Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fantasia Day Five: Diary, Once in a Summer, Roommates, et Aachi & Ssipak

I'm not letting writing reviews eat my entire morning again. I'm writing up Diary, capsulizaing the others, and then getting out of this hotel room.

Today's plan: Jade Warrior, Minushi, Exte: Hair Extensions, and then a game-time decision on Isabella, Right at Your Door, and Square Jaw Theatre

Diary (Mon Seung)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2007 in J.A. De Sève Théâtre (Fantasia 2007)

Winnie Leung is not well.

You can tell just by looking at her. She's uncomfortably thin, her hair covers her face, and she appears generally fragile. And that's before her phone calls to Seth Lau escalate from lonely to upset to "why have you taken your possessions?" over the film's first three minutes. The break-up has crushed her, and she stays in her dark apartment, carving puppets, writing in her diary, and occasionally talking to her friend Yvonne (Isabella Leong). It's on Yvonne's advice that she goes to confront Seth and winds up meeting Ray Lau (Shawn Yue), who happens to be a dead ringer for Seth. Ray's nice, but "reminds me of my ex-boyfriend" is probably not the greatest basis for a relationship.

The films Oxide Pang has made with his brother Danny have tended toward a supernatural explanation for their horrors, but Winnie's precarious mental state is quite enough to make anyone nervous in this case. That doesn't keep Pang from breaking out some unearthly visuals. The fantastical images Winnie sees are nicely off-putting, though not necessarily looking to make the audience jump. The scattered special effect bits also tend to echo the genuinely creepy vibe of the production design, especially of Winnie's apartment; it never seems to get enough light and has hand-carved marionettes scattered throughout as a blatant attempt for Winnie to make herself feel less lonely.

Full review at EFC.

Once In a Summer (Geuhae Yeoreum)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2007 in J.A. De Sève Théâtre (Fantasia 2007)

One of the things I'm really liking about this year's Fantasia is that there are a lot more options than zombie and serial killer movies; specifically, there are more chances to see mainstream Korean dramas like this one, which gives us Lee Byung-hun and Su-Ae as a pair of young people who meet in the Korean countryside during the summer of '67 and fall in love, though we know from the framing sequence that it won't end happily.

Lee is almost unrecognizable as the cool action hero of A Bittersweet Life, and is honestly a little long in the tooth to play a college student, but the story works. Su-Ae is adorable as the village's beautiful outcast - her father defected to the north - and the background of Korea's student unrest is always interesting The framing device isn't perfectly integrated with the movie proper, although I liked the people in it.

Full review at EFC.

Roommates (D-Day)

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2007 in J.A. De Sève Théâtre (Fantasia 2007)

There's a difference between having a good idea and a good story. D-Day/Roommates (both titles appear on-screen) has a basic idea that should resonate with teenagers the world over, but has no clear direction to go with it. The filmmakers try several approaches, but it seems like maybe they should have chosen one and run with it.

The film opens with a commercial for an intensive test-prep school, where girls who did not pass their college entrance exams on their first try can receive nearly a full year of comprehensive, distraction-free lessons with regular practice tests. We meet four who are assigned to the same dorm room. Our narrator, Bo-ram, is shy and self-effacing. Da-young is a sweet, friendly girl who has somehow snuck her hamster "Happy" in despite it being against the all-important rules. Eun-su actually passed her exams, but not with scores good enough for top-rates Seoul National University, and her family has high standards. Yoo-jin is, well, a bitch, who wastes no time holding Happy over Da-young's head or defying the staff by sleeping late, smoking, and having a liberal interpretation of the dress code. The staff comes down hard on her, soo when she's the first to hear strange noises and see dead girls littering the hallway, it's fair to ask whether they're real or the stress and a story about a fire at the school several years earlier getting to her.

For all that horror movies are frequently targeted to and feature people in their teens, few touch on academic pressures. This despite them being something every teen can relate to and a topic ripe for satire. The MCAS is a subject of constant controversy for how it distorts school curricula here in Massachusetts, students in Japan routinely attend "cram schools" after their regular classes, and if this film is to be believed, and all across America high school students run themselves ragged by choosing classes taking part in extracurricular activities out of a desire to make their transcripts look better during the competitive college application process. At its best moments, Roommates taps into this - students are informed by the dean on entry that they are losers since they didn't make it into college, and the school's methods involve the worst aspects of making a competition out of learning. Eun-su's storyline features her breaking down as she loses her #1 place and sinks into depression, popping pills, chewing her lip raw, and finally seeing things that aren't there, all while the Dean seems unable to recognize that Eun-su needs something other than prodding to do better.

Full review at EFC.

Aachi & Ssipak (Geuhae Yeoreum)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2007 in Théâtre Hall Condordia (Fantasia 2007)

Oh. My. God.

This is one of the most outrageously violent animated films I've seen in quite a while, and also one of the most fast-moving and funny to boot. It's got scatalogical humor at its very core, ridiculous characters, and probably enough blown-off heads and carnage to earn it an NC-17 should someone try to release it here. The title characters are a pair of small-time hoods trying to make it big off a girl who is rewarded with hundreds of highly-addictive Juicybars whenever she takes a dump (in the future, fecal matter is used as energy, so it's important that everyone spends a lot of time on the throne), only to be pursued by the dim-witted mutant addicts of the Diaper Gang, the vicious schoolgirl Chief of police, and Geko, her cyborg supercop.

The animation is also darn slick, almost never slowing down to let the audience catch their breath even a little. The film joyously rips off anything from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to Basic Instinct to Equilibrium, and does it with style.

It's a shame that there's no way that this will ever, ever play American theaters beyond a midnight show or offbeat festival.

Full review at EFC

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