Friday, July 19, 2019

Fantasia 2019.08: Maggie, No Mercy, and Knives and Skin

Short day, but one with guests aplenty!



First up, director Yi Okseop and co-writer/co-producer/co-star Koo Gyo-Hwan of Maggie, which was interesting in part because it was funded as part of a program that has a yearly theme, this year's being "youth", which was kind of interesting to me as that wasn't exactly what I came for, but which is certainly what the film ended up being.

I also found myself amused that one of the tracks listed in the credits was "What True Self? Feels Bogus, Let's Watch Jason X" by Chris Zabriskie, and while I don't figure I'll ever actually download the album it's on, which has a number of titles like that, I'm kind of curious as to what cue it is and how it got used.



Next up (across the street), No Mercy director Lim Kyeong-taek, who said before it started that this wasn't a particularly complicated movie, which meant a fair chunk of questions about the fighting. Apparently Lee Si-young was already doing boxing as a workout before making the film, but spent three months learning Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. They also mentioned that it was her co-star Park Se-wan's first film, and given the role she plays - a developmentally-disabled teenager who gets sexually assaulted on screen multiple times - that's a heck of a way to start.



Last up was Jennifer Reeder, who was a terrific guest; both her introduction and Q&A for Knives and Skin were irreverent and informative, and a case of someone who was genuinely grateful to be showing a feature at this event but confident enough to push back a little on some questions and break down what she was thinking without worrying about pushing people away. Sometimes, you kind of get the impression that filmmakers are still trying to sell their movies to the audience that just saw it, or are at the very least very aware that this is an opportunity for other people to sell the movie for them. If Reeder is doing that, she's at least doing that by putting her interests and influences out there to sell it for her.

Speaking of influences, I've been looking at Twitter and the like more than I probably should, and it's kind of funny just how many people posting articles about the screening compared the movie to Twin Peaks, what with the quirk and the dead girl at the center and all, despite her going on (twice!) about how she was never a particular fan, not getting past the first season in the 1990s. Makes a body wonder just how much is written ahead of time.

She had a lot of great talk about how, in some ways, this was more a coming-of-age film for its adult characters than its young ones, and how the way we talk about such things can be limiting - if you have your eyes opened to the world and change as a result as a teenager, you're coming of age, but if you do as an adult, it's a crisis, despite the fact that we hopefully never actually stop learning and adjusting. Heck, today's teenagers are often more clear-eyed and engaged with the world than their parents, as the last couple of years' politics shows.

That was yesterday; today's plans include Blood on Her Name, It Comes, The Wretched, and seeing just how much I'm dragging/able to get into Alien Crystal Palace at midnight. And since it's entirely possible I may not have a chance to post with the quick turnarounds over the weekend, Saturday's plans are Ride Your Wave, Prey, actually going to the "Born of Woman" shorts block this year, The Incredible Shrinking Wknd, and probably choosing Killerman over 8. Sunday is probably Cencoroll Connect, Boxer's Omen, Purity of Vengeance, Dance with Me, and Satanic Panic.

Maggie

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

I think I only got far enough in the description of Maggie to think it would be a farce about how everybody in a hospital thinks the picture of two people having sex in the x-ray room is their bones and soft tissue, so I was probably more disappointed than I should have been when there was a whole lot of other stuff going on, and that sort of got abandoned. A shame, because it introduces a fun group of characters, several of whom are more memorable than the ones who get actual names, and there's a great sense of dominoes falling as one thing leads to another here. It's how great episodic comedy works, and it's a bit of a disappointment to see how the film jumps the track.

The rest is nevertheless a decent-enough movie, but it never has a moment when anything near that interesting is going on, and the story that takes up a good chunk of the movie's back half is never up to that initial high concept. It becomes an aimless-youth picture - which, to be fair, was more or less the assignment - and just an okay one, with a main character who is never given an interesting hook to explain why following this screw-up is interesting, other than that he is the boyfriend of the nurse in the front half.

Taken as a whole, Maggie nevertheless has a nice lead performance, with lead actress Koo Kyohwan able to dive onto her character's sometimes frustratingly contrary nature, grabbing the screen even when she's supposed to be kind of secondary. She pushes back, makes impulsive decisions, and contradicts herself, but that's a much more interesting take on uncertain youth than her boyfriend's relative passivity.

Un-ni (No Mercy)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

Man, how many times does this movie think we need to see a developmentally disabled 17-year-old raped before we're invested? I praise Korean genre cinema for not messing around on a regular basis, but there's a fuzzy space between being no-holds-barred in a thriller inspired by an actual crime and making arape-revenge story extra tacky without finding a new angle.

That's a simple way to look away No Mercy, I suppose, but it's not a complicated movie despite its occasional efforts to become one. The second half spends a whole lot of time adding more flashbacks to flesh things out, when all that corruption and detail really doesn't matter and just leads the audience to ask inconvenient questions about the timeline (like, who was looking after the sister while Inae was in jail, how did she only know about the smallest part of this, etc.?). It was the second Korean film of the day to seemingly jump tracks, moving from what was a fairly effective story of bullying and Inae potentially finding herself more and more surprised by the horror she discovers to a dig into continuity the audience knows nothing about until it's revealed as necessary that paints the heroine as negligent rather than tragic.

The action is pretty decent, at least, with Lee Si-young supposedly doing most of her own stunt work and no wires used. The fights are kind of tight and choppy, but they do pull the nice trick of making them feel difficult and painful after spending a bit of time building Inae up - this stuff is harder than it looks and some extra mass and reach can compensate for a fair chunk of skill.

Knives and Skin

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

There are brief moments when Knives and Skin seems to be pushing itself to become a little more mysterious and fantastical than it is, lest it seem too simple, but writer/director Jennifer Reeder has a good handle on how to use that surrealism to perk up audience interest and make the quirk go down a little easier without having it be the movie's whole thing. It's a tricky bit of alchemy, but one she manages.

It lets her tie a number of small, but compelling storylines together without having too many of them become overwrought and off-putting. It's interesting how even in a movie often times about isolation, the teenagers in question are seldom truly alone, and the confidence they show is tremendously appealing. There's a ton of simple capability here, and there's not a character who doesn't get a chance to be abrasive even as the actors get chances to make that parts of a whole.

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