starts at a competition where a couple of marksmen make their way through a shooting course, both shattering records. After leaving, the overall winner, Kwan Yau-bok (Louis Koo), stumbles upon an armored truck robbery where the guards have been shot and he decides to get his gun and try to help. He ends up killing all but one of the robbers after they shoot a cop and he is taken into custody only to find out that the lead detective is the man who’s record he broke, Chong Tze-wai (Daniel Wu). Kwan is charged with the murder of the robbers but found not guilty. Still, there is something about him that Chong doesn’t want to let go. Now he has the cops on his tail as well as the escaped robber, but nothing is simple.
Another very fine action-thriller this year at AFFD! Trying to solve the crime along with this one is kind of fun because of the way information is slowly leaked out in the story. You don’t learn everything until right at the very end and that’s always good to keep a little mystery. The opening scene at the shooting competition is incredible, if only it would have been longer. I never realized that these marksmen ran through obstacle courses like this. Maybe they show it on one of the ESPN channels because it’s quite entertaining. Shooting comes into play a few times in the film, as you would imagine, but it’s a little disappointing that it isn’t included in more of the story.
After watching I found out that this is a spin-off of another similarly themed film. DOUBLE TAP (2000) involves another expert shooter and some crazy things that happen to him in the real world. He shows up in a smaller role here and has me ready to track down that source movie. TRIPLE TAP is a great film and I recommend it highly.
Writer and Director: Takeshi Kitano
Here we are, the closing night film. Another year of Dallas’ Asian Film Fest is in the books and the theater is packed to see writer/actor/director Takeshi Kitatano make his return to the yakuza films for which he is so loved. And it’s a great return indeed.
The plot is pretty simple, and anyone who has ever seen any kind of film involving organized crime knows it well. Kitano plays Otomo who is in the middle of a huge power struggle within the family of his section in the organization. People beat, torture and kill others to get where they want to in life and the yakuza. All wanting that power and respect.
This kind of plot can get old and fall into the same progression as all the classics. What plays really well with this film is the realistic approach to the world of the mob. People think everything is about respect and defending your boss and family, but given the chance any one of them would kill another to get closer to that coveted leadership position – be it “don” in Italian families or a man called The Chairman here. There is no real respect or obedience. These men kill because someone tells them to, they don’t feel for any one man more than the other and OUTRAGE shows this well.
A huge shining star in the win column must also be added for the violence. This seedy part of the film is one reason they’re so popular. People want to see bad men doing bad things and here they get plenty. Kitano created some dark and inventive ways of killing off characters or just torturing them to get them to talk. You won’t see any hackneyed breaking of kneecaps here. One of the best is definitely the surprise attack on one of the other bosses while he’s in the dentist’s chair. Not a fun place to be caught off-guard.
There you have it, another great year with tons of great films. Thanks to everyone involved for a great festival. I look forward to seeing you all in 2012 for year 11!