Saturday, October 10, 2009

Jang Kun-Jae's "Eighteen" wins the Dragons and Tiger's Award

Jang Kun-Jae's Eighteen wins the Dragons and Tigers Award

Ralston Jover's Bakal Boys (roughly translated: Scrap Metal Scavengers)
won special mention.

Happy for these two films, but I really enjoyed all eight; each had its own look, its own point of view, its own urgent message to flash out to the world, and if I could I'd give 'em all an award and prize money. But this is the real world.

Of the other films--mind you, these are strictly my opinion, and not of my fellow jurors; they had their own favorites and reasons, and it's up to them to reveal it if they wish. But I've rarely been one to keep my thoughts to myself.

Bui Thac Chuyen's Adrift
looked the most striking, with gorgeous shadowy cinematography edged by a lovely silvered light. The story, about four men and women whose lives inextricably entangle, tended to remind me of a French erotic drama, only done better (maybe the problem with French erotic dramas nowadays is that everyone's done it all, seen it all; what you need is a few virgins thrown in, male or female, the way this film does, and through their eyes appreciate the tremendous force and fear sex can inspire).

I'm afraid Kim Ji-Hyun's Cats
was the one I appreciated the least, at first; it took a second viewing to see the film's circular structure (a deejay whose voice is heard in the film's opening puts in a personal appearance in the end), and to realize that the film's occasionally awkward acting style is a small price to pay for the mostly naturalistic, mostly spontaneous look and feel of the film overall (I'm thinking of, among many others, Mario O'Hara's Babae sa Bubungang Lata (Woman on a Tin Roof, 1998)). I think Kim is less about the look of the picture and more about her characters--the lovemaking has a gentle erotic charge, nothing glossy and slick about it, the couples quarrel like real couples, and the editing among the three storylines (a gay couple; a dentist seeking a sperm donor; a young sculptor and the mother who wants to marry her off) is unfussy and unapologetic (the film cuts from one storyline to another with no-nonsense briskness, and it's up to you to keep apace).

Wu Haohao's Kun 1: Action
mixes classical music, interviews, punk rock, personal diary and political rant to create a Godardian essay on the director's society and personal life. Perhaps the most sensational moment onscreen is an onscreen fellatio ("Is that you?" I asked; "yes," he replied without a trace of embarrassment), but the truly striking element in all this is the nostalgia Wu feels for the olden days of Mao, which he expresses in song, Johnny Rotten-style, as opposed to the materialistic spiritual corruption he sees eating away at the insides of his contemporaries. The film's not professionally done--some of the editing and sound mix is gnarly--but it's up close, and boy is it personal.

Extraordinary thing happened during the screening of Sasaki Omoi's Left Out
: the director had a crisis of confidence and apologized for his film. I suppose all directors have moments they regret shooting in their films (some, Michael Bay comes to mind, have an entire career to repent), but I didn't see anything that needed urgent recanting, not right before the film's world premiere.

Like many initial outings this is a personal document--the characters are cartoonish, the yakuza figures manga versions of the real thing, but I see this as being basically Sasaki's story, the main character his fictional surrogate. All others are extensions of his persona (the yakuza are who he'd like to be; the girl is who he'd like to lay, and the boss is a freeze-frame portrait of who he will be, years from now), and he's in the process of working out just how much he'll take from the world at large before he snaps, what exactly will he do when that moment comes, and just how effective that moment will be in the general scheme of things. Bleakly honest and funny.

Mariko Tetsuya's Yellow Kid
isn't so much a manga come to life as it is a lively manga about life--about unhappy people with complicatedly circular lives (Tamura takes up boxing to relieve his hostility; Hattori asks Tamura to model for his manga remake of the cartoon classic The Yellow Kid; Tamura accepts because the original model for the manga was WBA lightweight champion Mikuni Tokio, who inspired him to box; Tokio's girlfriend is Mana who once had a relationship with Hattori). Japanese passivity collides with Japanese aggression, and beautifully splashy unmanga-like art provides visual commentary. Fascinating film with fascinating ideas, and the meaning of the last shot (found after the credits) is fun to talk about afterward.

As mentioned at the ceremony and in the above article, Chris Chong's Karaoke
was put aside during consideration, but it's really an impressive film. Almost nothing happens--a young man comes home, takes a modeling job, assures his mother he can take care of her and that everything will be fine, eventually contemplates leaving again, this time permanently. This "you can't go home again" microdrama is surrounded by the larger movement of a town transformed, said theme especially laid out in an extraordinary sequence where the main character Betik takes a walk. He wanders through a cathedral of tree trunks, basically towering palm trees that stand in silent attendance--an impressive shot, but as the sequence goes on and we see Betik's tiny figure walking slowly through the grove of giants, we realize that the trees aren't arranged randomly, but in a row. What we thought was a wild forest was actually a domesticated grove, and what looked like a ravishing example of proud, untouched nature was actually established by plantation owners. Cut to monumental piles of rotting palm fruit, haloed by flies, and the huge machines lifting the fruit on conveyor belts high up into the sky. This isn't nature but a parody of nature--agribusiness run amok, its plantations replacing local growth, its workers displacing local workers, its pesticide pollution contaminating local watershed, its very presence slowly corrupting the heart of this town.

Karaoke is basically about false fronts--Betik assuming a control over his life he doesn't really have, karaoke videos evoking emotions no one really feels, the silent palm giants representing a nature that doesn't really exist anymore. Wonderful film.


Anonymous said...

Did you prefer Karaoke over Hwioribaram though? I think it was a terrible waste of space and opportunity, Karaoke shouldn't be nominated from the beginning then. The nomination spot should have given to another film. Great site, by the way.

Noel Vera said...


I would say yes, I do, speaking strictly for myself. That said, it couldn't be helped; the film was invited when the film was relatively unknown, and then just before Vancouver it won an award in Calgary, if I remember right.

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