Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Fantasia Daily, 2012.03 (21 July 2012): Fists of the White Lotus, Cold Steel, Sushi Girl, Wrong, and Zombie Ass

Got a bit of a late start (as I am today), so I missed both the animated films playing at 11am on Saturday. The heck of it is, I burned a subway ticket doing so, and likely would have made it if I had walked left rather than right when trying to find the entrance at the McGill station.

I wound up having brunch at Pino's and choosing Fists of the White Lotus over A Little Bit Zombie. Maybe, if I'd known that the print for Lotus was in such rough shape, I might have gone for the other movie, but I did enjoy it. It won't be getting a full review, as I was kind of in and out after a less than full night's sleep, but I had fun. Sad to hear that Gordon Liu had a stroke last year, but glad that Fantasia is going to have Get Well cards for attendees to sign at the kung fu screenings this year. That's human-scale cool right there.

David Wu stopped by that screening to share some of his memories of working at Shaw Brothers, but he was mainly in town to introduce/do Q&A after his own movie, Cold Steel, and the folks at the festival surprised him with an award:

David Wu & company, David Wu receives an award for his contributions to action cinema

A lot of Wu's stories involved John Woo, which is not surprising, since David served as John's editor for a long time and they came up through the industry together. One of the more amusing ones is how, when they were in the editing room, David would suggest John go out to the 7-11 to get them some ice cream, and then he would cut twenty minutes from the movie. John would be impressed at how tight and quickly it moved, but after it was David's turn to get ice cream a few days later, the movie would be twenty minutes longer again.

Next up was one of the bigger cast/crew pictures, Sushi Girl:

Cast and crew of "Sushi Girl", The cast and crew of "Sushi Girl"

Aw, nuts, both pictures I took have co-writer Dustin Pfaff blacked out by the back of the host's head. Anyway, left-to-right, you have producer Neal Allen Fischer, writer/director Kern Saxton, where Destin Pfaff would be, and actors Tony Todd, James Duval, Noah Hathaway, Andy Mackenzie, Michael Biehn, and Mark Hamill. Amusingly, the girl in the lower-left-hand corner is doing Harley Quinn cosplay, so I'll bet she was trying to get her picture taken with Mark Hamill later.

That the cast and crew really bonded and became friends over the course of making this movie was something that was emphasized a lot, and this sort of turnout suggests that it's not just an empty platitude. The crowd also seemed to genuinely love Tony Todd, and he seemed to appreciate that, although it's clear that his first love is the theater. He'll be on Broadway this fall, and I'm tempted to head down; he's a guy you can always tell is very charismatic but often seems kind of stilted on screen. He didn't answer many questions, but he sounds like a completely different guy just talking than he does when performing.

Oh, and Michael Biehn would like you to know that his movie The Victim plays Fantasia Monday night at 10pm

No guests for Wrong, but the night ended with a Noburu Iguchi movie, and you know what that means:

Marc Walkow, Noboru Iguchi, Yasuhiko Fukada, Marc Walkow interviews "Zombie Ass" director Noboru Iguchi and composer Yasuhiko Fukada

I have no idea how this became a thing with the Sushi Typhoon guys.

Noboru Iguchi, Rina Takeda, Yasuhiko Fukada, Noboru Iguchi, Rina Takeda, and Yasuhiko Fukada invite us to tomorrow's screening of "Dead Sushi"

When photos like this show up on the internet, what do you think Rina Takeda's parents think when they consider the money they spent on her karate lessons? She's not in Zombie Ass, but was on-hand to promote Dead Sushi, which screens tonight at 7pm.

I'll be there; it looks like my plans for the day are The Haunting of Julia, Dead Sushi, and Starry Starry Night.

Hong Wending san po bai lian jiao (Fists of the White Lotus)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia 2012, 35mm)

Even if Fist of the White Lotus weren't a direct sequel to another movie - it actually opens with the final battle from Executioners of Shaolin - it certainly feels like something that came out of a factory. Shaw Brothers was a factory that produced high-quality products, though, and even if you can sort of see how this one is running - initial defeat, training/creating new techniques, attempt to vanquish the evil master, repeat until successful - it's got a few pretty good fights in it, and Gordon Liu is always fun to watch on-screen.

Unfotunately, it's not in good shape - a good chunk of the print had gone red, and we were informed that the only other surviving 35mm print was dubbed in English. Support film preservation, folks.

Bian di lang yan (Cold Steel)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, 35mm)

"Do you like guns?" is a line that appears in more or less every action movie of this type, where the heroes skill set is specifically tied to how well he can shoot, and the answer usually changes between the first and last acts. Here, though, it seems safe to say that either the filmmakers or the original novelist really liked guns, arguably to a fault.

As the movie starts in 1938, Mu Lianfeng (Peter Ho) is already a crack shot with a rifle, and an unlikely series of events has him joining Sgt. Zhang Mengzi (Tony Leung Ka-fai) in the 204th riflemen on a mission to assassinate four Japanese generals and their Chinese interpreter. Eventually, Mu's legend grows in his hometown - as does his relationship with young war widow Liu Yan (Song Jia) - while Japanese Colonel Masaya, an expert marksman himself, is apparently channeling all of his frustration from his recent broken engagement into hunting this Chinese sniper team down.

Early on in Cold Steel, sniper work is described as being about waiting, making sure you've got your shot, and aborting the mission if you don't have it. There's a tense, white-knuckle thriller to be made from that premise, or how this is solitary work (or very tight teamwork, if you go with the modern sniper/spotter pairing). Screenwriter/director David Wu, unfortunately, doesn't seem to have that sort of patience or nuance, offering up Mengzi growling about such things but treating them as empty and incorrect platitudes while fetishizing guns and bullets in a way that completely lacks either self-awareness or irony. It's as though Wu and company feel the need to say that, yeah, killing people is bad and damages your soul, but they don't really believe it.

Full review at EFC.

Sushi Girl

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

Ugh, what an unpleasant movie. Sure, it's the sort of grittily flamboyant crime flick that has an audience, but it's a hollow, mean-spirited thing that isn't nearly clever or well-executed enough to be worth it.

After serving six years, Fish (Noah Hathaway) is being released from jail for good behavior, and although his ex-wife hangs up on him when he calls, there's a car waiting for him outside the prison. It takes him to an empty space across town, where Japanophile gangster Duke (Tony Todd) is preparing a special sushi dinner as a welcome home party, with the meal served off a beautiful naked girl (Cortney Palm). And while Fish didn't give anybody up while in jail, Duke and the other guests - fey-but-sadistic Crow (Mark Hamill), thuggish Max (Andy Mackenzie), and twitchy addict Francis (James Duval) would like to know where the diamonds they stole six years ago are.

There's a good set-up here - mysteries, chances for flashbacks, the underlying tension of the witness who is often out of sight but is learning some dangerous things. The trouble is that writers Kern Saxton and Destin Pfaff spend a lot of time running in place. The scenes in the restaurant start out as a lot of posturing (guess what, Crow and Max don't like each other!) and then devolve into those two characters trying to one-up each other as torturers. While some is kind of creative, it's mostly just straight-ahead nastiness; these devices aren't used to pull secrets out or suddenly change the balance of power in the room. The tough-guy stuff and the torture is the point.

Full review at EFC.

Wrong

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, DCP)

Wrong, meanwhile, is nonsense from start to finish, but it is whimsical, deadpan nonsense that never tries to be otherwise. And for all its seeming randomness, it engages the audience as it goes along; the gags may be throwaways, but they build, connect back with each other, and are almost sweet even when mean would be much easier.

Plus, it's got William Fichtner able to just be out there as "Master Chang", and that's worth the price of admission alone.

Full review at EFC.

Zonbi Asu (Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

This movie is exactly what it sounds like; it may be the tackiest thing Noboru Iguchi has done yet, and that's saying something. But you know, it's fun. It's got a pretty winning lead in Asana Mamoru, a serviceable cast, and plenty of bad-taste gore work by Yoshihiro Nishimura, who is really good at that sort of thing.

Like many an Iguchi movie, it peters out a bit and plays to movie clich├ęs as much as real characters. And if you've got zero patience for fart jokes, really, just stay away. It's Iguchi doing Iguchi things, and he's got his technique down pretty well by now.

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