Friday, September 04, 2020

Fantasia 2020.12: Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku and Bring Me Home

This was looking like the final Fantasia post for 2020, because I didn't do great with managing screener requests and was waiting on emails during the last few days of time off. But, last night I got an email saying I had one more screener to watch, so that's what's going on after tonight's baseball.

If anybody reading this manages to find themselves in the same situation, covering a festival remotely and only allowed access to a limited number of screeners at a time, tilt your requests toward the ones that require talking to a third party first, even if that's not the order you can release the reviews. You've got to manage your supply chain, I guess, which is something I've never really had to worry about because I was always there in person and very rarely struggled to fill slots. You've also got to watch what's being added to the list - a lot of South Korean films were added late and I didn't immediately notice, which is why Bring Me Home is the only feature-length film from the ROK that I saw.

It was definitely a different experience, one I'm not entirely sure I'll be up to repeat if Montreal/Quebec/Canada are either (a) not allowing large gatherings or (b) not allowing Americans in next year. It's not the same, and for as much as I am grateful for everything they let me watch - honestly, I am pleasantly surprised every year that they think the numbers my coverage draws is worth giving a pass to even at this late date - the atmosphere is a big part of the experience. If they're doing a live festival but travel is limited, I'll happily show up two weeks early, work from my sublet, and put up with the same quarantine on the return home if necessary. I really want to do Fantasia properly next year.

Including the snacks! I had a half-joke idea of ordering from various local restaurants that had poutine on the menu and including a photo and review with the posts, but I never got around to it. Right now, I'm just really hoping that the combined effects of the never-ending construction and Covid-related closings hasn't devastated the restaurants around Concordia next year. I will be tremendously disappointed if I get there next July and Brit & Chips is gone.

Anyway - Bring Me Home was a pretty good finish if that's how it had turned out, and holy cow, how had the star of Lady Vengeance not made another feature in the time since? That's not even just "getting married and having kids" time - that wouldn't happen for another five years! And, also, how is Lady Vengeance not more easily available than it is? Little streaming, apparently only available on Blu-ray as part of a box set (I immediately checked to see if I had it or not, lest it go out of print). The discontinuity of this year has really had me thinking about the difference between when I started going to Fantasia and now - Park Chan-Wook seemed like he was going to be a much bigger deal than Bong Joon-Ho back then, what we get from Japan has completely changed (so many slick live-action manga adaptations and introspective indies compared to the Miike/Kitamura-inspired madness of the early aughts), and the rapid releases from China have pushed them to fill the schedule with more indies and farther-flung international releases. It's a different festival, in part because we're all different people, but it's still a ton of fun.

Please, world, let me go back next year.

Wotaku ni koi wa muzukashii (Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, internet)

Has there been a great "young nerds in love" romantic comedy yet? I feel like I've seen and reviewed a few attempts, but something always keeps them from clicking, whether it be the references being too specific or made-up, someone in the production being condescending, or the cast just seeming too attractive and confident to play characters they claim are outcasts. Wotakoi is pretty good, but still doesn't quite hit the target it's aiming for.

The word "otaku" traditionally indicated all-consuming obsession to the point of withdrawal from society before westerners adopted it to mean being a fan of Japanese culture while younger Japanese people reclaimed it as something less derogatory than its original insulting form. That's how Narumi Momose (Mitsuki Takahata) can describe herself as a gaming and manga otaku but still mostly tries to hide it at her new job, especially after it was the reason her last boyfriend broke up with her. She doesn't expect to run into Hirotaka Nifuji (Kento Yamazaki) as a co-worker; they haven't seen each other since school but were always gaming buddies as kids. It's not long before they start seeing each other, but there's some strain even though they both like gaming - Hirotaka suggests they go on "non-otaku dates", and often feels left out when Narumi focuses on her other fandoms.

Narumi and Hirotaka are both otaku, but they're different types, even beyond Narumi actually liking manga and anime more than games. Narumi's enthusiasm can barely be contained, but she's wary of it; though the film doesn't get much into whether women are judged more harshly than men for nerdiness in Japan, it's clearly been an issue. Hirotaka is less uptight about it but less social in general, and it proves a little trickier to work with: Aside from the story mostly being told from Narumi's point of view, her anxieties being on her sleeve makes her perspective easier to see. Both writer/director Yuichi Fukuda and star Kento Yamazaki seem to have a little trouble showing what's going on behind Hirotaka's stony face; there's clearly a story about someone who wants to connect but doesn't know how there, but Hirotaka is so incapable of expressing it, even during the musical numbers, that Fukuda has a hard time finding an angle.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Nareul chajajwo (Bring Me Home)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 September 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, internet)

Kim Seung-Woo's Bring Me Home is such a measured thriller that it at first seems like that's the wrong way to categorize it in genre terms, but that's what impresses about it: As much as one gets the sense of how the characters are stuck in limbo from how it doesn't move particularly fast, it's always moving forward, right up until the something happens in the last act and one realizes that things have gotten pretty tense. That is some nifty, steady screw-turning, the likes of which you don't often see.

The folks in limbo are Jung-Yeon (Lee Young-Ae) and her husband Myeong-Guk (Park Hae-Joon); she's an emergency room nurse in a Seoul hospital, while he used to be a teacher, though he has spent the previous six years searching for their missing son Yoon-Su, who would now be twelve. Though not giving up, Myeong-Guk is about to return to work when he receives a tip that turns out to have been an even crueler prank than intended. It makes the news, though, which is when Constable Kim (Seo Hyun-Woo), a cop on Naebu Island, notes that Min-Su down at the fishing spot matches the description. His partner, Sergeant Hong (Yoo Jae-Myung), says there's nothing to it, but word nonetheless reaches Jung-Yeon, who is not yet ready to give up on finding her son.

It seems almost inconceivable that this is star Lee Yeong-Ae's first feature since Sympathy for Lady Vengeance almost 15 years earlier; she's done some voice work, short films, and a recent television series in between, but unless she's been active on the Korean stage, that's one heck of a lay-off (of course, she's also given birth to twins, which my family tells me keeps a person busy). She doesn't seem to be particularly rusty, either; though she spends the whole movie playing Jung-Yeon as hollowed out but still, somehow, dragging herself through her next day, the variations on it are intriguing, from the way it lends her a combination of focus and numbness at work to how her sleuthing once she reaches the island is a series of relentless baby steps. She spends the climactic last section on a quiet, remarkable roller coaster, emboldened by hope and unleashed when that hope seems to be dashed, but always kind of restrained in how she does it by the fact that this is her first time - this sort of detective work has always been Myeong-Guk's thing and he's probably never gotten into quite this sort of situation - and she's naturally frightened that she'll fail and make everything worse.

Full review at eFilmCritic

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