Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with another report from our own Bobo_Vision at this year's New York Asian Film Festival, giving us a round-up of the quality flicks he's seen. The one I'm most looking forward to catching is TOKYO GORE POLICE, which he describes as a mix between RoboCop and Evil Dead. Count me in! Here he is with the good word!
Hey, all. So the New York Asian Film Festival comes to a close this week and I managed to catch some great flicks during the second week, including Accuracy of Death, Johnny To's Sparrow, Public Enemy Returns, M, and Tokyo Gore Police. Here are my reviews: ACCURACY OF DEATH (Dir - Masaya Kakei, Japan) This is the story of the Grim Reaper (one of many) who, with the aid of his faithful dog whom he communicates with telepathically, decides whether certain people are ready to die. If so, he proceeds with death, if not, he suspends. In between working on these jobs he spends most of his time in a CD store listening to various tracks as he's an avid music lover. The character of the Grim Reaper is played with great wit and sensitivity by Takeshi Kaneshiro, and it's fun to watch him on the job as he intervenes in peoples' lives. As I watched this film, I thought that perhaps it would be better suited as a Quantum Leap-styled Japanese TV show where he would decide individuals' fates each week and give them a chance to fulfil their life's purpose, because it seemed odd to be introduced to entirely new characters in the film as he went from one job to the next. This was remedied by the end as all the loose ends were tied together and made into one cohesive, beautiful film, creating a broader scope than you realize as the story unfolds. An exceptional movie; one of my favourites of the festival. SPARROW (Dir - Johnny To, Hong Kong) This is not an action film, so don't expect typical Johnny To fare here. However, it's not a complete departure for To because even his action films tend to have strong human elements which makes the action more compelling; it's more than just fights, explosions, and gunfire strung together. This film is about a group of four pickpockets who meet and become mesmerized by a woman who is a con-artist of a higher caliber. She works for a gang boss who practically owns her like property. These four men fall for this woman and come to sympathize with her, even after she dupes them, and they decide to help her. The most notable thing To has accomplished with this film is the tone. It's like a film from a classier era, and has a cheerful, upbeat mood. A scene where the woman and one of the pickpockets share a cigarette reminded me of the 50's diner scene between Travolta and Thurman in Pulp Fiction. It's brief, but while driving in a convertible at night, as the neon signs are reflected in the windshield, the woman takes the cigarette from his mouth for a puff, and he watches carefully as she gets lipstick on the filter. It's the type of playful flirtation that makes you feel as though you're transported to another time. The climax involves of the film involves a challenge between two groups of pickpockets while under umbrellas in the rain, and it plays like a choreographed number by Fred Estaire. However, despite being well made, I must admit, I was fighting to stay awake towards the end. It's good overall, but a little too cute for my liking. Perhaps I wasn't in the mood. PUBLIC ENEMY RETURNS (Dir - Woo-Suk Kang, Korea) Detective Kang, the police officer with the intense moral indignation, is back! In the original film, Kang was a cop surrounded by crime and corruption and he declared war on anyone acting against society or breaking the law as they were "public enemies". This time around, he's unemployed, strapped for cash, and raising his 9-year old daughter and is called back to duty when the force needs his help to stop a gang syndicate that's recruiting 17-year old boys as their gangsters. The movie is more humourous and light-hearted than the original while still providing lots of action and drama. The best scenes are where Kang simply talks with various suspects and gets under their skin like Columbo while displaying his disgust for them and their ilk. These films are great largely because Detective Kang is such a fantastic character. He's the Korean Charles Bronson, and I hope there are several more films in the Public Enemy series. DAINIPPONJIN (Dir - Hitoshi Matsumoto, Japan) This "mockumentary" starts with a slow pace as we follow Dai-Soto and learn about his salary, his wife whom he's separated from, and his daily routine. Eventually it's revealed that his job is to fight giant monsters (a rampant problem in Japan) by growing to an enormous size with the help of a massive infusion of electricity. The "baddies" he fights resemble creatures generated from the Spore videogame. The Japanese have an insane sense of humour, and those in the audience found this movie howlingly funny. For me, it had humourous moments, but the jokes wore thin long before the movie ended. An interesting concept, but not enough humour to sustain an entire movie. Worth renting on DVD. M (Dir - Lee Myung-Se, Korea) No relation to the Fritz Lang classic, this is the story of a writer (Mr. M) struggling with his next book. He's engaged to be married, and in addition to contending with a concerned father-in-law and publisher, he is suddenly visited by the ghost of a young woman who is very much in love with him. It's not clear whether she is real, imaginary, or a fragment of his memory, but Mr. M begins to go in and out of the real world to the underworld where he visits this woman. This turns out to be a very touching and well-crafted love story. The best love stories are unconventional, and love is merely one of many other themes being dealt with, like death, career, and marriage for example, just as in life. This was a low-budget film but the director manages to use camera techniques, sound, and lighting to create a picture full of emotion and symbolic imagery. "M" is a film worth checking out. THE MOST BEAUTIFUL NIGHT IN THE WORLD (Dir - Daisuke Tengan, Japan) This is one of those movies where an outsider (in this case, a journalist) comes to a small town and gets charmed by the quirky locals. For the first hour or so, it plays like so many comedies that come out of the UK about small, working class towns, but then it shifts gears and becomes a David Lynch film. We are introduced to a female bartender who communes with spirits and the dead, a suspected terrorist creating an aphrodisiac "love bomb", and a man who turns into a snake. The film culminates with a grand orgy amongst all the town members thereby creating the most beautiful night in the world. It sounds better than it really is. With a running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes, the film meanders all over the place and we're introduced to too many side characters with little significance or entertainment value. If the filmmakers had focused on the more interesting characters, with tighter editing about an hour could be cut out of the film, and it would be a much better movie. But as it stands now I can't recommend it. TOKYO GORE POLICE (Dir -Yoshinori Nishimura, Japan) Wow. This is one of those films you check out to satisfy your morbid curiosity, and it delivers. The world this film is set in is like a cross between Robocop and Evil Dead, where crime has progressed causing the police force to become privatized like a Blackwater-esque organization of samurai. They hunt "engineers", which are a type of scientifically engineered superhumans who have fleshy appendages like something out of a Cronenberg film. I used to love gore when I was growing up, and accumulated a drawer full of Fangoria magazines by the age of 14, but I outgrew it. Now, gore in films is like explosions - unless it's integral to the story, I don't care for it. However, this film reminded me of how I felt when I was 14 when I was curious as to all the inventive ways a movie could use gore. Some of the film's inventions include a man whose penis regenerates to the size of an elephant's trunk after being bitten off (and fires bullets to boot!), a gimp who walks on all fours with samurai swords as artificial limbs, and a woman whose legs from her knees to her crotch are like the gaping maw of a crocodile. This isn't the type of film where you leave pissed off at the director for trying to shock or disturb you, or mess with your head like many American gore films of late. Instead, it's like a celebration of gore, and the filmmakers use gore as their medium to explore their art. And it's just a lot of wacky, blood-filled fun. If you like grindhouse films, slasher films like Re-animator, or if this plays at a midnight showing in your town, it's worth checking out for that shared experience of a theather full of people simultaneously thinking "I can't beleive what I'm watching". And that does it for me. There were other films I wanted to see like Sukiyaki Western Django and King Naresuan 1 & 2, but I didn't get the chance. But if you have an opportunity to see these films for yourself, or any of the films I recommended, it would be worth your while and a refreshing change from the typical films churned out of Hollywood. Peace. Bobo_Vision