Saturday, July 23, 2005

Fantasia Day #3

An interesting day. Kids loved the King Kong vs. Godzilla action, but not many of them stuck around for Please Teach Me English, which I think a lot of them, especially young girls, might have gotten into. Fantasia doesn't have a "Fantasia for families" section on their website like they did last year, so parent might not immediately grasp from the program that it's sort of pitched to the same audience as an Olsen Twins movie. Only it's, you know, good.

Then it was across the street for Karaoke Terror, which would probably be my favorite film from the festival if not for Godzilla: Final Wars. It's absolutely insane, but builds its craziness up almost perfectly. I'm hoping the Brattle picks this up later in the year, maybe even for the BFFF (although I'd mostly rather that week programs movies I didn't see at Fantasia).

Anyway, on to the reviews:

King Kong vs. Godzilla (Kingukongu tai Gojira)

* * ¼ (out of four) (English-dubbed version)
Seen 9 July 2005 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia)

This movie is one of the greatest ideas ever. King Kong and Godzilla are both exciting works of fantasy, among the most popular films produced in their native lands, and the title characters are known world-wide. To have them square off is something that should make every fan of both movies giddy. It's too bad, then, that the movie (at least as presented in North America) is somewhat lackluster.

The plot, at least as it is presented here, has pharmaceutical/media kingpin Tako (Ichiro Arishima) sending an expedition to a tropical island to trade for berries which have incredible medicinal properties. The natives won't give them up, though, because of a "giant god". He dispatches Osamu Sakurai (Tadao Takashima) and Kinsaburo Furue (Yu Fujiki) to make a deal, or at least get film of this strange creature. They do get pictures of Kong, fighting with a giant octopus, and receive orders to bring the beast back to Tokyo with them - Tako wants his own monster after a nuclear submarine investigating an iceberg discovers another giant monster trapped within - a giant reptile with radioactive breath quickly christened "Gojira"!

Read the rest at HBS.

Please Teach Me English (Yeongeo Wanjeonjeongbok)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2005 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia)

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Please Teach Me English is that even though star Lee Na-yeong is a former model, her character remains a dork pretty much all the way to the end. Sure, there's a moment in a dream sequence when the audience gets the idea that her looking plain may in fact take a little effort, but when she takes off her glasses and tries to look pretty a few scenes later, she looks like she's trying too hard, as opposed to a starlet who has had all her uglifying make-up and costume choices removed. Cinderella-story veterans may find this to be the strangest thing that the movie does, despite it being stuffed with silliness almost to bursting.

And "silly" really is the name of the game here; the first act especially has little animated bits poking out of every corner and goofy asides; many of the characters, especially the leads, are broad and cartoonish. There are untranslated jokes on the English-language television station the characters watch to practice their comprehension ("War in Somewhere" being one of my favorites). The narration provided by Na Young-ju (Lee) alternates between the kind of self-confident, um, exaggeration and simple confession. I rather suspect that this is a movie made with ten-to-fourteen-year-old Korean girls in mind, although it works well enough that even someone as far outside that demographic as me can enjoy it.

Read the rest at HBS.

Karaoke Terror, aka The Complete Japanese Showa Song-Book (Shôwa kayô daizenshû)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia)

I've been playing the "X meets Y" game with The Complete Japanese Showa Song-Book (or, as it appeared in the festival program, Karaoke Terror, and the best I've come up with is "Fight Club meets Thelma and Louise", or perhaps more appropriately, "Fight Club versus Thelma and Louise". I do this not just because I would be proud to have my name on the back of its DVD case, but because I'm trying to think of a way to recommend it to friends and family who have not reacted well to previous "weird stuff from Japan" recommendations, even if they've enjoyed weird stuff in the past.

And yes, Karaoke Terror is weird. The plot involves twelve karaoke fans - six men in their early twenties and six divorced women in their mid/late thirties. The six young men don't quite recall how they came together; some met at work, others at school; the women met when profiled for a magazine article; they're called "The 6 Midoris" because they share the same given name. When one of the boys (who's already pretty unstable, taking to carrying a knife around) catches a glimpse of one of the women, he tries to force himself on her, figuring that a woman her age should consider herself lucky that someone is showing an interest. She refuses, and after a brief scuffle he stabs her in the throat. One of the other Midoris finds the body.

Read the rest at HBS.


* (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia)

What the hell was that?

I'm tempted to just leave my review at that, but that would be unfair to a whole bunch of people. The people making comments, for instance - "what the hell was that?" would be no longer or informative than what they wrote but still be given greater weight. Then there are the good people who organized the festival and treated me rather like a real member of the media, probably expecting a certain amount of write-up in return (admittedly, probably more laudatory than this). And then there are the readers, who might take that the wrong way and say, bah, he just didn't understand the movie.

Which, I'll readily cop to. Understand, I'm not a guy who goes into a Takashi Miike movie without expectations - I've seen a few, and been able to look past the sensationalistic exterior to see the substance underneath; I had some idea of what to expect. I still suspect that one would have to be a little more familiar with the Japanese mindset and cultural landscape to fully understand this one, and there are minutes I simply missed, because my eyes were closing or wandering from the picture/subtitles. Heck, I'd be tempted to disregard anything a reviewer says after he admits to momentarily succumbing to heavy eyelids during the movie, but let me say that I had no problem staying awake for Buppah Rahtree, which I saw immediately after Izo as the last movie of a five-movie day, so it wasn't just a late hour or fatigue - Izo itself knocked me out.

Read the rest at HBS.

Buppa Rahtree

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2005 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia)

Of all the hyphenated terms we use to stick films into genres rather than just saying whether it's a good movie or a bad movie, or somewhere in-between, there's probably not one that seems to be more absurd on the face of it than "horror-comedy". After all, the goal of a horror movie is to unsettle the audience. A little nervous laughter is one thing, but if you're seriously trying to creep the audience out, comedy tends to be comic relief, and relief is what tales of horror don't need. So while Buppah Rahtree manages to provide more than a few laughs and scares, I'm not sure that it can ultimately be called a horror movie, even when you stick a hyphen-comedy in there.

The story is a simple enough one. Wealthy college student Akekapol Dumrongsub (Kris Srepoomseth) woos Buppah Rahtree (Chermarn Boonyasak), who is attractive but reserved. After consummating their relationship, we see that "Ake" seduced her on a bet with his other privileged friends. He changes his phone number and avoids her, even though he finds he misses her. When they meet again, though, it's because she's pregnant. The ensuing abortion goes badly, and she bleeds out a few nights later. It's a month before the landlady notices that Buppah hasn't paid her rent and she discovers the body when she comes to collect. When the police try to remove it, though, it does things a dead body ought not do, like sit up, and they run away in fear.

Read the Rest at HBS.

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