Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.11 (24 July 2015): On the White Planet, Full Strike, Tales of Halloween, and The Ninja War of Torakage

There are mornings in this work-from-the-road thing where three non-consecutive hours of non-meeting work just doesn't get it done, especially since your head is already half at the festival.

Anyway, first up was On the White Planet, a pretty darn grim animated film from Korea. I kind of suspect that this one was an art-house presentation if anything over there, but Fantasia has played a number of really bleak animated films from Korea, which sometimes creates a pretty skewed impression of what the medium is like over there.

There was a bit of time between that and my shows at Hall, so I took in the "VR Experience" next to the de Seve theater. Waiting in line wound up taking up a lot of time, even though ten minute caps were set on people using the equipment. That seemed to be in part because that equipment, at least the Samsung Gear I was using, felt glitchy and difficult to use in terms of set-up. Once I actually got things running - a 7-minutes sort-of-documentary on Tibetan yak herders and a 3-minute look at an apatosaur from Jurassic World, it was pretty neat. Not quite there yet in terms of resolution, but the fact that this sort of thing is being driven by a phone rather than a sizable box is kind of crazy.

It left me just enough time to get to Full Strike, where Andrew Ooi of 852 Films did an intro alongside King-wei Chu:

No post-film Q&A, but it was an entertaining introduction, where they mentioned that most Cantonese comedies in the past have had the profanity toned down in the English subtitles, but that the translation here had much more accurate swearing. Including a lot of "fornicate your mammaries", in so many words, which is a funny sort of phrase. He also mentioned that they were working on a take on Jackie Chan's Drunken Master that would be "Stoned Master". Hong Kong comedy is wonderfully non-classy, and a video message from star Josie Ho basically said not to expect anything.

They needed the time in order to fit everyone from Tales of Halloween in the next slot:

Didn't get some names, but left to right, that's director Mike Mendez, producer Patrick Ewald, director Darren Lynn Bousman, someone who I don't think said anything including hs name, director Neil Marshall, and director/producer/creator Axelle Carolyn. Not present: Carolyn's dog Anubis, who did at least make an appearance in her segment, as I said he should.

Things thinned out after that for The Ninja War of Torakage, which was an odd experience: Yoshihiro Nishimura wasn't there, nor, apparently, was Mark Walkow, the usual guy helping to bring this sort of zany Japanese action to the West. Nobody was running around in a diaper before or after the movie. It was weird and not what you usually get from this sort of thing at genre festivals, where previously the people involved have worked pretty hard to push their movies in North America and they were crazy events. This was just another movie, albeit a fun one.

Today's plan: Sticking around Hall for Mortadelo & Filemon, Princess Jellyfish, Deadman Inferno, Wild City, and Bunny the Killer Thing. Miss Hokusai is recommended, but it's too late for that. Sorry.

Chang-baek-han eol-gul-deul (On the White Planet)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

Hur burn-wook's movie is told primarily in white with some gray and black highlights, but is dark as all hell, positing a world not just where the one kid who is the only person or even thing on Earth of a non-ashen hue has already become a hardened killer by the time the film starts as he's hunted for being different, but where the whole world seems to have devolved into violence and chaos. The whole movie is populated by monsters, right down to the pedophile rapist who is part of the group he falls in with.

It's kind of too much, numbing despite the fact that one of the two impressive sequences the film opens with is horrific in its brutality. That bit where the kid kills someone and then smears the white blood on his face manages to encapsulate an idea - this kid is willing to go to monstrous lengths to fit in because he sees no other choice and knows nothing but violence. The sixty-odd minutes after that seems more like restatement than development, despite the fact that there is a story there, albeit one that eventually kind of dead-ends.

Amazing-looking, though. Hur makes all of the characters suitably harsh, and kind of simplistic in design, but easily distinguished. It's the backgrounds that really pop: Thick black lines like you seldom see in animation, stark borders rather than shading, techniques mostly used in very flat media that nevertheless give the world enough three dimensionality to have a far-off horizon. It reminds me more of American comic artists like Charles Burns than Korean comics and animation at times, especially when the narrative cuts away to still, comic-style story of a man trapped in a labyrinth, being watched by spectators.

One aside: The kid is generally referred to as "colored" in the subtitles, versus "white", and I wonder how much thought the translator gave to the reactions that language would provoke in the United States. There's really no better way of phrasing it, and it actually plays into what the movie is saying about persecuting those that are different, but it's got an extra jolt, and I'm curious how much that was intended.

Full review on EFC.

Chuen lik kau saat (Full Strike)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

There are plenty of silly things in Full Strike - it is, in fact, ridiculous more or less non-stop - but the filmmakers never really portray badminton as a sport that is, itself, laughable. They could have, and that will likely be the implication when people describe and recommend this movie to each other. That choice, though, makes Full Strike light rather than mean-spirited, a goofy little lark rather than a parody.

It starts in tremendously silly fashion, as former badminton champion "Beast" Ng Kau-sau (Josie Ho Chiu-yee), thrown out of the game ten years ago for her violent outbursts and now fat & lazy, drives off the road when a shuttlecock-shaped meteor crashes to earth and she's chased into an athletic club by what may be a bum or an alien. It winds up owned by her family and currently rented to Lau Dan (Ekin Cheng Yee-kin), an ex-con who claims to be trying to turn over a new leaf as a professional badminton player with confederates Kwan (Wilfred Lau Ho-lung) and Chiu (Edmond Leung Hon-man), along with drunken coach Chik (Andrew Lam Man-chung). Suck Nipple Cheung (Ronald Cheng Chung-kei), the smarmy son of the owner, has Kau-sau and Granny Mui (Susan Shaw Yam-yam) go in as coaches to spy on them, but, well, they wind up forming a team to compete in a televised event against Suck Nipple's group later.

Just describing the plot doesn't really get across how much this movie is willing to go for the wacky joke at every possible second, from the ex-cons' various disabilities earned honestly during a life of crime to Cheung's ridiculous mustache to the bizarre profanity characters will hurl at each other. This thing is full of slapstick and absurdity that seldom fails to land, although often with a surprising grace rather than a thud: Even if the nearly-blind Kwan is oriented so as to be trash-talking his teammate rather than his opponent, he's not really being mocked, and Andrew Lam is funny whether he's a horrifically drunken mess or impossibly graceful for a guy so out of shape. There's shockingly little guilt to be found even as characters are played as absurd.

Full review on EFC.

Tales of Halloween

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The good thing about not being able to write up every movie during the festival: Maybe the IMDB will be filled in a bit when I do get around to talking about each segment individually. One thing that really surprised me was that I thought Lucky McKee's segment may have been the best of the lot; he's a guy I sometimes find paradoxically frustrating both because I tend not to love his work and because he does so little, more or less dropping off the map after The Woods was a lousy experience. "Ding Dong" was funny and had a nasty payoff, but there's something genuinely unnerving underneath it even as it's being played for laughs.

It's fast-moving, which is both a blessing and a curse: Fitting ten segments and an elaborate title sequence (with a spiffy new Lalo Schifrin theme!) into ninety minutes means few have time to breathe and build a deeper sort of fear than jumps - even those that try have to deal with the brain shifting gears from the zanier segments. Others, like Neil Marshall's "Bad Seed", feel not quite like compressed features, but like compressed TV episodes (which makes me think, how much fun would it be for a procedural like Law & Order to just go full horror for the Halloween episode and then return to normal the next week without mentioning it, like NYPD detectives have to deal with the supernatural once per year?). The filmmakers talked about maybe reordering segments before the final release, and I don't know about that - as much as the three trick-or-treating stories to start felt a bit repetitive, I don't know if it would be better elsewise.

It's a fun little movie, though, much more a "Halloween" movie than "horror", if you get the distinction, celebrating the annual chance to enjoy things that go bump in the night and dress up crazy more than looking to disturb its viewers. That's fine, and I don't know if it could be otherwise with the churn, although one should perhaps set expectations accordingly.

Full review on EFC.

Ninja Torakage (The Ninja War of Torakage)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

It's not fair to say one either digs Yoshihiro Nishimura or one doesn't, because his output as a director can vary wildly even if the general style is the same - the awful Zombie TV comes from the same part of his brain as the very fun Helldriver. He often makes movies to give himself a place to put some of the crazier make-up/effects ideas he has and let some crazy action and goofy comedy rip. Ninja Torakage is that sort of thing, but it's on the fun side.

Surprisingly, there's relatively little really strange effects work to it - one weird monster, plenty of way over the top gore in the fights' aftermath - although it gets plenty strange at times. It's got a look that embraces its low-budget artifice, a cast that's having a good time and never really bad but also never subtle (Eihi Shiina does not care about nuance at all), feeling about halfway between a backyard production and something polished enough to play theaters. The action is enthusiastic, but the presense of Nana Seino in a small role kind of highlights the difference between Nishimura's brand of action and the really amazing stuff: You look at what she did with Sion Sono in Tokyo Tribe or Mamoru Oshii in Nowhere Girl, and Nishimura just seems to have his actors hacking at each other with their swords.

But, then, that's what Nishimura does, and this is one of the times when he's got good enough collaborators that the energy comes out as a positive.

Full review on EFC.

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