Saturday, July 10, 2010

Fantasia Daily for 9 July 2010: Phobia 2, Secret Reunion, The Clash, Rubber

Ah, working from the road! At least the new offices in Montreal are nearby and nice; I actually got there early because I wasn't quite sure how far it was. Then I spent the whole day dealing with an unexpected side effect of the code that seemed so clever last week. At least I know what the problem was.

Then it was back down the road for a pretty good run of movies, hanging out with a few cool Canadian internet film writers, and my first film of the festival that had a star in attendance, the surprise darling of Cannes, "Robert" from Rubber:

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Sadly, what both the host and the guest had to say was en fran├žais, and my understanding of the language isn't even what it was in high school. It sounds like Robert has a bit of an ego, though maybe he's earned it, as his first film was hilarious.

Haa Phrang (Phobia 2)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

The first Phobia (called "4bia" in festival programs) was a sort of sampler, offering up four short horror stories from four different directors, also tending toward different types of horror. The follow-up anthology brings the number of stories and directors up to five, and while the variety isn't quite what it was in the previous one, this group of Thai filmmakers still finds ways to make the audience jump.

In the first short, "Novice", Paween Purijitpanya gives us Pey, a surly teenager who has just been deposited in a remote Buddhist temple by his mother after a tragic accident. It's the start of the ritual of the hungry ghosts, and woe befalls the poor kid who disturbs the food left out for the spirits. Purijitpanya takes a basic horror story and executes it near-perfectly. The effects guys come up with a good monster, and the filmmakers hold it back enough to make its appearances jump-worthy while still cranking up the tension between. It builds to the ending it must have, but a good one.

In one of the more direct connections between shorts, Visute Poolvoralaks's "Ward" focuses on the kid Pey was with, Tee Arthit, who winds up in the hospital with casts on both his legs. Supposedly, his hospital room is effectively private, with an empty bed to one side and a brain-dead patient on the other - but the brain-dead patient has visitors, and when they leave, seems much more active than he should be. "Ward" is a pretty straightforward series of jump moments, set up and knocked down.

Full review at EFC

Uigyeongje (Secret Reunion)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

Secret Reunion starts out like a spy movie, the sort they don't set in the present day anymore because the Cold War has ended everywhere but Korea and Cuba (although from the recent news about a busted Russian spy ring in New York, you wouldn't know it). It evolves strangely, though, becoming a sort of unique take on the buddy picture, much like Jang Hun's debut, Rough Cut, looking conventional but much more clever.

At the turn of the millennium, a group of three North Korean agents led by the brutal "Shadow" (Jeon Gook-hwan) made an assassination attempt on a defected cousin of Kim Jong-il. The South Korean National Intelligence Service had turned one, Son Tae-soon (Yun Hee-seok), so Agent Lee Han-kyu (Song Kang-ho) and his team are able to get to the scene. It's a bloodbath, and Han-kyu is fired in the wake of the debacle. The other spy, Song Ji-woon (Kang Dong-won) is disavowed, cut off from his pregnant wife in the north. Six years pass, and Han-kyu is now working as a sort of very low-rent private detective, retrieving foreign-born brides who walk out on their husbands. Relying on his pair of idiot assistants gets him poised for a beating on a construction site, when the fight is broken up by the foreman - Ji-woon, living incognito under the the name Park Ki-joon. The recognize each other immediately, though don't show it, and soon Han-kyu has recruited Ji-woon to work for him. Each thinks the other's low circumstances is a cover, and that learning what is really going on will get them rewarded by their old masters.

The opening sequence of Secret Reunion is as good as this sort of spy movie stuff gets, fusing slick tradecraft with over-the-top action in a way that manages to evoke both the realistic and fantasy modes of spy cinema, set Shadow up as a villain to be reckoned with, and establishes Ji-woon as a decent man without painting him as disloyal. Jang is so assured in this tense, violent territory that it's a bit of a surprise when the movie goes in a different direction.

Full review at EFC

Bay Rong (The Clash)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

It's probably unfair to compare this to The Rebel, the previous action movie to co-star Johnny Nguyen and Tranh Van Ngo, but it's inevitable - the two leads are back, and Nguyen once again writes and produces. This looks to be made on a much smaller budget, and is contemporary as opposed to being a period piece. Unfortunately, it just isn't at the same level; the action scenes are fewer and farther between, and the melodramatic story doesn't quite work.

Still, when the action scenes come, they are great fun to watch. Nguyen is a top-notch screen fighter, and Ngo isn't so bad herself, and their high-leverage style of mixed martial arts is shot in a way that there's no doubt that the actors and stuntmen are taking hits and doing some incredibly athletic action. Nguyen has come up with a good basic story, but aside from the action, there are precious few moments when the movie is really fun to watch; it could use a little more levity or character types beyond grim hardcases.

Full review at EFC.

Rubber

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010: Camera Lucida)

Ah, curse the need to spend a little bit of time this morning seeing to certain essentials, as it leaves me without the time to write a full review of Rubber, the early leader in the contest for the most deranged, bizarre - and funny movie of the festival. The concept is screwy enough - a discarded tire comes to life, starts rolling, and kills whatever comes into its path with the power of its mind. On top of that, though, writer/director Quentin Dupieux presents it in a way that smashes at the fourth wall, presenting it as not quite a film-within-a-film, but having an audience all the same, one which interacts with the story in strange ways.

And yet, it all works. The crazy digressions, the deadpan comedy, the constant pointing out that this actually doesn't make a lick of sense. It's got a winning cast that all hit just the right note, and special effects that are handmade but not obviously cheesy. It may at times be a hard, weird movie to describe, but it's also a perfect midnight movie experience.

Full review at EFC.

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