FANTASIA 2001: MORIARTY Winds Down With JSA (JOINT SECURITY AREA) And WILD ZERO!!
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
The last few days I was in Montreal, the media caught wind and I got some requests for interviews. I’m always happy to pimp the site a bit, and I wanted to make sure and talk up the Fantasia Festival as well. The people who put this thing together do an amazing job, and it’s not a full-time job or an institution like Cannes or Sundance. They’re film fans who started this because they wanted one place where they could see all these films from Asia and Europe in one shot. Over the course of the last six years, what they’ve built is something very special, something I hope to be able to revisit in the years to come. I spent the first part of Monday taking care of some radio obligations while CASTLE IN THE SKY and MILLENNIUM ACTRESS played again, and I squeezed in a second visit to the ridiculously good Schwartz’s before making my way to the Imperial for the evening’s first film.
I don’t know what I thought JOINT SECURITY AREA was supposed to be. From the title, I think I expected some sort of action film, some sort of machine guns and commandos thing. Within ten minutes, though, I realized that I was completely wrong. It was only afterwards that I read the tagline on the poster outside: "A shootout at the border. Two stories and a search for the truth." Director Park Chan-Wook has crafted something very memorable here, a glimpse at the ideological distance that can keep people separate even though they stand face to face every day. Someone described it as a Korean version of A FEW GOOD MEN, but it’s better than that. This isn’t a film that builds to a phony climax buffered by the abilities of big Hollywood names trying to prop up empty hysteria. Instead, it’s a film that gets off to a slightly shaky start but that builds to a genuinely powerful conclusion.
The setup is simple. Gunshots ring out from inside a guard building on the North Korean/South Korean border. A single soldier stumbles wounded from the building and tries to make it across the border, but before he can, reinforcements on both sides show up, and things escalate into a international incident.
An outside negotiating team is brought in from Switzerland to try and figure out what exactly happened in that guard building, and at first, no one is willing to talk. What stories are offered up don’t match. Everything seems to focus on that one soldier, a South Korean, who somehow ended up on the wrong side of the border. He’s got a reputation for having been fairly fearless in regards to the North Koreans. At one point, he went across the border by himself and tripped a mine, which he disarmed on his own. He has also been known to throw rocks and break windows in North Korean buildings just for fun. As a result of his various provocations, he claims he was kidnapped and tortured, and that he was forced to shoot the North Korean guards in self-defense while escaping. None of the logistics of his story make sense, though, and the woman in charge of the investigation digs deeper.
What we see as an audience reveals something very different from the story we’ve heard. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but I’ll say this: it’s a film about friendships, unlikely ones, and the way they can lead us to redefine even the most fundamental beliefs in our lives. By trying to reach across borders that ultimately don’t mean anything on a personal level, there is the possibility of erasing them on a broader political level. I would love to see this film find a distributor in the US, even if it’s for a limited arthouse release, because I think there’s a real potential for the film to become a crossover success. It’s shot in beautiful scope, it’s incredibly well-performed on all fronts, and it’s surprisingly funny as well as wrenching in places. It’s that mix of emotional material that makes the film such an unexpected pleasure, and well worth your time to search out.
Unlike JSA, which I’d heard nothing about, WILD ZERO was a film I’d been hyped for by some of our contributors here on AICN, including our man in Manchester, Reni. I’d been primed for a crazy ride that mixed rock’n’roll, zombies, and UFOs. And while it’s true that all those elements are in there, the sum is much less than the parts in this case. As a final film in the festival, WILD ZERO was a wicked disappointment. I would compare it to two other films, both of which seemed determined to be cult films, but both of which struck me as too calculated, too forced to ever really be enjoyed. SIX STRING SAMURAI and VERSUS are both full of posing, full of things like kung fu and zombies and wacky angles, things that should appeal to geeks. I don’t like cult films that are calculated to be cult films, though. It’s like corporate punk… it rubs me the wrong way.
Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf, and Drum Wolf are the band Guitar Wolf, and they’re modeled after such punk icons as The Ramones. They’re not very good, though, and the musical interludes in the film just got on my nerves. At the start of the film, we meet Ace, a massive fan of the band, and he goes to a show to see them perform. At the end of the show, the band gets into a violent altercation with the club owner, and Ace breaks it up, getting hurt in the process. Guitar Wolf repays Ace by becoming rock’n’roll blood brothers with him and giving him a whistle to use if he ever needs help. Right around that time, the UFOs drop something that start turning people into zombies. Describing the events of the film inevitably makes it sound more interesting than it really is. I wish all these elements blended into something frothy and silly and fun, but they don’t. Instead, there’s a sort of numbing repetition that sets in as the film plays out. The zombies are of the slow-moving variety, and they’re not enough of a threat or a joke to be interesting. The band stands around and poses and shouts platitudes about ROCK’N’ROLL!!!! but it’s not funny or cool. In the end, the film just grated on my nerves, and I was actually relieved when it ended. Although just over an hour and a half, it felt like it went on forever.
The only thing that salvaged that last show was the short beforehand, a very funny cartoon called FLAT AND FLUFFY by Ben "The Cannibal" Boucher. All week, Ben had been worried about the way the lab evidently screwed up the transfer on his short, and he kept warning us that the second half was almost unwatchable thanks to the color timing. He shouldn’t have worried quite as much as he did, since the short played well and was greeted with serious laughter. A hippie with a headful of acid and his gun-toting Russian roommate accidentally shoot kill a neighbor’s dog and decide to cover it up by running the dog over in their car They get too wrapped up in what they’re doing, though, and spend 45 minutes running the dog over. Their carelessness means they get spotted by the dog’s owner, leading to a bloody revenge. Ben was involved in a now-legendary altercation at PLANET OF THE APES at the opening show on Friday the 27th, and it had to be a nice finish to the festival for him to have the film be so well received, making up in some ways for the tension filled days beforehand. More than anything, I appreciated the fact that this was completely hand-made, shot on pegboards and photographed frame by frame. It was low-tech stuff, but with a high ratio of laughs.
And that was it for Monday. I didn’t even have a chance to really stay out and party on my last night in town, since I was supposed to be at the TVA network studios the next morning for their morning show. It’s evidently the one English language morning show on TV in Montreal, and the host of the program grilled me on STAR TREK 10 and BUFFY spoilers. I got in one last plug for the festival, then headed back to the Delta to pack and check out. In order to be fair, I tried Reuben’s for lunch, the other smoked-meat sandwich establishment that I had been told was amazing. Although the sandwiches were bigger, I have to give Schwartz’s the edge as the best I tried while in town. I headed over to the Fantasia offices so I could thank festival director Pierre Corbeil face to face, and I also picked up a stack of screeners for films I’d missed in the festival. Karen, the volunteer who starred in the short film ONION that I reviewed in my last Fantasia report, had copied nine films for me, and I spent an hour or so sitting in her office checking my e-mail and actually catching up on reading the site. An adorable little Fiona Apple look-alike, Karen ended up reading the site for the first time while I was there, and seemed surprised by how it read versus how reserved I can be in person. Like everyone else I dealt with from the festival, she was a delight, and I want to take this space to thank Pierre as well as Mitch Davis, Julien Fonfrede, Karim Hussaine, and FANGORIA’s Anthony Timpone, as well as Mi-Jeong Lee. I also want to thank each and every reader who took the time to say hello and all the people like David, Don, Nicolas, Anthony The Kiwi, Adele, Larry, Andrew, Mark, and so many others who made me feel welcome in this sort of sprawling community that sprang up over the course of the full month of this thing. Of all the assignments I’ve been sent to cover for AICN, Fantasia 2001 is easily the most fun so far.
I’ll be working my way through that stack of screeners over the course of this week, and I’ve also got that Bruce Law interview to transcribe for you in addition to things like the Salman Rushdie review and a backlog of other articles. I’m finally back at full speed now, and look forward to hitting it hard in the days ahead. Until then…
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Aug. 6, 2001, 10:55 p.m. CST
Just kidding. It aint just you. It does cut off at "None of the logistics of his story make sense, th..." Hopefully they'll fix it soon.
Aug. 7, 2001, 12:07 a.m. CST
i quite liked wild zero. then again, i thought that guitar wolf was a lot of fun and don't see them as some sort of pale imitation of the ramones. keep in mind that the band was not created for the movie and that their existance (and popularity) predates wild zero. i wouldn't say that movie is amazing - it certainly drags in places - but given the wild praise you gave to the artistically spotty metropolis it seems weird that you'd come down so harshly on wild zero. ahh well. perhaps it helps to have lived in japan.
Aug. 7, 2001, 12:53 a.m. CST
I find it hard to believe a word you speak. Guitar Wolf's music is campy, hilarious, and thoroughly entertaining. I have not seen the movie, but if their music is a complaint, you my friend, are a boob.
Aug. 7, 2001, 4:27 a.m. CST
Does this mean you'll be coming back next year? ;-) Fantasia is a great film festival for FANS. Actually, it's kinda midway between an "official" film festival and a convention, don't you think? Anyway, glad you liked Fantasia. You have now joined the ranks of the tons of people who look forward to the unholy fun of this period of the year. ;-)
Aug. 7, 2001, 4:42 a.m. CST
Mori, you can be so crushingly realistic sometimes... Damn I saw those flaws (honest) but I was too much in love. Maybe we should ask Beacon to remake this one too...?
Aug. 7, 2001, 7:22 a.m. CST
It's my fault, I wouldn't shut up about it.
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