Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fantasia 2008, Day Fourteen: An Empress and the Warriors, May 18, The Rebel, and From Within

It's probably good that I don't have time to write up my story about sitting next to the same annoying people in consecutive screenings, as that could go on forever and I'd just sound like a crank rather than somebody who was enjoying films. Maybe tomorrow.

Today's plan: The Detective, Dark Floors, either The Echo or Handle Me With Care, late dinner, Babysitter Wanted. If you're in town, neither Who Is KK Downey? nor L: Change the World is a bad choice.

Kwong saan mei yan (An Empress and the Warriors

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

An Empress and the Warriors has ambitions of being a full-on action romance date movie, which makes it sound like more of a mess than it actually is. At any given moment, it is absolutely certain of what it wants to be, and gives that audience all it has.

It is the time of China's ten kingdoms, and the Yan are fighting the Zhao. The Yan king is, like all of his line, a fierce warrior, and his daughter Feier (Kelly Chan) is less the cloistered-in-the-palace-wearing-fine-silks princess than the one who straps on some armor to help out on the front lines. When the King dies in battle, there are three candidates to rule - Wu Ba (Guo Xiaodong), the king's ambitious nephew; Muyong "Hu" Xuehu (Donnie Yen), an orphan who has risen to the position of Lord; and Feier, though women do not traditionally rule. Wu Ba plots to kill Feier before her coronation, thus disgracing Hu, but she is rescued by Duan Lan-Quan (Leon Lai), a doctor who lives in seclusion. Outside the royal circle for the first time in her life, she falls in love with the handsome pacifist, but once her injuries are healed, she must return to the Hall of Swords to deal with Wu Ba and the Zhaos.

Director "Tony" Ching Siu Tung isn't messing around, no matter what part of the movie he's working on: The battle scenes are big and loud, as are the training scenes, the palace scenes, and the... Well, not the romantic stuff; those are extraordinarily earnest, with the music suddenly going from martial to lilting, the costumes going from leather to simple cloth, and combat chick Feier gets fairly girly fairly fast. It's not exactly uncommon for the romantic subplot of a Hong Kong action film to be a sharp detour from the rest of the movie, but the effect is somewhat magnified here: There is a lot of testosterone in the first act without any form of comic relief, so going from Feier sparring with Muyong to getting cute with Lan-Quan is a major tonal shift.

Full review at EFC.

Hwaryeohan hyooga (May 18

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

This one was fairly sparsely attended, which is too bad. It shades a little too much toward romantic comedy goofiness in the beginning, trying a little hard to set the mood as placid with little to worry about, but once it gets going, it is pretty engrossing. Most films about Korea's recent history good enough to make it onto the international festival circuit tend to be that way: The material itself is pretty astonishing, especially as it's the sort of thing that Cold War stereotyping often reserved to the Communist Nations. The combination of that material with a suddenly very strong Korean film industry (as much talk as there is of a slump, it's worth remembering that Korea was barely on the map as a place where great film is found a dozen years ago) creates amazing results.

This one tells of a 1980 protest that became a massacre that became a riot that became a siege. The object lesson for military dictatorships is that the competent soldiers your compulsory military service creates today are tomorrow's unhappy civilians, and look out if they get hold of some guns - as much as the government will have superior firepower, there exists the potential for an incredible mess.

Dong Mau anh Hung (The Rebel

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

I don't know how busy a local film industry Vietnam has, although I'm guessing it's small and relatively young - following IMDB links from The Rebel soon leads back to many of the same people and to foreign productions. That's not wholly a bad thing for an action-adventure flick like The Rebel, though - it means limited screwing around with things like wires, padding, stunt doubles, or deceptive camera angles when the fighting starts.

The scene is 1922 Vietnam. The French have established a secret intelligence force to work against the rebels, and while their top team of Cuong (Johnny Nguyen) and Sy (Dustin Nguyen) isn't quite able to prevent the assassination of a French official, they do manage to capture a valuable prisoner - Vo Tranh Thuy (Thanh Van Ngo), daughter of a resistance leader and a fierce fighter in her own right. Though Sy mainly has his eye on career advancement, Cuong is increasingly uneasy with the violence necessary to maintain a system that doesn't seem to be bringing much to the Vietnamese people. This time, he snaps, breaking the girl out of prison. Sy, blamed for his subordinate's rebellion, decides to use this as an opportunity to track them back to the rebel leader.

Johnny Nguyen is a producer and writer as well as the lead actor, and along with Truc "Charlie" Nguyen (writer, director, executive producer, editor), he's built himself a pretty decent star vehicle. He's maybe not the greatest actor, but he and the filmmakers know how to work his brooding good looks in between action scenes. He's also smart enough to surround himself with good people: The actor playing Cuong's opium-addicted father, Chanh Tin Nguyen, is a local legend; Dustin Nguyen balances Sy's role as the villain nicely with his tension at how the French treat him; and Thanh Van Ngo is good whether asked to serve as the love interest or kick some butt.

Full review at EFC.

From Within

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

I'm down to zero time before heading out, so From Within gets the short shrift until I start catching up next week. In short: Not bad, I'd really like to see it on film as opposed to HD projection, and I kind of felt a little cheated by what was going on as the credits rolled.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ok, I quess>