Fantasia Montreal is coming up on its third week, but even though the end is in sight, and it’ll soon be time for the amusing nerd-culture t-shirt wearing hordes to slink back into the darkness from whence they came, this train ain’t slowing down. This week saw some of the Fantasia Montreal’s most anticipated events and films, so let’s take a gander.
Frequenters of this column will know that Japanese Superheroes are one of my nerdier interests, given how I occasionally endeavor to lower FTB’s cool cred to take a look at some of them.
Well, for once I have a legit excuse, because this weekend saw the screening of Machi Action, a loving parody of all things tokusatsu out of Taiwan. Our hero is Tie Nan, who for ten years has been playing the hero in Spacehero Fly, a superhero tv show that seems to mix the premise of Ultraman and the aesthetics of Kamen Rider. But after the network is taken over by the boss’s cutthroat daughter, Spacehero Fly is replaced by the newer, cooler Spacehero Face, and Tie Nan finds himself out of a job.
Machi Action is definitely a flick that’s tailored for a very specific audience, one I happen to fall right right in the middle of, so the overriding sense that the movie was made with weirdos like me who go in for this shit won points with me right off the bat. But after I got over the novelty of it, Machi Action still proved to be a funny, heartwarming film.
Despite still looking like a male model under his tussled hair and patchy beard, actor Chen Bo Lin pulls of the sad sack routine pretty well, and co-star Qiu Yanxiang, as Tie Nan’s co-star Monster (guess what he plays?) is a good comedic foil.
Some audiences may find some scenes a tad off-putting, like Tie Nan’s ill advised attempt at making some dough by starring in a Spacehero Fly porno parody (it’s all implied, don’t worry), but even if you aren’t part of the whole spandex and justice crowd, Machi Action is worth a watch.
Last year, Fantasia got a taste of over-the-top Bollywood action with Singham and everything was looking hunky-dory…..until the last scene of the movie, in which things suddenly go from goofy and fun to borderline fascistic, in a way that would probably be some kind of ironic statement if Bollywood had any sense of irony. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I sat down to Commando, this year’s Bollywood action-fest.
Thankfully, Commando didn’t have me leaving the theater vaguely unsettled, and in fact I’m pretty sure it might be the best action movie I’ve seen this year…which is a weird thing considering it has no less than four lavish musical numbers.
Rather than a magnificently mustachioed cop, the protagonist this time is Karan, a commando abandoned by his government after a mission gone bad. By sheer coincidence, after escaping Chinese captors and returning to India, Karan runs afoul of some local goons chasing after a beautiful woman, and after saving her finds himself and the girl being hunted through the jungle by a white-eyed crime boss.
Unlike Singham, which often felt a tad sparse on the action side, Commando is all action, and pretty good action at that. Star Vidyut Jamwal brings a lot of seriously impressive Kalaripayattu martial arts moves to the table, even if he may have stolen a maneuver or two from Tony Jaa.
Where it may fall a tad flat for some viewers is the tone, which is considerably less cartoony and over-the-top than Singham, which either cuts down on or increases the camp value, depending who you ask. Now, that’s not to say that it isn’t cartoony at all, this is still Bollywood, but those expecting to see Singham‘s level of cartoony exaggeration may be left wanting.
All the same, Commando is a ton of fun, and without the unsettling ending of its predecessor.
Of course, Fantasia isn’t just about campy fun and superheroes. Also premiering this year is The Weight, out of South Korea. The story of a hunchbacked morgue worker named Jung (heh…), an introverted man trying to live in a body rapidly crumbling at the hands of Tuberculosis and various other ailments. Not helping this is his unhealthy relationship with his pre-op transsexual sister.
The Weight is already being hailed as a new chapter in the Cinema of Transgression, and it isn’t hard to see why. The film features everything from necrophilia, implied incest and sexual abuse, countless unpleasant sex scenes and a healthy amount of really unpleasant things being done to corpses. So yeah, this isn’t a movie for the squeamish.
So while the movie certainly has a lot for fans of transgression and taboo, it’s honestly hard to say if it’s actually any good. It’s certainly moody, with a lot of silent scenes of Jung watching on blankly as someone does something messed up and weird to a fellow human being, or ex-human being in some cases.
By the end, it succeeds more in numbing the audience than anything else, who’ll probably all go “Huh….” by the end, like in that one Clone High episode. Does any of this really mean anything? Is it a statement about the random and ultimately pointless struggle that is human existence, or is it just a bunch of Asian people breaking taboos for the sake of it?
The Weight doesn’t offer any easy answers, and it should be commended for that if nothing else.