Veronica Rampant here, with some film festival news you can use!
In a town with more than its fair share of distinctive film festivals, you would think it would be nearly impossible for a small, upstart festival to carve out a new niche in Austin. But Iron Dragon TV has accepted the challenge, bringing together two tastes that go great together: martial arts and action movies!
The result is IDTV ACTION FEST (http://www.idtvactionfest.com/), a weekend full of short films, panels, and even martial arts and stunt workshops. This festival has a true love of martial arts and stunts, and respect for stunt performers. The audience is not just watching action at IDTV Action Fest – they’re living and breathing it! Attendees were there to enjoy some action cinema, and also learn stunts and take workshops from industry greats like Tak Sakaguchi (VERSUS, WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL?), David No (ALTERED CARBON, MATRIX RELOADED), TJ Storm, and Carmichael Simon.
Yes, you heard that right: Tak Sakaguchi taught a workshop in combat at this festival. Now, it’s unlikely that I’m gonna learn to do a 720 degree roundhouse kick over the weekend. BUT!! I did get to check out the first day of the festival, and left feeling really energized and inspired by the unique energy of the fest. These folks are having fun, and kicking major ass doing it.
The festival reflects the passions of festival founder Janell Smith, a stunt coordinator and movie producer who is also the CEO of Iron Dragon TV. Smith says that she established the festival as a place where the work of smaller, indie action filmmakers could be screened to an enthusiastic audience. While Iron Dragon TV is a home for big action films starring Donnie Yen and Jet Li, Smith says that, as part of her mission with IDTV Action Fest, “I definitely wanted to help promote the up and coming filmmakers!”
This means you definitely will get to check out some stuff you won’t see anywhere else. Some of the work I saw could be uneven – you might have a sound mix that’s less than perfect, or a plot that’s a bit meandering. But there’s one thing all these films have in common: they are in the major leagues when it comes to gleefully kicking ass! Here are a few of the highlights I caught:
VENGEANCE (aka I AM VENGEANCE) (UK): If “Jean Claude Van Damme” was a genre, this indie from the UK recalls it, complete with a nice electronic score. John Gold (former WWE Superstar Stu Bennett aka Wade Barrett), a “one man war machine” and former Special Forces Op, rolls up in his classic Dodge Charger and goes up against the whole town of Devotion to seek – you guessed it – VENGEANCE. I’m a sucker for “one man stood up against a town” movies, and this hits all the right notes for fans of 80’s action classics.
I AM THE WHITE TIGER (Hong Kong): Honestly, I almost didn’t make it to the end of this one. But I’m SO glad I did. Stuntman, action director, and martial arts legend Mark Houghton tells his story of breaking into the Hong Kong film industry, his struggles with injuries and depression, and the promise he made his teacher and mentor, the legendary Lau Kar Leung. Houghton, an Englishman, met Lau Kar Leung during his time at Shaw Brothers Studios, and despite their cultural differences, Lau Kar Leung became his kung fu sifu. For a while, you think you’re just watching a crazy old white man tell crazy stories about his adventures in the crazy Hong Kong film industry. And those stories are pretty good. But Houghton’s spiritual journey, and his devotion to the memory of his sifu, is what really makes this movie transcend its premise. By the end, I was in tears. An unexpectedly moving documentary, not just about kung fu movies, but about “life itself.”
Check out the trailer for I AM WHITE TIGER over at Film Combat Syndicate. I highly recommend it!
The centerpiece of Friday night was Tak Sakaguchi’s highly anticipated RE:BORN. I missed the movie when it premiered at Fantastic Fest 2016, but getting to see it before its US release was a real treat. There’s a spiritual aspect to most great martial arts films, and this is one that I feel like I could write a whole essay on. Tak (he’s changed his last name to something with a symbol, but it’s not on my keyboard, so I’m just going to call him Tak), along with director Yuji Shimomura and combat supervisor Yoshitaka Ingawa, developed a new close range combat technique for this movie, called “Zero Range Combat,” which is what makes this movie something for combat and martial arts aficionados to geek out over. But it’s the careless nihilism in Tak’s stylistic approach that really makes the film for me, and raises it to another level. As “Reborn Ghost,” he’s not just stabbing people in the neck at close range, he’s doing it with such a casual disregard for his own life and anyone else’s life (and scaring his therapist by referring to killing people as “processing” them) that this should really be called “Zero Fucks Combat.” In some ways it feels like the spiritual successor to Takashi Miike, but late-era, mature, samurai-movie, “Seppuku means happy dispatch” Miike, more than early, coke-sniffing off a ladyboy’s ass at a porn shoot, Miike. It’s very Japanese, and I like it.
IDTV Action Fest is in its third year, and I hope it continues to grow and find its audience!
Photos from the fest by Director Yuji Shimomura: