Monday, July 28, 2008

Fantasia 2008, Day Nineteen: The Moss, Going by the Book, Dance of the Dead

Aaaaand... Done. Mostly; I came away with five screeners to catch up with over the next month, as I try and catch up on the roughly thirty movies I didn't get to fully write up during the festival. One is Before the Fall, the other four are stuff that I couldn't make time for with everything else playing.

Fantasia is huge, although one thing that surprised me is that 19 days doesn't seem that much more overwhelming that 11. In previous years, I found myself feeling crushed by the end, with one film blending into another, but even though I was there nearly twice as long, the festival experience itself didn't leave me feeling fatigued by the end, just the writing about it. I think the festival's programmers did a great job of putting together a more varied festival, in terms of genres, styles, and cultures represented. I get the folks who say it's too big and too specialized, but if it were to contract, it would likely either become more specialized or lose some of the gems.

Will I try to do the entire festival again in eleven months' time? I don't know yet. It uses a huge chunk of my vacation time, so I'll want to figure out a better way to manage that, and maybe find a better place to stay (the apartment I found did the job, but drove me nuts at points). It's still an event I can't recommend highly enough to fans of this sort of movie.

Ching Toi (The Moss)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

The Moss opens with a little girl narrating a fairy tale, about a princess with a green gemstone who is abducted by a demon the be saved by a knight. By the time it's finished, the time for such stories will have passed. After all, Derek Kwok's second feature doesn't take place in some fairy kingdom, but in one of Hong Kong's slums.

There is a green gemstone, which fat Kei has purchased for his mother, the crime boss of a local neighborhood. On the way home, he stops for a few minutes with a prostitute, which turns out to be a really bad idea - there's a police raid, during which the gem flies away, he hits the girl, and though she doesn't start that fight, she sure finishes it. The gem lands at the feet of Fa (Si Suet-yee), an 11-year-old girl who has come to live with her big sister, a fellow hooker named Lulu (Bonnie Xian), and join the business if it will make her money. When Kei doesn't make it home, "Chong mom" (Susan Shaw) takes action - first calling in a favor from former undercover cop Jan (Shawn Yue), then dispatching a homeless assassin (Fan Siu-wong) to take out the rival she thinks is responsible, "Four-Eye" Tong (Liu Kai-chi). All hell breaks loose, and Jan winds up in the middle of all of it.

There's actually even more than that going on; Kwok and his co-writers have a group of Pakistani armed robbers lurking in the background, too. The Moss is a busy film, especially in the beginning, as the filmmakers throw out a great many characters without tipping their hands too much about which ones will be important and/or active as things get going. Sure, we're likely going to see a certain amount of focus on Fa - she narrates the opening scene and a kid in the middle of a brothel is (hopefully) too unusual and delicate a storyline to consign to the background - but some characters make strong first impressions only to be knocked off minutes later.

Full review at EFC.

Bareuge Salja (Going by the Book)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Going by the Book works on a wonderfully simple comedy principle: As long as you don't repeat gags, a clever underdog getting the best of overconfident people in authority will make people laugh and want more. Once you've got that sort of situation and enough good jokes, it's just a matter of setting them up and knocking them down. At least, a movie as funny as Going by the Book can make it look that easy.

Jung Do-man (Jeong Jae-yeong) is our underdog; a former detective demoted to traffic cop after failing to make a corruption case against the governor stick, he still takes his job seriously, going to work every morning with his uniform spotless and enforcing the law to the letter, including giving he new Sampo chief of police Lee Seung-woo (Son Byung-ho) a ticket for a illegal left turn on an empty street. Sam-po has been hit with a rash of bank robberies, and Seung-woo proposes a special training exercise: They simulate a robbery, allowing the police to publicly demonstrate their effectiveness and hone their skills a little. Everyone has their assigned roles, and the chief personally assigns Do-man the part of the robber. And, remember, Do-man takes his job seriously.

To his credit, he does worry that the chief may regret his decision.

Jung Do-man is a familiar enough character; Simon Pegg played a variation on the type in Hot Fuzz. Jeong Jae-yeong is careful not to make Do-man insufferable; he looks apologetic when the clerk at the video store mentions that since they make their money off late fees, Do-man always returning his movies on time doesn't really help the business. Indeed, part of the reason that the audience can laugh so heartily at Do-man making the entire police department look like fools is that he seems to be taking very little pleasure in it; he wants to be caught but is unable to give less than a full effort. If he was a jerk about it, we might not enjoy the other cops getting their comeuppance quite so much.

Full review at EFC.

Dance of the Dead

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Sometimes writers (and the companies that deliver their works to you) have a devil of a time with finding a title for something, and it will undergo many changes and permutations before they decide that, yes, this is the one that will grab people's interest. And then there are movies like Dance of the Dead, where the title (apparently) comes in a fit of inspiration and the filmmakers seemingly work backwards from that. It doesn't usually work nearly this well.

The situations of the title are laid out pretty straightforwardly in the start: Some sludge from the nearby nuclear power plant (right next to the cemetery) seems to be causing outbreaks of the dead suddenly showing signs of life, much to the annoyance of the gravedigger (James Jarett), while across town the local high schoolers are getting ready for the prom. Organizer Lindsay (Greyson Chadwick) is annoyed that her slacker boyfriend Jimmy (Jared Kusnitz) doesn't seem to take it (or anything) seriously, and opts to go with student council president Mitch (Jeff Adelman) instead; Jimmy's friend Steven (Chandler Darby) is trying to ask his lab partner Gwen (Carissa Capobianco), but the cheerleader has her eyes on Nash (Blair Redford). No girl would want to go with backyard wrestling-loving thug Kyle (Justin Welborn) in the first place. It's a good thing all of them wind up late or not going, though - when the living dead attack the prom, it's up to them to come to the rescue!

Why, exactly, the school dance should wind up the focal point of the zombie outbreak is left somewhat fuzzy; we're to take it somewhat on faith that teenager is a zombie delicacy to the point where they will all naturally converge upon the gym rather than just shamble about randomly. Of course, these zombies aren't quite the Romero standard-issue variety; they're articulate enough to express their desire for brains and a few of them are tool-users. Heck, they've got enough energy to burst out of their graves like their coffins have ejection seats.

Full review at EFC, along with one other review.


ex said...

Fantasia is something realy on my taste. I`ve been waiting for this one quite long and have to say has met my expectations.

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