Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Fantasia 2018.06: Mega Time Squad, Room Laundering, and The Blonde Fury

Monday could have made Tuesday really short, but I actually kind of like that I had the big gap between Mega Time Squad from 1pm to 3pm and Room Laundering at 7:25pm - it's entirely possible I would have sat at the computer straight through the afternoon rather than heading down to Pointe-a-Callaire, having some ice cream, and just relaxing like I'm on vacation.

That's Mega Time Squad director Tim van Dammen, star Anton Tennet, and co-star Eru Wilton, who came here all the way from New Zealand for their world premiere, which is a pretty incredible hike. A friend who met them the day before had them pretty nervous before their first show, as who wouldn't be, but they seemed a lot more relaxed here, although van Dammen was still maybe-shaken enough to follow the regular bit about us being the first to see it with "I'd only had a cursory glance at it… Uh, on the big screen… Really irresponsible!"

Afterward, he mentioned that he actually lived in Thames, NZ, and that they shot this film very quickly when a window opened up, and the fact that there was just no time meant that they couldn't get fancy with the VFX at all, so every effects shot had to be done with a static camera, which meant everything else did too, or else you'd notice the change in feel. They also mentioned that the main house they shot belonged t the late father of a friend, and he turned out to be sort of a hoarder, which worked out really well for them; it meant there was a lot of junk in there and it felt like a lot of things that had been stolen but never unloaded.

After an afternoon off, it was back in DeSève for Room Laundering, which I think was a bit busier than expected, but which had the benefit of meaning I could sort of camp out for The Blonde Fury.

Cynthia Rothrock is a bloody delight, folks, whether she's meeting someone actually named China O'Brien or talking about how a lot of pain came back to her while watching the montage of her work put together as an introduction, or mentioning how, in this movie, she had to come back for reshoots with a different director and you could see that they did not give one single damn about continuity based on how she'd be blonde with a ponytail in one scene and have shorter/darker hair in the next. Going to Hong Kong to make movies was really being thrown into the deep end, and sometimes it was really crazy - she often only knew what she was shooting between fights in the most general sense, as the director would say to smile or scowl, and she wasn't even learning lines phonetically - it was just "this line has twelve syllables", and then someone would dub her line in Cantonese later, and when she finally saw the film, sometimes she would wonder why they didn't tell her that that was what was going on, so she could at least try to get the right attitude.

She said she loved fighting with Yuen Biao because they had the same sort of timing, and would really love to work with Corey Yuen again. Someone asked about working with Michelle Yeoh, and she said Yes Madam was a blast, they were great buddies on the set, and then never spoke again after that, probably in part because she didn't sign a contract with Yeoh's then-husband's production company. Which sucks. Someone should get that whole group together for a Yes Madam sequel, maybe bringing in Jiang Luxia as the young hotshot they have to mentor. Who doesn't watch that?

The only hitch: Somehow two reels got reversed when assembling the print, meaning it jumped from the middle of one fight scene into another, and then back, and things were quickly resolved when they looped back around. Never seen that actually happen at a screening before. Good thing that the movie is basically nonsense stitching fights together!

Today's plans are Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana (although I'm tempted to skip it), I Have a Date with Spring, an early dinner break, The Vanished, and BuyBust. Neomanila is recommended.

Mega Time Squad

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

If "The Man Who Folded Himself" had been about a small-time crook who wasn't particularly bright, it might have wound up something like this freewheeling, half-nonsensical comedy that wastes practically no time jumping into some ridiculous time-travel shenanigans and then shows the good sense to stay in its lane, piling dumb-crook silliness up as far as it can go and then getting out before things collapse.

The crook involved is John (Anton Tennet), who's got vague ambitions of having his own gang someday but who does collections for Shelton (Jonny Brugh), what passes for a crime kingpin in Thames, New Zealand. A Chinese gang is moving in, making drops at Wah Lee's antique store, and while Shelton plans to make a move, John and his stoner buddy Gaz (Arlo Gibson) plan to make their own, robbing the place. Stealing from the triads and double-crossing Shelton probably isn't the smartest move, but John's lucky: Shelton's newly-arrived sister Kelly (Hetty Gaskell-Hahn) seems to fancy him, and the trinket he swiped from Wah Lee's on impulse is actually a magic bracelet that allows the person wearing it to travel back in time (though there is the little matter of a demon associated with it).

In many movies, you might see the first instance of time travel catch someone flat-footed, or instantly making some sort of pop-culture reference to explain it (a genuine worry, since John has already been seen pumping himself up in the mirror with a Taxi Driver poster in the background), but writer/director Tim van Dammen doesn't really have time for that. He wastes no time making a triple knot out of its timeline and then, fun predestination paradox out of the way, treating causality with far less respect if there's a laugh to be had. Even then, you have to admire the casual, entertaining balance van Dammen strikes between being meticulous and chaotic, with anything going but playing out in reasonably fair fashion should one pay attention.

Full review at EFC.

Room Laundering (Rûmu rondaringu)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The light-and-dark tone of Room Laundering is established early as cute childlike narration quickly gives way to murder, and then we're just as quickly talking about the practice of the title as a con game. It seems weirdly schizophrenic, but that's appropriate and oddly respectful for a movie that builds itself out of how ghosts are a downright odd phenomenon.

"Room laundering" in this film is a way real-estate brokers try to get around the pesky Japanese law that requires they tell prospective renters or purchasers that someone died in an apartment - the law is vague on just how many subsequent tenants need to know this, so if you move someone in for a month, you have technically complied. That's a big part of Goro Ikazuzi's sketchy real-estate business, and as a bonus, it has given his niece Miko Yakumo (Elaiza Ikeda) a spot to lay her head and novelty duck lamp for a month or two at a time since the grandmother who raised her after father died and mother disappeared has herself passed on. A shy, timid girl who likes to draw but can't afford art school, she's not supposed to interact with the neighbors, but her recently-developed ability to see ghosts means she has unwanted roommates: Punk-rocker suicide Kimihiko Kasuga (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) is the first we meet, before Goro (Joe Odagiri) moves her to where Yuuki Chikamoto (Kaoru Mitsumune) was murdered - and where Miko catches the eye of Akito Nijikawa (Kentaro Ito) next door.

The basic premises that come together for this movie - ghosts hanging around until some unfinished business being accomplished allows them to move on, the girl with no friends among the living because she's surrounded by the dead, the need to exorcise tainted domiciles - are well-worn enough to often feel taken for granted, and co-writer/director Kenji Katagiri is expectedly casual in introducing them, starting from a point where Miko has grown used to the lamp her mother gave her glowing in the presence of spirits and being kind of annoyed when Kimihiko shows up. It works, too; the film finds an unusual tone that's funny but not flip, sad but not maudlin. On top of that, it allows Katagiri and co-writer Tatsuya Umemoto to lay some misdirection out in plain sight and not worry too much about rules and stakes as the audience watches Miko start to make connections and engage with both the living and the dead.

Full review at EFC.

Shi jie da shai (The Blonde Fury aka Female Reporter)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, 35mm)

Wow, I apparently last saw this fourteen years ago to the day, and though my writing from then is not exactly great and I hadn't really watched enough Hong Kong stuff to really appreciate what those movies do well yet, it's funny that I apparently connected Cynthia Rothrock's style with that of Yuen Biao, since she said that was one of the people she matched up well with.

It's still an incredibly ridiculous movie, with even less care given to the story than snotty thirty-year-old-me thought, but the roughhouse abandon of it is still kind of a delight. We could use more of this sort of insanity.

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