Thursday, August 04, 2005

Fantasia Day Nine (15 Juillet 2005)

On Friday, I spent the morning/early afternoon up in the old Expo grounds, mainly checking out the Biosphere because Buckminster Fuller-designed structures are highly cool. Didn't stay too terribly long, since the inside is a thoroughly kid-oriented museum on water and how we rotten human beings are abusing it. Not that there's no truth to that point of view, but it tends to bug me, since it often treats human beings as if we're some sort of alien invaders, laying waste to a planet not are own rather than a species that evolved here and builds things because it's part of our natural behavior.

Fortunately, it was free admission day, so I didn't feel the need to hang around too long. The display about Fuller on the top floor was cute, though, if, again, kid-oriented.

Pretty thoroughly excellent day afterward. I wasn't too keen on Phantom Master, but the films surrounding it were some of the festival's best: Two Hong Kong action-thrillers, Love Battlefield and Breaking News, and the hugely entertaining Godzilla: Final Wars.

Hong Kong has sort of been in cinematic decline over the past decade, as some filmmakers and stars came to America but failed to work the same magic, mainland China exerted more influence, and folks like Jackie Chan just got old. Love Battlefield and Breaking News feature a new generation of actors, although the latter is directed by old hand Johnnie To. They're great big thrillers, though, with the hard edge to their action Hollywood often lacks.

And Godzilla... If you're in the Boston area, hit the Brattle this weekend. They've got Final Wars from Friday to Monday, and I can more or less guarantee that it plays better with a big crowd. Some folks on the Boston sci-fi marathon board didn't like it, but they clearly seemed to be judging it for what it's not, as opposed to what it is - giant monster goodness wedded to Ryuhei Kitamura insanity.

And, stop by Bartley's before/after for a burger and "godzilla-sized" milkshake. They had some good burgers and fries up in Montreal (really excellent), but I didn't visit any place that had both the great burgers and fun of Bartley's. That's my plan for the weekend.

Love Battlefield (Ai Zuozhan)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2005 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia)

From the way Love Battlefield starts, one would think that the title is metaphorical: Yui (Eason Chan) and Ching (Niki Chow), both from Hong Kong, meet cute vacationing in the country (Yui fishes her shoe out of the water). They connect, and what follows is a series of more-or-less random clips from their relationship over the next year, where we see them in love, but also ready to snap at each other over tiny, unimportant things. Things come to a head when their car is stolen just before they're about to leave on a European vacation that doesn't particularly excite Yui (the climate is too chilly for his taste). He says they should call the police, she says he's trying to get out of a trip he doesn't want to take. "We should just break up!", she yells, and there's something painfully final about it. Someone coming in cold, who doesn't know what these scenes are holding in reserve, might settle in for a drama about the two trying to mend their relationship. Boy, are they in for a surprise.

Because Yui decides not to go to the police station, and on his way back spots their car. But when he opens the back, he doesn't find their luggage, but instead a wounded man pointing a gun in his face, asking how long he's been an ER nurse. Soon, he's surrounded by men with guns, demanding he take them back to their apartment and treat the injured member of their gang. Soon, Ching will be the only one who sees that Yui has been kidnapped, and she'll be running from the police, too, as they think Yui is part of the gang and want to hold her for questioning. But the gangsters' leader, Wah (Zhiwen Wang), just realizes that it would be useful to have someone who knows some medicine along. He's right, too, and not just because they've already got someone going into shock. There's a lot of injuries coming up.

Read the rest at HBS.


Phantom Master: Dark Hero From Ruined Empire (Shin Angyo Onshi)

* * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia) (projected video)

I saw Phantom Master: Dark Hero From Ruined Empire the night after I saw Le Portrait de Petite Cossette, and here's the funny thing: Where I started Cossette's review with a comment on how it is not actually a movie, it nevertheless feels more like a movie than Phantom Master, which feels more like the first two or three episodes of an ongoing television series than a feature film. It introduces the setting, tells a pair of interesting stories, and finishes with the protagonist on his way to the next adventure, after only taking a step or two toward solving its central mysteries.

The setting is a post-apocalyptic one, some years after the fall of the Jushin Empire. Jushin mostly allowed its conquered lands home rule, but abusive leaders would attract the attention of the Amen-Oshi, wandering enforcers who can summon a phantom army to crush would-be dictators. Now, the last of the Amen-Oshi is Munsu, who still keeps to his mission while wandering in search of those who caused of the fall of Jushin. His first mission has a dual purpose, though, as he seeks to rescue Chunhyan, the captured (and formidable) girlfriend of Mon-ryon, a merchant who saved his life in the desert. After that, they investigate an island city where things seem peaceful, but they aren't quite right.

Read the rest at HBS.

Godzilla: Final Wars (Gojira: Fainaru Uôzo)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia)

If this is going to be Godzilla's last appearance for a few years, then the big guy is going out in style. The guest list for his going-away party reads like a who's who of Toho kaiju monsters, the whole world, from Tokyo to Sydney to New York to Antartica, is the setting, and wonder of wonders, the in-between scenes, the ones featuring scrawny humans going about their business until Godzilla and company smash their cities - they're fun. They've got excitement, action and humor. Director Ryuhei Kitamura was given twice the usual budget for a Godzilla movie, but he seems to do about four times as much.

Who directs a Godzilla movie is probably of as little interest to non-hard-core fans as who directs a Star Trek or James Bond movie, and generally really isn't terribly important - the studios tend to hire directors who are competent, but not idiosyncratic, the thinking being that something that stands out may drive people away - so Kitamura's name should make people stand up and take notice. Kitamura is one of Japan's most exciting action directors, having gained a worldwide cult following with his frantic, overstuffed Versus, and while that 2000 movie was flawed, it was still huge fun, his later movies to make it to America (Alive and Azumi) showed improvement. I guess Toho figured that if he screwed up Godzilla: Final Wars, well, they weren't planning to make another for five or ten years anyway, so what the heck?

Read the rest at HBS.


Breaking News (Dai Si Gein)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia)

The difference between Breaking News and many other siege movies is its use of the media. Typically, the role of the press in a story about a standoff is to get in the cops' way, revealing crucial information to the villains or otherwise presenting an obstacle for the characters to work around. Here, we see the police actively working to manipulate the press, with disquieting success. It's an intriguing idea for a movie, but ultimately Breaking News uses it as a sidelight, an interesting subplot to a rather familiar hostage drama. Fortunately, it's a well-made, exciting example of that subgenre.

As the movie opens, we're given a quick look at two of our drama's key players. Yuan (Richie Ren) and his crew are working a heist, not aware that Inspector Cheung (Nick Cheung) and his squad are tailing them. Their plan goes south when they are stopped by a pair of traffic cops, a situation that rapidly devolves into a shoot-out that leaves two dead, and becomes a public relations nightmare when the media shows up and captures not only the running gunfight, but continuously replays the embarassing image of one officer holding up his hands, begging the bandits not to shoot. As the incident leads the people of Hong Kong to start distrusting their law-enforcement, despite statistics showing it to be one of the world's safest cities, Inspector Rebecca Fong (Kelly Chen) proposes an audacious response - when the gang resurfaces, the HKPD should mount an attack that is not only overwhelming in scale - a thousand uniformed officers - but which she will meticulously stage-manage so that the secondary goal of presenting a friendly, trustworthy and effective face for the Department is given almost as much importance as the first. She won't have to wait long, as Cheung quickly tracks Yuan down. What she doesn't expect is that Yuan proves to be pretty media-savvy himself, or that the building where he hides out and takes a family hostage contains a second group of criminals - this one a team of assassins.

Read the rest at HBS.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I will definitely be there, either tomorrow night or Saturday afternoon.