Saturday, July 14, 2018

Fantasia 2018.02: Last Child, Microhabitat, and Five Fingers of Death

Friday the 13th and no horror for me. Heck, all Korean directors, which is no mean feat give that the third film of the day was Hong Kong action.

Sorry it's short, but there were no guests and the first movie today is early. My plans for Day 2 include Hanagatami, Unity of Heroes, True Fiction, Buffalo Boys, and Summer of '84, if I can get into that last one..

Salanameun Ayi (Last Child)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Last Child is an impressive, understated film about dealing with loss and heartbreak, tied up with a parent's needs and duties. It has a hard time avoiding some issues in the end as the new bonds that have been formed must be tested, but that's not necessarily a negative; these things should be awkward and not quite fit easily.

As it opens, it has been some months since teenager Jin Eunchan drowned, and his parents are not grieving in the same way: Mother Misook (Kim Yeo-jin) is cleaning his room and offering things to his friend Joonyoung, as well as considering the possibility of another child; father Sungcheol (Choi Moo-seong) is handling the paperwork and establishing a scholarship fund to commemorate that his son died saving a classmate's life. He asks about that other boy, Kihyun (Seong Yu-bn), and discovers he hasn't been to school in months. He checks in, offers to help, and soon has a new apprentice in his wallpapering business.

There is a special sort of joy to films where the story is told through learning a trade, even if the audience doesn't really learn along with Kihyun. The symbolism of the job is fun to play with - director Shin Dong-seok spends more time on Sungcheol and Kihyun applying base layers than the final layer, which makes it a fine metaphor of how a parent's job is to prepare a child to survive on his own, leaving room to think about how kids like this are rootless and unprepared. There are other moments, naturally, where the focus is more on covering up mistakes and stains, something that will show its head later.

Full review on EFC

So-gong-nyeo (Microhabitat)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Microhabitat threatens to become a cutesy story of a woman who may not have the things society says she needs but is a free spirit, but then, maybe that's the game - get you liking someone who has decided cigarettes and whiskey are more important than shelter, see how capitalism and conformity are strangling her friends in other ways, and then set you up for a gut punch.

The lady in question is Miso (Esom), which means "smile" in Korean, a name that seems to fit her fairly well: Though she dropped out of college and cleans houses for little money, she's got a boyfriend she loves in Hansol (Ahn Jae-hong), though his webtoon hasn't taken off and he lives in male-only dormitory housing, does her job well, and budgets her money well enough to afford medicine, cigarettes, and a good whiskey every couple days. At least until 2014 becomes 2015 and not only does her landlord bump her rent, but the tax on tobacco skyrockets. She looks at her budget and decides that it's rent that is the thing she can sacrifice, hoping to stay with friends until she can find a cheaper place. She sets out to find her five best friends from school - Mun-yeong (Kang Jin-ah), who has taken to replacing a meal with a glucose drip; Jung Hyun-jun (Kim Gook-hee), a stressed-out housewife; Han Dae-yong (Lee Sung-wook-i), whose recent marriage has already collapsed; Kim Roki (Choi Deok-moon), whose parents are delighted at the idea of a young woman moving in; and Choi Jung-mi (Kim Jae-hwa), who has married well even if she's feeling kind of ambivalent about motherhood - but there's always something.

It's expensive to be poor, and not just in relative terms, and that can sometimes go double for South Korea, where monthly rents can be fairly low but where even the less-than-appealing places Miso investigates require a fairly hefty deposit, which really does a number on mobility. Folks like Miso who have limited fallback options tend to be hurt the most, especially when the squeeze starts to get put on the things that give them some small pleasure like cigarettes. Filmmaker Jeon Go-woon isn't giving an obvious lecture on this state of affairs, but she does well to illustrate it in small ways, always mentioning the cost of things (with the subtitles translating it into American dollar values) so viewers can see proportions and do the math along with Miso.

Full review on EFC

Tian xia di yi quan (Five Fingers of Death aka King Boxer)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, 35mm)

I don't think I've ever heard folks articulate the character overload Shaw Brothers films tend to have before hearing it while walking home last night, but it's true You could probably make this movie with about half as many people involved. Sure, it lets them mix the fights up in impressive fashion, but when you're dragging at 11pm, it's a lot.

Still, if you're going to give this one credit for starting kung fu fever in the United States (it came out before Enter the Dragon), it's certainly good enough to do it. The fighting scenes are thrilling, better than many which would appear later, and the cast, while sometimes falling into the generic space that a bunch of random martial artists from different schools but no broader characterization tend to find, they're at least a charismatic bunch. And the musical sting that kicks the movie off and reappears whenever someone uses the master's special technique is a good enough hook that you can understand why Tarantino lifted it for Kill Bill.

Great looking print, too. I was unfortunately run down while it unspooled, but it's certainly on my list to see again.

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