Monday, August 09, 2021

Fantasia/New York Asian Film Festivals 2021.04: Bull and Tokyo Revengers

Fun accidental double feature here, with the Sunday virtual second screening of Bull and in-person-in-Montreal screening of Tokyo Revengers both featuring movies that involve trying to right wrongs after a ten year break, just with that break running in different directions, time-wise. This amuses me.

Bull

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 August 2021 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia 2021, IndeeTV)

Bull is a revenge story, distilled almost completely down to the genre's essence, so much so that its twist arguably just makes it even more elemental. It is lean, nasty, and tremendously satisfying in its nasty way.

It's been ten years since anybody last saw Bull (Neil Maskell), and that is by and large probably for the best; the audience first encounters him buying a gun, plugging someone off-screen, and then casually tossing the weapon back to the person who sold it to him, apparently not terribly worried about being recognized. Soon he's back in his hometown, but only former sister-in-law Cheryl (Kellie Shirley) is to be found. She's not much help in finding the rest of her father Norm (David Hayman) and sister Gemma (Lois Brabin-Platt), who have moved on in the past decade. Bull used to be part of the muscle for Norm's protection racket, and their falling out was such that Norm and his other lieutenants at the time, Gary (Kevin Harvey), Marco (Jason Milligan), and Clive (David Nellist), are shocked to see him alive, to the extent that they track down his mother Margie (Elizabeth Counsell) to find out if he has some sort of look-alike brother or cousin.

The scene where Norm confronts Margie is not necessarily an important one as far as the plot goes, but it's got a couple of moments which exemplify the almost self-contradictory melodrama of it better than almost everything else. Watch Norm just seethe in anger talking to this 80-year-old woman who spends her days making small bets on the ponies, his declaration that her family was put on Earth to destroy his seeming absurdly hyperbolic, but that's the scale of this sort of feud - everything to those involved, but verging on petty from the outside. Nearly as much fun is the moment when director Paul Andrew Williams and his cinematographer zoom in on a corner of the screen, an doubly-unsettling change in a film whose go-to-way to put the audience off-balance is in how it cuts between scenes.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Tokyo Revengers (Tôkyô ribenjâzu)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 August 2021 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia 2021, Cinando)

As near as I can tell, the anime series and live-action movies of Tokyo Revengers are coming out almost simultaneously, and while the movie is not bad at all - especially for fans of the teenage-delinquents-fighting genre - this is a story clearly made for another medium, whether it be comics or television. There's too much to fit in and spots which beg for both cliffhangers and room for subplots to get fleshed out. The filmmakers do impressive work getting the story down to two hours, but it's really not a movie at heart.

It kicks off with Hanagaki Takemichi (Takumi Kitamura) working the sort of part-time convenience store job usually reserved for teenagers, and his younger boss suggests he peaked in high school. If so, it wasn't much of a peak - he was the kind of kid who thought fighting made him look tough and cool but always got his ass kicked - with the best part of it the girlfriend he had at the time, and now the news says that Hinata Tachibana (Mio Imada) and her brother Naoto have died in their mid-twenties, the victim of violence involving the Tokyo Maji gang. Soon after, he's apparently pushed in front of a subway train, only to emerge ten years earlier, but at least able to convince Naoto (Yosuke Sugino) to keep alert on 1 July 2020 before returning to a reality where Naoto survived and is now a detective who notes that "Toman" changed drastically ten years ago, when leaders Manjiro Sano (Ryo Yoshizawa) and Teetta Kisaki (Shotaro Mamiya) met. They figure out how to send Takemichi back and forth, and he's able to change things so that he's befriended by "Mikey" Sano, who seems pretty nice for a delinquent. Takemichi figures things changed when his best friend and conscience Ken "Draken" Ryuguji (Yuki Yamada) was killed in a fight with Moebius (Keita Arai) and his gang, but he's still more or less the same loser he was the first time through high school - how can he change destiny?

You'd think that a biker gang led by a gang named "Moebius" whose logo is an ouroboros might have something to do with the time-travel shenanigans, and there are vague hints that there's more going on than what happens when Takemichi and Naoto shake hands, but that's not an element this film does much with. Maybe that's for the best - if screenwriter Takahashi Izumi were to commit to a cause, he might have to spend time explaining it, then maybe talk about how, if there's more going on than just these two coincidentally having this power, someone thinks their best use of it is pushing a group of street punks to become a powerful yakuza rival, which isn't really the story these filmmakers are interested in telling. Still, it feels like they could have done a lot more with Hinata, who had apparently been the best thing in Takemichi's life but often gets treated like an impediment to the plot. Heck, there's barely any talk of what happened to her during the missing ten years. This story could be streamlined down to someone older but not at all wiser reliving his youth and determined to do it right (for a weird value of "right") without all the back-and-forth and maybe work better.

Full review at eFilmCritic

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