Friday, July 20, 2012

The Fantasia Daily, 2012.01: For Love's Sake and Wu Xia (Dragon)

And we're back, for another three weeks of updates on my favorite film festival! The getting here was actually smoother than usual - I wouldn't necessarily recommend staying up straight through the night before a trip to make sure that laundry was done, the house was in good enough shape that it wouldn't fall apart while one is gone, and all the food in the fridge that might go bad is well and truly eaten, especially if the rationale is that you can sleep on the 7am bus ride. That's not going to happen, ever.

A few issues getting into the apartment I've sublet for the duration - the roommates seem nice, but it is really important to make sure you've got all the information you need ahead of time. I had to hang around waiting for someone else to go through the doors to get in, the keys weren't where anyone expected. I'm good now, but I sort of see why people like the service of hotels. Not enough to spend three times as much, but the appeal is there.

It's always great to be back in Montreal, though. It's a fantastically unpretentious city which manages to have both a commitment to the arts (especially during the summer, when there are generally no less than two or three festivals running at once) and a pragmatic, we're-not-making-ourselves-shiny-just-to-impress-tourists look to the downtown area. It doesn't force quirk, tone, or anything - it's been accumulating cool things for centuries and doesn't need to overcompensate.

Dinner was a variant on that most unpretentious of Montreal dishes: Poutine topped with pulled pork, bacon, and italian sausage. I'm not going to lie, the Smoke's Poutinerie that opened across from the Hall building may get a fair amount of my business this year just for being nearby and filling.

My media pass apparently doesn't include the Opening and Closing night shows, so I bought myself a ticket for For Love's Sake, meaning these guys were already going when I got in:

Drums!, Fantasia kicks off with a group of traditional Japanese drummers before "For Love's Sake".

Seriously, every movie everywhere should start with traditional drumming. It was a blast. It was followed up by a lengthy introduction by festival co-director Marc Lamothe (aka DJ XL5) which pretty much destroyed my high school French. The enthusiasm came through, though. Same as it did later, when King-wei Chu introduced Dragon, thanking us for being here and not in line for a certain movie opening at midnight. "After Fantasia's over," he said, "you all have our permission to watch Batman... and learn kung fu!"

As is always the case with martial arts movies at Fantasia, the movie opened with a 35mm trailer for a bonkers-looking classic, in this case Bastard Swordsman. It looked so nuts that it immediately went on my list.

Speaking of film formats, it looks like most of the 35mm screening this year will be French-dubbed stuff, although For Love's Sake was on film. Interesting, the print was subtitled in French, with English subtitles being projected from a computer about a half-second later. I'm kind of surprised they don't do this sort of dual subtitling more often, actually, although it can leave me a bit dizzy as I try to listen to the Japanese for tone of voice, read the French that appears first, and then get the English. The really funny thing is that I remember seeing the word "bourgeois" a lot more in the English titles than the French.

Anyway, that's day 1 of Fantasia, just in time for me to get started on Day 2 (where my plans are Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below, The Ambassador, Juan of the Dead, and Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack).

Ai to Makoto (For Love's Sake)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012 Opening Night, 35mm)

For Love's Sake is the sort of crazy mix of adolescent emotions that seem over-the-top when you describe it, often going from pure sweetness to eye-rolling to angry violence in the very same scene. It's just what one might expect from Takashi Miike's take on the team romance genre, right down to the musical numbers.

Ai Saotome (Emi Takei) is a top student and sports star at the Aobodichi Prep School, able to have her choice of boyfriends if she so desires. The one she chooses comes way out of left fiend, as she uses her wealthy and connected parents to get Makoto Taiga (Satoshi Tsumbuki), a violent delinquent from Nagano, into the exclusive Tokyo academy. This causes consternation for her would-be boyfriend Hiroshi Iwashimizu (Takumi Saito), as well as attention from students at an underfunded local public school: "Gumko" (Sakura Ando), a strange girl-gang leader, weirdly-mature-looking teen tough Ken Gonta (Tsuyoshi Ihara), and Yuri Takahara (Ito Ono), the girl he adores.

Emotions are strong and quickly changeable for teenagers, and the particularly clever thing about For Love's Sake is that they and their presentation is heightened in both directions. There are songs, and they are by and large cheerful, upbeat love songs, but there are also fights, rumbles which sometimes look like they could have been transplanted directly from Miike's Crows films. They occasionally happen at the same time, but not that often; Miike and writers Takayuki Takuma & Takumi Nagayasu use them to create emotional swings rather than to suggest that all passion is basically the same.

Full review at EFC.

Wu Xia (aka Dragon)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

Though Harvey Weinstein has saddled this movie with a generic name for when he finally gets around to releasing it in the USA (the man can't help himself), the original Chinese name of "Wu Xia" is even more basic - it's the name of the "martial hero" genre as a whole. And while this is certainly not the last word on martial arts movies, it's a nifty and memorable one.

The time is 1917; the place is a small village outside Yunnan, China. Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen), a humble family man who works at the paper mill, is making a stop at the general store when two bandits come in to rob the place. He hides, but when the criminals start to lay into him, he is able to defend himself well enough to be the last man standing while his attackers lay dead. It looks like he got very lucky indeed, but Xu Baijiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), the city detective investigating the incident, finds that one of the bandits was on the nation's most-wanted list, but the blow that killed him is far too incredibly precise to be lucky. Is Jinxi more than just the devoted husband of Ayu (Wang Tei), and what interest does the leader of the 72 Demons gang (Jimmy Wang Yu) have in this?

Lots of action and adventure movies lend themselves to being described as mysteries to be solved, but Wu Xia is the rare example that genuinely feels like a detective story. It's a modern one, with special effects to illustrate the nature of the killing blow straight out of CSI or House, but the movie runs on a detective trying to put together what happened and a suspect who is having his secrets slowly revealed. It's an interesting and frequently engrossing change of tone for a type of movie that by design emphasizes the big action scene rather than the things which come between them. It's not a complicated mystery at all, but the process is very watchable.

Full review at EFC.

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