Friday, July 14, 2017

Fantasia 2017.01: The Villainess & Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable

Ha ha, funny thing - I forgot that the handle on my suitcase broke on my last trip and had a heck of a time carting it around. Combine that with a late check-in time at this year's AirBNB and that meant it wasn't a whole lot of fun hauling it to the bus station in Boston or from the one in Montreal, as I was keeping it with me while finding the new Fantasia offices (walked past them twice because I knew, from previous visits, that that was the campus bookstore) and picking up the tickets I needed to get into the opening night films.

But, get there I did, and even managed to snag a front-row, not-terribly-far-off-center seat despite being pretty far back in line. Then it was time to get started film critic-ing:

Brand new notebook, not yet losing pages in the back because they don't make the back cover out of the same material as the front. Feels good, and I think I'll be able to keep up enough that I won't crap out at 40 reviews and only half the festival blogged this year.

There were also guests:

The fellow in the middle is The Villainess director Lee Byung-gil, who also did Confession of Murder, which played Fantasia a few years back. It seemed to take him a little time to warm up to the Q&A thing, although I couldn't really tell - most of the questions were asked in French, and therefore got answered in French, and the one question that was in English was so long and rambling that by the time it was translated into Korean and answered, it wound up being answered in French because the translator maybe lost track of the original language, as one does when all of the other questions were in another.

Still, he did give what seems like a fair-but-frustrating answer to one of the things about the movie that bugged me, if my terribly high-school French can be trusted:


It sounded like he said that Sook-hee's daughter Eun-hye may or may not be alive, depending on whether or not there's a sequel. If there is, she's alive, if not, she died. Fair enough - I think making the film a tragedy works if it's a one-off, but no need to overburden a sequel - although it's a weird thing to leave unclear, as the audience is invested.


Probably didn't need a ticket for Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, but better safe than sorry. It took a while to get to the movie, as The Villainess ran late with the Q&A and then the Japanese Consul spoke for a bit and there was kind of a long pre-show as a local violinist/fantasy fan performed. She was actually really good, and if you weren't up at 5am to catch a bus, you probably didn't mind the wait, but, wow, I was fading by the end.

Anyway, enough grumpiness! Today's plan is Tilt, Super Dark Times, Killing Ground (though I may try to see if I can make Teiichi: Battle of the Supreme High), and Museum. Japanese Girls Never Die is highly recommended.

"No Wave

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2017 in L'Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

First movie of the festival, technically, was this short from the Fantastique Week-end series, and it's a good one. The idea is pretty simple - guy listening to a white-noise broadcast of ocean waves is pretty sure he hears someone drowning, and when he calls the station to complain, well, people can either react sanely to his insane claims or be insane themselves.

What's striking about this short is that writer/director Stéphane Lapointe is able to pivot a number of times within relatively few minutes and get good results each time. The weird noises in the ambient soundtrack? Funny and creepy. Customer service trying to deal with a deranged-sounding customer? Same. The manager after she escalates it? Genuinely unsettling, hinting that maybe we're going for a tell-tale heart thing here. It may make one too many zigzags at the end, but I still found myself kind of interested with the possibilities.

Ak-Nyeo (The Villainess)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2017 in L'Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

The Villainess is a top-tier action movie that nearly gets strangled by a plot so full of new faces, shady organizations, and recurring motifs as to make a viewer start to wonder if writer/director Jung Byung-gil is trying to cover up for there really being relatively little going on. It makes who is fighting who and why such an abstraction that it can be tough to get invested in the outcome, but when things do finally click, the movie works as some crazy, amazing action spectacle.

It opens with a bang, tossing the viewer into the middle of a long-cut hallway fight shot from the first-person perspective of a furious woman. She basically destroys a major meth operation, the police have the place surrounded by the time she's done, and Sook-hee (Kim Ok-vin) is captured. With nothing of her old life left and pregnant besides, she's recruited by a top-secret organization to be a government assassin, told by Chief Kwon (Kim Seo-hyung) that she'll be free to live a normal life by the time daughter Eun-hye starts junior high. So, she is given a new-ish face and, after a couple years of training, a new life as actress Chae Yeon-soo, not aware that new neighbor and would-be boyfriend Hyun-soo (Sung Joon) is also her handler. Life is going about as well as it can given the circumstances, at least until the agency gets a lead on Choi Chun-min (Lee Seung-joo), who seems to have been rising up the criminal organization headed by Sook-hee's late teacher Joon-sang (Shin Ha-kyun) on the basis of a hard drive stolen the night of Sook-hee's rampage. That's the sort of thing that brings all the lies she's been told into the light, probably not great news for either organization that has contributed to making her an unstoppable killer.

That hallway fight is the middle of Sook-hee's story but the logical place to start things, but it makes for a flashback-heavy structure that is big on highlighting events that mirror each other and eventually highlighting the major events in Sook-hee's life from the time between gangsters killing her father to her arrest, but not so much on giving them a lot of texture or giving a shape to the agency and its goals. Lay out the relationship between Joon-sang and Sook-hee, and it's creepy, but director Jung never truly makes the audience feel that. On the other side, Jung doesn't show enough of Sook-hee's training and interaction with her fellow students to show why Kim-sun (Jo Eun-ji) is a rival and Min-joo (Son Min-ji) is a friend; they just pop up when needed later. Nothing really comes of the hard drive macguffin, and something really important is left frustratingly ambiguous for the finale.

Full review on EFC.

JoJo no kimyô na bôken: Daiyamondo wa kudakenai - dai-isshô (JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2017 in L'Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

Hiring Takashi Miike to direct an adaptation of a manga that has "bizarre" right in the title seems like it should be a gimme, an easy and obvious fit, even if the idea of Miike directing family-friendly, decently-budgeted adaptations of popular manga still seems a bit peculiar. If audience reaction is anything to go by, he hit a lot of spots that the fans of the long-running series love, although it can be kind of an acquired taste for those encountering the franchise for the first time, though the action is still kind of fun.

After an opening where veteran cop Ryohei Higashikata (Jun Kunimura) runs serial killer Angelo Katagiri (Takayuki Yamada) to ground only to find that he has somehow acquired demonic powers, the audience gets introduced to this world through the eyes of Koichi Hirose (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a high-school sophomore who has just moved to pleasant suburb Morioh Town, although the aforementioned murders are probably going to knock it down the list of Japan's most liveable suburbs. It's a nice school, and the classmate assigned to look out for him, Yukako Yamagishi (Nana Komatsu), is cute but intense. "Intense" wouldn't necessarily be the word used to describe Josuke "JoJo" Higashikata (Kento Yamazaki) unless you insult his pompadour, though the amazing superpowers that he uses to dispatch those who do mostly fix what got damaged. Small-scale stuff until he runs into someone who seems possessed during a convenience store robbery and his older nephew Jotaro Kujo (Yusuke Iseya) shows up to explain that JoJo is summoning something called a "Stand" when he uses those powers, and it seems that the Nijimura brothers (Mackenyu & Masaki Okada) are trying to create new Stand-users for their own purposes.

Give screenwriter Itaru Era credit - the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure saga is a sprawling multi-generational adventure, with the "Diamond Is Unbreakable" series actually the fourth major arc in the series, chosen because it's the first with a mostly-Japanese cast; that he reduces the mythology to something that fits into this film is likely something of a major accomplishment. Nevertheless, it still often feels like there is just too much to fit in: Koichi and Yukako could probably be removed without the plot suffering too much, although they presumably would be major parts of sequels, and it often feels like each mythology-based moment that the fans will go nuts for comes at the expense of something in the immediate story. The movie eventually explains enough, and sets the action up fairly well, but I constantly got the impression that while the filmmakers made something where you don't need to know the source material to understand it, you're probably not going to love it unless you already know the manga or the anime.

Full review on EFC.

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