Monday, October 08, 2007

Busan - Day One of Viewing

It turned out that the sun only made a brief appearance yesterday – like one of the celebrities at the many parties thrown here who come for a minute of flashbulb exposure and then quickly disappear. The rains then returned for the remainder of the day and the city still lies uncomfortably sullen under a sky that looks like a dull secondhand gray suit. The view pictured here is from my hotel room – because of a friend I was lucky enough to end up at this place after first in my typical nonchalant manner picking a hotel off of the internet. I figured how big could Busan be and any hotel would do. It turns out that Busan stretches on forever and I somehow managed to pick a hotel so far away from the action that I felt like I needed to bring along my passport to get in to see a film. Also the fact that I had to wake up the night manager in what seemed to be a completely deserted hotel to check in made me wonder – “what do you want?”, “To check in”, “Here?”, “Yes”, “Tonight?”, Er… yes” - if I had made a wise decision. The minibar was stocked with a rusty can of nuts with water dripping down on it and the air conditioner seemed reluctant to work. Not exactly the end of the world, but it sure feels good being at this hotel.

The Busan Film Festival of course has a typical line-up of films, but what makes it a bit special in terms of festivals is what they call the market. During the last four days of the festival the buyers and sellers of films gather around and eye each other warily like praying mantises waiting for a moment of weakness. They do much of this very politely of course at the huge number of parties thrown every night that seem inordinately populated by middle aged men with young lovely women attached to them. People come to talk, stare and eat though not necessarily in that order as every party has a long line for the food as people rush to stock up on the free booze and eats. I am not too far behind though a little slow afoot. Of these people who are here for business, few of them actually bother with seeing any movies – nearly everyone I ask whether they have seen anything replies not yet but maybe later in the fest. Because of being involved in the New York Asian Film Festival I am fortunate enough to be able to get in to see the market screenings – shows open only those registered in the market – it is rather lovely being able to simply walk into any of the many films screening at a nine-screen multiplex here and take a comfy seat in a near empty theater. Yesterday I caught three of these with my Subway colleague Goran and we had a great time.

I promised I would give short reviews of what I see and here they are all lined up like pretty milk maids.

Crows – Episode 0

Director: Takashi Miike
138 minutes

Miike continues to make more films than I write reviews it seems – he has two of his films playing here at the fest and they couldn’t be more different – one a Japanese western and this film based on a popular Manga. It takes place in a boy’s high school called Suzuran where the graffiti is omnipresent and the teachers barely visible - these students are the worst of the worst – called crows. The only thing that counts here is surviving and getting to the top of the food chain. There are assorted gangs of boys who all want to be number one – to rule Suzuran – but that doesn’t come easy and as one student says near the end – “you can’t win here – all you do is fight and fight – and then you graduate”. But in the meantime, fighting is the only thing on the curriculum.

Leading the pack is Tamoe – a soft eyed gentle looking kid with the punch of a mule and a love for a good fight – and his crew and every challenge is met with a vicious kick or a hard elbow. Into this mix comes Genji, a transfer student with something to prove to his yakuza father – if he can tame Suzuran, he can inherit his father’s gang some day. With the help of a low ranking yakuza he begins to form alliances with other gangs in hopes of getting enough numbers to take on Tamoe. When he does the challenge is put forth and the rumble is on and hundreds break heads in the pouring rain.

Set a bit in a Manga world where every punch is thunderously loud and every character is either totally cool or off-beat strange, Miike has created an enormously entertaining piece of energetic filmmaking that crackles like punk rock but never takes itself seriously. Even with all the head banging going on, it is almost family fare as there are really no bad guys in this comic world, no one gets killed (though there are plenty of bruises and cuts) and by the end you like all the characters in the film who beneath their tough exterior are basically all softies at heart. Filmed with Miike’s usual flair and panache for visuals, it moves with a wonderful sleekness from scene to scene and rarely slows down. Certainly not Miike’s best, but one of his most fun films.


Director: Kenta Fukasuku
90 minutes

Kenta Fukasuku isn’t usually a name that brings happy thoughts to Asian film fans with his misbegotten sequel to Battle Royale and his cheesy (though admittedly somewhat entertaining) follow-up on the classic yo-yo girl action films of the 1980’s – Yo Yo Girl Cop. So one approaches his films with caution and a fast exit strategy – so both Goran and I were taken aback at how much we enjoyed this outing – we sat there just lapping up the lunacy on the screen. Mind you, this is total B genre film making – a women in peril film set out in the hinterlands of Japan – but there isn’t a wasted moment in the film as it grabs your B film sensibilities from the get go and never lets go.

Two young cuties are getting out of Tokyo for a while to regroup – Shiyori to recover from a broken heart and the seemingly airheaded Aiko to take a break from her many boyfriends. What could be better than a few days at one of Japan’s many hot springs to ease away the worries? Of course you may want to do a little more research the next time and not choose a hot spring where the entire village is full of limping men with really bad teeth who like to take an occasional leg from a nubile young woman as a sacrifice. See – they use to be loggers once upon a time and to stop their women folk from leaving when they went away to work they would cut off one of their legs in a ritualistic ceremony. Got to keep your women one-legged and pregnant for a happy home. So when these two show up from Tokyo, the inn keeper eyes their limbs with delight and reminds them to clean their legs carefully. And if that isn’t enough there is also a psychotic one-eyed female walking around with an arsenal of ever larger sharp scissors repeating “snip snip snip” to the girls and eying up Aiko like a pork chop.

Shiyori hears a cell phone ringing in her closet and upon answering it a frantic male voice screams at her to leave the place before they take her leg and suddenly the lights go off and the chase is on. Fortunately, the men at birth all have one of their ankle ligaments cut to keep them from leaving the village and so they are a little slow afoot as Shiyori tries to elude them and their axes. Aiko has her own problems with the crazy woman chasing after her with her scissors dressed in a pink Lolita outfit and a cute bow in her hair – the duel between them - one with a giant – and I mean giant pair of scissors and Aiko with a power saw is classic. Little Aiko turns out to be as tough as steel. For those discerning fans that can enjoy an insane fun romp such as this, I would definitely keep it on your radar after it is released in December.

Nami- The Actress (a.k.a. The Brutal Hopelessness of Love)

Director: Takeshi Ishii
115 minutes

There isn’t much to say about this latest straight to video production from Ishii who seems to jump around the exploitation genre with the occasional bit of serious fare (Freeze Me, Gonin) but more often with trashy and sometimes entertaining films like The Black Angel series, The Flower and Snake films and such. He gives a certain audience what they want – lots of nudity and perversion. Nudity is especially abundant in this film with actress Mai Kitajima displaying her high voltage charms in a series of lasciviously escalating encounters with men. There is a story of sorts surrounding all the flesh – a famous actress Nami is being interviewed about her films and her life and in flashbacks she lays her soul and body bare. It becomes obvious though that all is not what it seems as her film life and her real life seem to mesh and her grasp on reality is fragile at best. But in between her confessions, she manages to have sex a lot – in a number of costumes, positions and locations. It has its moments as Ishii can certainly use light effectively and Mai is an appealing actress, but at the end of the day it doesn’t amount to much and feels like one of Ishii’s less interesting forays into the world of female sexual psychology.


eliza bennet said...

Thank you for your comments and reviews!

Don't forget to eat bibimbap and drink some soju (the only drink that actually thought me what the other people mean by having a hang over)

YTSL said...

So you won't watch "Lust, Caution" but you happily watched "Nami -- The Actress"???? What the....!!!!!! ;D

sbk said...

Yeah, more reviews.

'Crows - Episode 0' sounds like the type of Miike movie I enjoy. He often brings a new look and sensitivity to a been there seen that many times story.

A fight between a woman with a power saw and a woman in a Lolita outfit armed with scissors sounds like great fun.

But 'Nami-The Actress' and not 'Lust, Caution'.......yikes...well...I guess it's a male female difference....