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Aloha AICN - Moon Yun and Albert Lanier cover THE HOST, NA KAMALEI: MEN OF HULA and More!!!

Aloha, Moon Yun signing in from Hawaii... A few years ago, I interviewed Lisette Marie Flanary for Ain’t It Cool News at the Maui Film Festival. She was making her debut as a filmmaker with her first film– AMERICAN ALOHA: HULA BEYOND HAWAII. Now she’s come back to the isles to present her second documentary about hula titled NA KAMALEI: MEN OF HULA. I couldn’t be more proud because this time she’s hit her stride and has walked away with two awards from the Hawaii International Film Festival. Lisette, who directed the film, nabbed the Hawaii Film and Videomaker Award as well as the DHL Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary. I must admit I hadn’t seen the film but when the awards were announced I needed to see what the fuss was all about. NA KAMALEI (“children of lei) was a beautiful documentary that sometimes moved me to tears, made me laugh and got me to understand the men in the halau (hula academy). Very Isle calendar men! Hubba, hubba! Compared to what she did before, it was definitely an improvement. Her previous documentary, AMERICAN ALOHA, went up, down and around every facet of hula, watering down its impact. This time she just stayed focused on Robert Cazimero, a very famous musician here and on the mainland. He’s the kumu hula (hula instructor) of Na Kamalei – Hawaii’s only hula academy for men. She does go into its history, demise and renaissance but at its center are Cazimero and his students. Sometimes it’s not easy being a male hula dancer because of the stereotypes but once you see them up on stage during the Merrie Monarch Festival, the superbowl of hula competition, their enthusiasm and charisma are contagious. The Hawaiian gods must have liked it too because Cazimero’s halau won on the 30th anniversary of his teaching hula. This 56-minute documentary played during Hawaii Panorama – a section that highlights Hawaii talents and/or Hawaii topics. RUCKUS! Another movie that I really liked in the Hawaii Panorama section was RUCKUS! Apparently so did the fans because director Dean Ishida’s film got awarded the DHL Audience Choice Award for Best Short Film. Apparently for a low-budget, the short flick stood out as lively, humorous, charming and whimsical. Oh and yes, the dance. It’s hard to describe but they swing and shift their body from one side to the other. The 18-minute short is about a crew of out of shape 30-somethings who form a boy band named RUCKUS. They practice for a music video titled “She’s Online (And I’m Outta My Mind)? Now a review of THE HOST by Albert Lanier...
THE HOST-A STUNNING GENRE-BENDING EXPERIENCE by Albert Lanier It's a funny thing going to film festivals because you never know what to expect when you hand in your ticket or flash your press pass or badge, plop down in your seat and wait for the lights to fade and the projector to start running. I have found that in ten years of covering film festivals as a reporter and film critic that you never can tell what a film will be like until you actually see it with your own eyeballs. You can do the pre-festival research-like I do-and check movies websites (like this one), read newspapers and magazines and scan through reviews. It simply doesn't matter because there are just some films-be they features, documentaries or shorts-you will simply not be prepared for. THE HOST was just such a film for me. When I finally got the chance to see this so-called "monster" film from South Korea on the final night of the Hawaii International Film Festival, I had no idea how powerful and effective it might be and how THE HOST-much the little girl held by the tail of the film's monster-gripped me for nearly two hours and wouldn't let go. I wasn't alone. Sneaking glances at times at the nearly packed audience that saw the film with me, I studied their faces as best I could. They were into it. There were hooked. So hooked that THE HOST was given the Audience Award for Best Feature film at HIFF this year. The film was so popular that the only previous screening of the film at the fest took up two theatres at Honolulu's Dole Cannery Theaters and packed in about 800 people. THE HOST has been just as popular in its home country where it has racked in the Won notes. Popularity usually does not ensure quality in movies but in the case of THE HOST, the two go hand in hand. THE HOST is an exhilaratingly entertaining film that is nonetheless emotionally potent as well. The films begins at the morgue of a U.S. Army base in South Korea. There two men in green scrubs in this morgue-an American and a Korean-and one is one side of the film's frame and other on the opposite side. The American (played by Scott Wilson whom American TV fans will recognize from episodes of CSI) notices that the bottles of formaldehyde kept in the morgue seem musty and old. They must be disposed of. Pour them down the drain, he tells the Korean employee. The Korean man-known only as Mr Kim-protests. Formaldehyde is a toxic chemical that if sent through a drain might end up in the Han River, a major waterway. The American-likely an Army officer-cares not a whit. "The Han river is broad enough" he states. Besides, its an order. So, Mr Kim-clad in a gas mask- pours formaldehyde down the sink drain. Bottles of the stuff have emptied. We know this because the camera tracks over rows of bottles set up on a table. So we now know, in the first scenes of THE HOST, the cause or "inciting incident" (as screenwriters might put it) that has created the film's monster. We are also treated to the film's first joke. which is that a substance normally used to preserve animals has instead become a formative agent in creating and producing a meta sized, grotesque new life form. Thus, we see a layering effect-humor atop of horror-that will run throughout TE HOST. In any event, the film fast forwards a couple of years. A couple of men are waist deep in the Han river fishing. One of them catches some slimy and ugly in his cup. Then something brushes past them. Then we finally arrive at 2006. We see the sleeping visage of blond-haired Park Hang-Du (played by MEMORIES OF MURDER star Song Kiang-Ho), his head down on the counter of the family's food stand. Hang-Du's father Kiel-Bong pushes his son's head up to grab the coins hidden underneath his face to provide change for a customer. Hang-Du's pre-teen daughter Hun-Sego shows up from school and head inside the family's squat trailer/stand home. Hang-Du and Hyun-Seo watch TV particularly Hand-Du's sister Nam-Ju compete in a professional archery competition. She ends up with a bronze medal. Kie-Bong talks to Hang-Du outside of the stand about one of the squid dishes he sold to customers. The squid only has 9 legs. Could you try not eat any of the squid before we sell it? Hang-Du looks baffled. He clearly doesn't know anything about 9 legged squid. In any event, Hang-Du is sent out with a new squid to pacify the customers on Mat 9-one of a number of mats that line the sides of the Han River. As Hang-Du walks out and looks for his customer, he notices that a small crowd of people are watching some blackish grey entity hanging from the underbelly of a bridge. This thing then slightly unfurls and jumps into the water. The crowd gets larger. Hang-Du throws a beer into the water and then the onlookers start tossing food into the river. By now, hang-Du's head has swivel and he is incredulous with disbelief at what he is seeing headed the crowd he is in. I can only describe the creature as a malevolent fish with legs who is knocking over people and scooping them up in its mouth. Hang-Du runs terrified along with scores of others. Hang-Du grabs Hyun-Seo's hand and sprints as fast as he can. Then he falls down and get back up grabbing an arm and beginning to flee when he realizes he has grabbed the wrong little girl. Hyun-Seo gets up from the ground just as "fish face" ( my pet name for the monster derived from Leather face from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) wraps its tail around her and swims cross to the opposite of the river where it stuffs a man into its mouth and heads back into the water. At a school gymnasium where survivors have been evacuated by the government, Hang-Du is hit by grief. Nam-Ju and the family's other son Nam-Il, the family's college graduate are devastated by the death of Hyun-Seo as her smiling face beams in a framed picture integrated as parts of two rows of deceased individuals. A government worker in a hazmat suit comes in and begins to ask if anyone has had contact with the monster. Hang-Du volunteers that blood from the creature spilled on his face. In no time at all, Hang-Du and the Park family are sent to a hospital where they will be kept for examination. Then, Hang-Du gets a call on his cell phone. It is from Hyun-Seo. She is terrified and still alive. Determined to be reunited with his daughter, Hang-Du and the rest of the Park family break out of the hospital and engage in a search to find Hyun-Seo. This is where I must end my plot description of THE HOST so as not to spoil the thrilling and heartrending scenes that lie ahead. Though lauded, THE HOST has been categorized as a well-made monster movie and its easy to see why. My contention however is that THE HOST is not really a monster movie but a powerful drama with a monster film plot. First, Director Bong Joon- Ho and his script co-writers Baek Chul-Hyun and Ha Won-Jun do not examine and analyze Fish face's anatomy and biological makeup. There is no discussion or debate about recombinant DNA or chemically induced mutation or any of the varied agents present in the make-up of this creature. In fact, we largely left to ponder just what Fish face really is-other than a lean, mean aquatic killing machine. Fish face does seem a bit agile and maneuverable for a fish with legs as it swings like Tarzan underneath bridges. Maybe the creature was hanging out in the cinemas of South Korea watching Sam Raimi's SPIDER MAN movies and getting inspired. Second, we do not see the requisite stock characters in such horror/ monster films- scientists, physicians, military officers, politicians-take center stage as main characters. Instead, our major protagonists are essentially a family of screw ups: ne'er-do-well Hang-Du, unemployed college graduate Nam-Il, modestly successful archer Nam-ju who has a problem with the release of her arrows even the patriarch Kie-Bong is a mere small business owner. However, this disconnected family winds up coming together to hunt for one of their own and in the process show uncommon courage, tenacity and resolve in an extraordinary time. Finally, the film consists of a potent dramatic core that creates real emotion within the filmgoers and invests the audience member with a vivid stake in the welfare of the characters. THE HOST also serves as a satire of authority-in this case the U.S. and South Korean Governments-and quite a pointed though humorous critique of such authority. Take for example, a slight part of a scene where a worker in hazmat suit falls and trips when he walks into a school gym. Director Bong Joon-Ho is essentially pointing out the vulnerability and ineptitude of such workers and officials. However, Bong doesn't merely think that the American and South Korean government are merely inefficient but that they are deceptive and deceitful as well. Take the scene- and this might as well be labeled a SPOILER so skip over it if you don't want to know this information-where an American official (played by MARRIED TO THE MOB's Paul Lazar) visits Hang-Du in the Hospital and ends up telling his colleague that a virus widely feared to have been spread by Fish face doesn't exist. THE HOST is a skillfully made piece of dramatic entertainment crafted by a director who has only done two previous features: BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE and the excellent MEMORIES OF MURDER. With THE HOST, Bong Joon-Ho catapult himself to the top rank of Korean directors and possibly Asian directors. Bong is blessed with a fairly well-written script honed to provide the maximum amount of plot points within leaden, clunky expository dialogue and unnecessary characters or scenes. This is a really tight script. Bong also directs with confidence. He uses close-ups when appropriate and highly advantageous and avoids a number of red herring/close call scenes that are distracting, simplistic and irritating. Credit should also extended to a cast of first-rate talents including the excellent Song Kang-Ho as Hang-Du who is a perfect fit as a lazy loser who is jolted into action not to mention Bae Du-Na as Nam-Ju, Park Hae-Il as nam-Il and Byeon Hie-Bong as Kie-Bong. THE HOST has been praised as a transformative film that re-shapes a genre but what the film actually does is emphasize human and family drama by creating real enough characters that are compelling within what would normally be considered a ridiculous and unrealistic situation. By melding real human emotion with the elements of horror, monster films and satire, Bong Joon-Ho has created a new classic for the twenty-first century and made one of the year's best films. I think it was playwright Eugene O'Neill who wrote that the family unit at the core of drama and THE HOST certainly proves that. However, I don't recall seeing Fish face in THE ICEMAN COMETH. After this film though, maybe his agent can book him into a production in South Korea.

Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 4, 2006, 5:12 p.m. CST

    well

    by THE KNIGHT

    nice..

  • Nov. 4, 2006, 5:13 p.m. CST

    FIRST

    by THE KNIGHT

    Good stuff by the way..

  • Nov. 6, 2006, 1:48 a.m. CST

    That was an awful review.

    by cockrockinbeatz

    10 years of covering film festivals and that's what you write? I had to skip the gargantuan middle section because I knew you were spoiling everything.

  • Nov. 6, 2006, 9:29 a.m. CST

    so where's the Saw 3 REVIEW

    by ScaryJim

    when every other reviewers tearing it to shreds except bloody-disgusting? Did an AICNer have connections with it and is too ashamed to review it?