Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Fantasia Daily, 2013.02 (19 July 2013): Drug War & Lesson of the Evil

What's there to say here? A Johnnie To movie, and a Takashi Miike movie. Maybe not quite the platonic ideal of a Fantasia day - there'd have to be some animation, some martial arts, and something awesome from a country that you didn't even realize made movies - but those are two of the marquee names that bring me out to Asian/genre festivals, and it makes for a heck of a double feature.

Fun fact that maybe needs checking: The introduction to Lesson of the Evil stated a couple interesting things, that they were the first to play Miike in North America, and that there have been two Miike movies at every edition of the festival since. I could swear there was just one at a festival a few years ago, when he was slowing down a bit to do some bigger-budgeted stuff, but maybe I missed something. Still, that's crazy production from Miike, even if Thursday's Shield of Straw is a lot better than Lesson of the Evil. Give him credit for quickly making new movies, even if they aren't always impressive, when other directors seem to go years trying to find the right next project.

Yesterday was a quick day - I more or less opted to finish all the writing that I'd intended to do on the bus before getting to the first blog post, especially since I awoke to thunder and figured I might be better off not getting caught in one of the thunderstorms that seemed to come out of nowhere. Dropped the temperature down to bearable, though. I ate terribly, though - a Dr. Pepper and an ice cream sandwich for lunch (when it was still really hot) and the traditional Oh Henry and Pepsi (no Max at the concession stand yesterday) during the movies. I didn't stick around for Samurai Cop, because I did that in March and didn't find it to be such a guilty pleasure that I had to do it again.

Anyway, today's plan is Evangelion 3.0, Rurouni Kenshi, Confession of Murder, It's Me, It's Me, and Frankenstein's Army, all at the Imperial. I'll probably break for a late dinner at 9:30ish, as I don't really need to see V/H/S/2 again. I'm the guy in the IFFBoston t-shirt with the ViewMaster design.

Now to just take a moment to find a Wikipedia entry to catch me up on what happened in Evangelion 2.0 before heading out.

Du zhan (Drug War)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

"Procedural" gets thrown around like it's a dirty word when discussing crime dramas, but it needn't be; in the right hands, it can be a fantastic way to produce taut suspense with the melodrama drained away, while sneakily allowing the cast to create interesting characters without showy theatrics. And as anybody who has been watching genre film for the past couple decades can tell you, Johnnie To has the right hands, with Drug War a fine example of what he can do.

While Captain Zhang Lei (Sun Honglei) and his team are busting a group of drug smugglers at a Jin Hai toll booth, a crystal meth factory belonging to Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) explodes, leaving him temporarily disoriented enough to crash his car. After an aborted escape attempt, he surrenders to Zhang - and since 50 grams of meth can get you the death sentence in China and he processes it by the ton, it behooves him to start talking.

And from there, To and a group of four writers (including frequent collaborator Wai Ka-fai) just keep moving on to the next steps in a quickly-mounted sting operation, injecting themselves into meetings with potential distributor Haha (Hao Ping) and drug lords like Bill Li (Li Zhenqi) and his nephew Chang (Tan Kai), through which they discover other targets of opportunity. Unspoken but obvious is that the anti-drug squad's moves have to be made quickly, lest their targets find out that Timmy is working with them, and this mostly-unspoken circumstance allows To and company to steadily move from one situation to the next without worrying much about transitions or much in the way of subplots. The effect is almost that of a story being played out in real time, with no moments to step back and regroup, although To and editors Allen Leung & David M. Richardson are able to make sure the audience feels the passage of time as the sun goes down or comes up, or signs of fatigue show up in the characters' body language.

Full review at EFC.

Aku no Kyoten (Lesson of theEvil)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festiva, HD)

The late Roger Ebert would use the phrase "dead teenager movie" dismissively, probably with the intention of getting horror fans riled up half the time. And while it's not great form to glibly dismiss an entire genre, sometimes it serves up a movie like Lesson of the Evil (Aku no Kyoten), which seems to have very little purpose but to generate dead teenagers.

Well, it does also give Hideaki Ito a chance to show off a bit. Ito plays Siji Hasumi, the most handsome, popular teacher at a Tokyo high school who is also a homicidal maniac, and he puts the charm to work. The script calls for him to smile wide, tousle students' hair, and otherwise be friendly even once the audience has been made aware of how unhinged he is, and it's to his credit that he doesn't overplay his hand - he shifts down to merely easygoing when necessary and believably blends in because he doesn't overdo being cheerful at the wrong times. Of course, "the wrong times" doesn't include when he's actually committing crimes, part of what makes the movie sneakily fun to watch is that Hasumi enjoys murder the way other people enjoy pick-up basketball.

Such a big character is almost guaranteed to overshadow a great many of his co-stars, though, and that's very much the case here: There are dozens of teenage characters for him to go through, some of who serve rather similar functions, and none of the jump out as worthy adversaries or interesting counterpoints or even exactly likable enough that the viewer will get riled up about seeing that particular kid in danger. At times Miike (who also adapted the screenplay from Yusuki Kishi's novel) goes the serial-protagonist route a la Psycho, but none of the kids have what it takes to make "will this guy be the one to figure things out?" compelling, although Mitsuru Fukikoshi makes a good run with a teacher who is as naturally off-putting as Ito is charismatic.

Full review at EFC.

No comments: