Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Fantasia 2008, Day Six: Wide Awake and Mad Detective

So I did the "Zappin Party" for the first time last night. That's one of the "only-at-Fantasia" things, with lots of goofy shorts and parody trailers, mostly locally-made but with some more professional bits and featuring familiar faces from the audience. It's also split pretty evenly between English and French, with a whole ton of French-language introduction. Very Montreal, that.

It's been a rainy morning here and looks likely to be a rainy afternoon, so I'm going to put in some time for my day job today and not burn all my vacation time for the year away. I wish I'd gone through with contacting the sister company to see if I could use their office space, though. Later on, the plan is Assembly, Idiots and Angels, and The Most Beautiful Night in the World. if you're in town, I can recommend Peur(s) du Noir, Sukiyaki Western Django, and Mad Detective; although with the latter playing at Cinematheque Quebecoise, I don't know whether the subtitles will be English or French.

Ri-teon (Wide Awake)

* * (out of four)
Seen 8 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Most of the time when I see media folks at pre-screenings or festivals with a notebook out, furiously scribbling notes as the movie plays, I tend to think it's unnecessary, and they're missing out on actually seeing the film. About a half-hour or so into Wide Awake, though, I was rummaging through my backpack for a notepad and a pen; otherwise, there was no way I was going to have this plot and these characters straight later.

We start in 1982 - well, we start with a bit of text describing "anesthetic awareness", a rare condition where the anesthetic given to a surgical patient doesn't take and he remains awake during the procedure but unable to make this known because the muscle relaxant has done its job. Anyway, 1982, 9-year-old Na Sang-u is having heart surgery, and he feels all of it. His doctor, Ryu Jan-hwan, does not believe his account. Jump forward twenty-five years, and Jan-hwan's son Jae-u (Kim Myeong-min) is also a surgeon. He's recently lost a patient, and the bereaved husband, Lee Myeong-suk (Kim Roe-ha), is bucking for a restraining order, constantly calling Jae-a and his girlfriend Seo Hui-jin (Kim Yoo-mi). At the hospital, a Jae-u proposes have psychiatrist O Chi-hun (Kim Tae-woo) use "hypnotic anesthetia" on a patient resistant to the conventional kind, which irritates Jae-u's anesthesiologist best friend Jang Saek-ho (Jeong Yoo-seok) no end. Meanwhile, Gang Uk-hwan (Yoo Joon-sang) has just returned to Korea after having lived in Los Angeles for the last several years, claiming to be Ryu's old friend but also seeming pretty unstable. Oh, and someone has been killing doctors from Ryu Jan-hawn's old hospital - the ones that involved in that psychologically scarring surgery on Na Sang-u.

Got that? Lucky you! Some of that comes as flashes of newspaper headlines that go by too quickly to actually read (especially if you don't read Korean and are thus dealing with white-on-white subtitles). There's also flashbacks to Na Sang-u being a creepy, psychotic little kid that come at seemingly random intervals and a flash-forward that does not create the dread or surprise it hopes to. Characters take forever to come to the simplest explanation, and there are enough false endings that the audience gets to wonder both why the movie hasn't ended yet and to ponder whether they would have preferred the ridiculously obvious or the obviously ridiculous ending.

Full review at EFC.

Sun Taam (Mad Detective)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 8 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

I want a Mad Detective series; if not as films, then as TV, books, or some other medium. I don't know if that's exactly an unreasonable request; when you come up with a crime-solving character as original as Bun Chan-kwai coupled with a performance as entertaining as Lau Ching-wan's, you don't just stop at one killer thwarted.

Bun, you see, is nuts. When we meet him, he is solving a murder by getting inside it, repeatedly stabbing a pig carcass to simulate the murder and then having newly arrived Inspector Ho (Andy On) pack him in a suitcase and throw it down to flights of stairs. After that, he cuts off his own ear and presents it to his retiring chief as a present, just before the title "Mad Detective" appears on the screen. Five years later, as one might imagine, he is off the force, hallucinating his wife May (Kelly Lin) and claiming his crime-solving acumen comes from being able to see suspects' "gwai". He's thoroughly insane, but Ho comes to him with a case he's been unable to crack: Eighteen months ago, Detective Wong Kwok-chu disappeared chasing a suspect, with his gun since being used in a series of robberies. Bun immediately focuses on Wong's partner, Ko Chi-Wai (Gordon Lam), but Chi-wai presents him with almost too much to work with - seven "gwai".

(Note that the English subtitles translate "gwai" as "inner personality", although it apparently literally means "ghost" or "demon". Based on how they are used in the movie, maybe "inner demon" would have been best.)

Full review at EFC.

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