Sunday, July 08, 2007

Fantasia Day Three: Arch Angels, 200 Pounds Beauty, Dasepo Naughty Girls, The Banquet, The Rug Cop and zzzzzzzzzz..

Updated yesterday's post with Flight of the Living Dead.

Nothing but movies yesterday, and today looks similar. I kind of ran out of gas at around ten o'clock last night, so I dozed off a bit during The Rug Cop and a lot during Hell's Ground. It's a shame, because The Rug Cop was pretty funny. Hell's Ground I didn't quite enjoy so much; it seemed to go on forever even while I was drifting in and out of sleep, and it seemed like every time I woke up, the same kids were still in the car, one was still bleeding, and I had no idea what they were fighting. It probably didn't help that they showed a twenty minute montage of how goofy Pakistani exploitation has been in the past beforehand; I was not in a good spot for having my endurance tested.

If you're in Montreal today, I wouldn't talk you out of 200 Pounds Beauty or Dasepo Naughty Girls, though I might suggest that there's better ways to spend your time than Viva. My plan is Wolfhound, War of Flowers, Ten Nights of Dreams, The Show Must Go On and Spiral.

Arch Angels (Waru Mikearu)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 July 2007 in Théatre Hall Condordia (Fantasia 2007)

Teen and tween girls in Japan get this, and in America they get Bratz. Something is just not fair.

All you pervs who reached this page by searching for "Japanese Catholic Schoolgirls" may leave now; this almost lighter-than air trifle isn't really for you. The young girls it's made for should get a kick out of it, though - it's a fun, upbeat little fantasy, equal parts Harry Potter, Sailor Moon, and Nancy Drew.

As with many such tales, it starts with a dead parent, in this case the mother of Fumio Shijo (Juri Ueno). This leads her to her wealthy brother Kazuomi (Yusuke Iseya), whom she didn't know existed before. "The Prince", as she calls him, enrolls her in St. Michael's Academy, a Catholic girls' school on a sort-of remote island (she takes the train over what appears to be a twenty-mile-long bridge every day). The formal students make her feel out of place, but she winds up finding a couple other girls who would rather sneak out to snack on chicken ramen than stay in the stuffy confines of the school all day: Class President Yuzuko Sarashina (Airi Taira) is faking the upper class thing herself, as her parents are new millionaires, while star athlete Kazune Saiki (Megumi Seki) associates it with her hunky tutor Shunsuke (Toshinobu Matsuo), who lets her eat it between bonks on the head while studying. They're hanging around together when a strange explosion gives them superpowers - which could come in useful, what with the recent series of teenaged asian girls from wealthy families being kidnapped.

The superpowers and the kidnappings are basically an excuse to give the movie a big action finale, while the rest is occupied with girl stuff - secret clubs, preparing for a big party/school festival, and Fumio fretting about how she really doesn't seem to fit into her brother's world. There is, of course, a potential suitor for Kazuomi with visions of sending Fumio off to Switzerland, but it's indicative of how good-natured Fumio and the film in general are that she rapidly embraces the idea, wanting to please this potential sister, feeling that she's screwed up her brother's life and that it is wrong for her to expect him to make changes to accommodate her.

Full review at EFC.
200 Pounds Beauty (Minyeo-neun Geoerowo)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 7 July 2007 in Théatre Hall Condordia (Fantasia 2007)

The thing about 200 Pounds Beauty is that there's no satisfying way to end it. The premise (fat girl becomes a beauty through extensive surgery) leads to the film either presenting radical, dangerous cosmetic surgery as a viable course of action, ending in tears, or trying to have things both ways. It's inevitable. So it's a real testament to Kim Ah-jung's performance that we spend the film hoping it will find some way to pull it off.

Ms. Kim plays Kan Han-na, an overweight, unattractive woman who nevertheless has a lovely voice. It serves her well both as a phone-sex operator and as the real singer behind pop tart Ammy (who's pretty and can dance, but can't carry a tune at all). Han-na has a crush on Ammy's manager Sang-jun (Ju Jin-mo), and he seems to like her... And then Han-na overhears them talking about her. Crushed, she goes to one of her phone-sex regulars, a plastic surgeon, and demands he change everything. He reluctantly agrees, and after a year of surgery and recovery, Han-na re-emerges at half her original weight, with a new face, new boobs, etc. Hearing that Ammy's second album has been delayed (while Sang-jun and Ammy tried to find Han-na), she auditions to be Ammy's replacement under another name. "Jenny" gets the gig, and the guy, but pretending to be someone else creates its own problems.

Kim Ah-jung is the reason to see this movie; she brings the same sort of innocent, kind of dorky charm to Han-na at both sizes, always at least a bit out of step with what people expect from someone who looks like she does. She always hits the right note to get the audience to believe in and like Han-na, whether it's squealing upon having her bandages cut off that she even cries pretty now, telling her doctor that the dangers of the surgery don't matter because she feels like she's already died, appearing genuinely tortured that she has to pretend not to know her senile father or risk exposing her deception, or imitating glamor poses as she walks. She's got great comic chops and a pretty darn good voice for the singing scenes; her face is expressive enough for silent comedy. She never loses sight of the fact that we're supposed to like Han-na, even when she's screwing up or not at her best.

Full review at EFC.

Dasepo Naughty Girls (Dasepo Sonyo)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 July 2007 in Théatre Hall Condordia (Fantasia 2007)

Dasepo Naughty Girls is based on an internet comic strip, and it's got that kind of manic energy: It starts out with a whole bunch of quick, raunchy gags that aren't much more than crude but don't really need to be. By the end, though, it's started to pull its punches a little, and stitched together more story than it really needs.

"No Use High" is a multi-religious high school whose students probably have names, but we don't hear them much. Poverty Girl (Kim Ok-bin) carries her poverty around on her back, and her attempts to sell her virtue for money tend to go bizarrely awry. She's got a huge crush on Swiss exchange student Anthony (Park Jin-woo), who meanwhile has fallen hard for Two Eyes (Lee Eun-seong), the beautiful sister of outcast Cyclops (Lee Kyeon). Only issue: She's actually a boy. Meanwhile, Anthony's friends are launching an investigation into why Class Monitor Girl (Park Hye-won) and Student Vice President Girl (Nam Oh-jeong) are suddenly more interested in studying and getting into college than putting out after trips to the principal's office.

Dasepo has a lot of the same feel as American Pie in how it's superficially very crude while at the same time celebrating its characters' youthful innocence. Sure, the movie opens with a bit where a substitute announces that their English teacher won't be coming in because he's being treated for syphilis. Oh, and Class Monitor Girl, you should get checked to. Which leads to another student saying he has to leave class early to visit the doctor. And then another, and so on until poor Cyclops is sitting there all alone. As much as the movie makes jokes about casual promiscuity, it doesn't go in much for actual titillation: The scene where Poverty Girl becomes an internet sensation is almost ridiculous in its tameness - it feels like more than it is because it's one of the only times we see her not weighed down by her mother's financial problems and ill health.

Full review on EFC.

The Banquet (Ye Yan)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 July 2007 in Théatre Hall Condordia (Fantasia 2007)

Even in an age where period martial-arts epics have been made by the likes of Ang Lee, Kaige Chen, and Zhang Yimou, The Banquet stands out as high-gloss. Much of the behind-the-scenes crew worked on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and they've built the largest set ever used for a Chinese film. Executive producer Yuen Woo-ping handles fight choreography, and there are five featured soloists and singers on Tan Dun's score. Director Feng Xiaogang is going all out.

Such opulence demands a worthy story, and writers Qiu Gangjian and Sheng Heyu opt to transplant Hamlet to a particularly tubulent period of Chinese history. Although the basics remain the same - Emperor Li (You Ge) has seized his brother's throne and married his queen, Crown Prince Wu Luan (Daniel Wu) tries to expose his uncle's evil by gauging his reaction to a play that recreates the murder, Li sends Wu Luan into an exile from which he is not to return, and then final, bloody resolution at a banquet - several intriguing changes have been made. Gone are the ghost of the prince's father, his faithful friend Horatio, and the less faithful Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Where Queen Gertrude was a vaguely complicit figure in Shakespeare's plan, Zhang Ziyi's Empress Wan is at the center of everything, and having her be the prince's young stepmother makes for a big change in the relationship.

And it's a good one. Although it borders on sacrelige to suggest that Shakespeare in general and Hamlet in particular can be improved upon, there aren't many changes I'd want taken back. Wu Luan's fascination with actors and acrobats is now an integral part of his character - he has chosen to spend his time studying the arts, and it's made some think he is not cut out to be Emperor. Qing (Xun Zhou), the Ophelia character, is just as hopelessly linked to the prince, but it feels more like true love, at least from her end; she's strong and noble enough to do more than drown heartbroken offstage. Oddly, she's a stronger character in part because instead of feeling like she's there as an obligatory love interest until her death motivates Laertes, there's a little more depth to her relationship with Wu Luan because of Wan's presense.

Full review at EFC.

The Rug Cop (Zura Deka)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 July 2007 in the D.B. Clarke Théatre (Fantasia 2007)

This would be a kick-ass pilot for a TV series, and nails the 70s/80s cop show clichés it spoofs with frequent hilarity. I may have to try and get a screener so I can see the whole thing and post a full review.

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