Fantasia Goes On: Propaganda and Missing Dogs

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Well, the Fantasia Film Fest is well under way, and your Forgetthebox film crew are working tirelessly to cover as much of this thing as possible, toiling away like those kids in the Temple of Doom. Stephanie Laughlin ripped someone’s heart out and dropped them in a lava pit the other day, it was quite a show.

But in between all the dark sacrifices, we are still sitting in air-conditioned theatres watching free movies, and here’s a small taste of what I’ve seen so far.

Fists of the White Lotus

If you’re a big enough fan of classic kung-fu cinema, you probably have the Shaw Bros studio logo tattooed somewhere on your body that you only show to very special friends, but if not, just understand that they’re the group responsible for putting kung-fu movies on the map.

So when it was announced that Fantasia would be screening the Shaw Bros. classic Fists of the White Lotus, fans ran to the ticket office. Hastening their approach and leading to a few more trampling injuries (Walk it off, Zac, was only a Doc Martin to the jugular) was the knowledge that they would be showing the last surviving Cantonese film print of the movie, a rare treat even for dedicated fans.

The film is about as classic and beautiful a kung-fu movie as you’ll see, with a straightforward story of revenge and and beautifully choreographed and filmed fight scenes. Gordon Liu, as always, holds the screen well as the hero Wei-Ting, with enough charisma that he makes for an engaging and likeable hero. Lo Lieh pulls double-duty as both director and villain, giving us a fun bad guy while still being threatening.

As I mentioned before, the fight scenes are fantastically filmed, using an ancient Chinese technique that modern fight cinematographers would do well to study up on. I believe it’s called “holding the fucking camera steady”

Even if you missed the screening, the dubbed version is available on dvd, and kung-fu fans would do well to check this one out.

 

Cold Steel

Moving on to modern Hong-Kong cinema, David Wu, known for his work with the great John Woo, brough his new film Cold Steel to Fantasia this year. The film is set in WW2 China and sees a skilled hunter join a corps of elite snipers.

Modern Hong-Kong action movies have had a nasty habit of rabid nationalism lately, often more interested with waving flags and ruthlessly demonizing the Japanese than making good films. I went in expecting the worst with Cold Steel and maybe that’s why I was only completely indifferent to it.

The film does still have a more than the healthy recommended dose of mindless patriotic myth-making, but once in a while it did surprise me with a Japanese character portrayed as halfway decent, or a soft jab at the kind of campaign-slogan dialogue found in other movies of it’s ilk.

That being said, I’m gonna totally forget this one by the time the festival is done. It has some good action scenes and did surprise me with some slight depth, but this one couldn’t be more middle-of-the-road if it were actually buried in the pavement.

 

Wrong

My hope going in to Wrong, the new offering by filmmaker Quentin Dupieux, was that his storytelling techniques had been refined beyond what was seen in his previous film Rubber. At the very least beyond having someone step out of a car trunk and outright TELL you what the movie is about.

I’m happy to say that not only have those expectations been met but surpassed. Wrong, like it’s predecessor, is very much an odball movie, and defiantly so. It seems to say “Yeah, none of this makes sense, wanna make something of it?” while riding an ostrich and gazing down at me from beneath a horned, pink viking helmet.

I could try and summarize the plot but I might as well try to untangle my own colon at the same time. Let’s just say it involves such varied elements as a lost dog, a transmuted palm tree, an office where it’s perpetually raining inside and a brief foray into man/dog telepathic communication.

While Rubber seemed like more of a concept than it was a film, Wrong definitely feels like a more fully-realized movie, less intent on pushing what it was selling and just sitting back and expecting the audience to let it take them on a ride. Most likely a ride like that scary tunnel from Willy Wonka.

 

11/25 The Day Mishima Chose his Own Fate

Yukio Mishima has fascinated me for some time now, in a morbid train-wreck kind of a way. A staunch, right-wing nationalist, Mishima attempted to incite a military coup and took his own life in a Japanese self-defence force office in 1970.

Of course, if this new film attempting to tell his story is any indication, he was one of he more boring right-wing nutjobs. Despite the interesting subject matter, this film is bogged down by terrible production design, failing horrendously to overcome it’s obviously meagre budget. Which is a nice way of saying it looks cheaper than a Verdun hooker.

The lighting, camera work, editing, score, and overall production are all lifeless and hollow, with sparse sets and costumes and a camera man who seems like he took a weekend course and decided to wing the rest. The script lingers too long on small details, giving us little insight into the motivations or minds of any of the characters.

The acting, at least, is decent enough, but that isn’t enough to save the film from nearly putting me to sleep.

It all feels like something put together by people less interested in making a film than they are propagandizing. And that would be fine if it were at least compellingly made propaganda that did a decent job on selling me on this whole business.

As it is I have no plans to commit ritual hari-kiri for my country any time soon. When I die, explosives will be involved, and in all likelihood a committed Christopher Nolan fan.

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