Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Fantasia '06, Day 5: Eh

Spent the day down in the Old Port area, trying to figure out how to get to the public garden exhibit before realizing that admission was being charged. Then I was looking to make a return trip to the Archeology Museum only to see it fermé lundi. Bug-ger. The little 45 minute boat ride around the old port was nice; it delivered a lot of the same information as the jet boating last year, but with much less getting wet. Then it was back to Concordia for a back-and-forth across the street evening, with only the middle movie at the Hall Theater.

I would have done something violent for a steak tip sub last night. I ordered a steak & cheese sandwich and found it piled up with stuff that wasn't steak or cheese. I admit to being a picky eater who will probably have bad things happen to him down the line for never developing a taste for his vegetables, but also, I'm just used to a steak and cheese sandwich being steak, cheese, and bread. You want a salad, you order a side salad, or ask for onions and stuff. I don't know whether it's a Canada thing, an America thing, a New England thing, or a "places I patronize because they don't use valuable roll space for things other than steak and cheese" thing, but either way, expectations weren't meeting with reality.

Not really exceptional movies yesterday. I'd worn myself down before getting to Lost in Wu Song, so I don't know if I really appreciated it while I was watching it - it is very funny, but also smarter than I realized at the time. Murder, Take One has an interesting premise in its live, reality-show coverage of a homicide investigation, but stretches that premise thin and its last act does in a silly an annoying direction. Tape Number 31 was Blair Witch Project-style stuff in rural China, with all Blair Witch's problems (and third-act effectiveness in spite of them). Lost in Wu Song repeats tonight; Murder, Take One Wednesday evening.

Today's plan: Mont Royal, perhaps, before Azumi 2, Black Kiss, Bad Blood, and The Art of Fighting

Lost in Wu Song (Wu Song Da Wo)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2006 at Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival 2006)

We're getting closer to being able to make the film we imagine independently, but we're not there yet, not by a long shot, at least not in any consistent way. As nice as it is to read stories about guys who make a great animated film on their home PCs, or of a cast and crew working for nothing but a share in the finished film, we hear about them because those situations are unusual. Most of the time, getting a movie made is very difficult, especially for someone who lacks experience.

Like, say, Men De Song. Like many boys in China, he idolized folk hero Wu Song, who slew a tiger with his bare hands and took fatal revenge on those who killed his brother (said brother's wife and her lover). He intends to make the definitive film of this legend and then, his life's work complete, retire to become a Buddhist Monk. But he's having trouble casting the lead part - nobody in the massive open audition that starts the film had what he was looking for. The major investor wants to cast pop star Li, but he becomes set on Wang Dachuan, the muscular but dimwitted cousin of one of his minor investors. As the film goes on, De Song and Zhang (the major investor) will clash over that and every other aspect of the filmmaking process. He also has to deal with the advances of young actress Mei Li, who would play the treacherous Pan Dailan.

Read the rest at HBS.

Murder, Take One (Baksuchilttae Tteonara)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

The first reaction to Murder, Take One is to dismiss its premise as ridiculous, a strawman created expressly for satirical purposes. But in a world with Cops, CourtTV, Dick Wolf's Crime & Punishment, and the like, is Jang Jin's idea of real-time, all-access coverage of a murder investigation all that far-fetched? Aside from the impossibility of finding a jury that could try the case - perhaps not a stumbling block in Korea, and some American cops and D.A.s would take their chances - what's stopping it?

A woman is found in a hotel room, stabbed nine times, dead only a couple hours. A suspicious-looking man is picked up twenty minutes later, and it looks like an open-and-shut case for Prosecutor Choi Yeon-gi (Cha Seung-Won). Things won't be quite so simple, though - the suspect, Kim Young-hun, refuses to confess, and forensic evidence reveals the case more complicated than the multiple stab wounds would imply. To make matters worse, a television network has obtained special dispensation to follow a murder investigation from discovery to resolution, with a panel of experts in-studio, opinion polls, and no hope of keeping developments under wraps.

Read the rest at HBS.

Tape Number 31

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2006 at Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival 2006)

I liked The Blair Witch Project quite a bit, even after the inevitable backlash. This film is cut from the same cloth, with a predominately Chinese crew shooting a documentary for the Discovery Channel about "wild men" in rural China, only to find themselves running afoul of the mysterious, never-fully-glimpsed creatures. It's got all the same faults as Blair Witch - stop filming yourselves, especially when you should be running! - but also the same sort of downright effective final act.

The film opens with a shot of a man turning a camera on, polishing it, and then jumping off a cliff while letting the camera run down. So, how'd he get there? We flash back several weeks, when a 22-year-old filmmaker by the name of Helen is recruiting a crew for a cryptozoology documentary about the so-called "wild men" of rural China. She recruits two cameramen, Dou Yan and Zachary (the sole member of the group who's not ethnically Chinese); two sound operators, Yin Jie and Liu Yuen Yuen, and an archaeologist, Dr. Xia. They leave Shanghai, interview people who claim to have encountered the wild men (and receive conflicting descriptions), and recruit a native guide, Zhou Li Jun. They climb to an isolated plateau, where they find strange symbols carved into trees, and, one morning, into the ground around their tents. Members of the crew want to leave, but Helen's convinced they need to stay to make the trip worthwhile.

It's a familiar template if you've seen The Blair Witch Project, which is both good and bad. There's really not a whole lot cooler than having something nifty and unexpected appear at the edge of the frame so that the alert viewer can seize onto it a second before the characters to, and that's an effect that often seems contrived in a conventional narrative film. The trouble is that in order for that moment to arrive unannounced, the film has to first establish a certain baseline. That process is what's really tricky, since logically the camera would only be turned on when the filmmakers have some sort of expectation of something interesting happening. Too often, the first chunk of this film is either things that are rather dull or just wouldn't seem likely to be taped.

Read the rest at HBS.


Anonymous said...

I highly recommend THE LIVING AND THE DEAD if you get the chance. Your write up of THE DESCENT is spot on.

Kevin Monahan
Program Director
Boston Underground Film Festival

p.s. email me for passes next year: kevin(at)bostonunderground(dot)org

Anonymous said...

I remember the day a few years ago when the Blair Witch Project was in Cinemas. My brother went to see it and came home white as a ghost. He had no idea the movie was just made up. LOL


Jason said...

Sadly, The Living And The Dead got missed because seeing it Monday would have meant choosing between Murder, Take One and SARS Wars on Wednesday, and seeing it Tuesday would have meant missing Black Kiss. In retrospect, I probably could have done without Murder, Take One. But I'll definitely give it a look if it nabs one of the TBA spots this week.