Shadows @ Film FestsShadows: Arthouse Films ’03

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last update 14.Jun.03

back to the top DARK WATER
kuroki and kanno
dir Hideo Nakata; scr Yoshihiro Nakamura, Ken-Ichi Suzuki
with Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno, Fumiyo Kohinata, Mirei Oguchi, Asami Mizukawa, Yu Tokui, Shigemitsu Ogi, Isao Yatsu
release Japan 19.Jan.02; UK 6.Jun.03 • 02/Japan 1h41 3 out of 5 stars
With extremely heavy echoes of his own 1998 film Ringu (adapted into the superb American remake The Ring), Nakata is on subtle creep-out form here rather than big horror movie mode. Yoshimi (Kuroki) is a recently divorced young woman with a 5-year-old daughter, Ikuko (Kanno). She's trying to make her life more stable and fight off a custody lawsuit from her ex (Kohinata), so she rents a new flat in a rather grim looking concrete building, puts Ikuko in a nice kindergarten and finds a new job. But the apartment building has a sinister history--the little girl (Oguchi) in the flat upstairs went missing three ago and now haunts the building, seemingly luring Ikuko into danger. While a water stain in Yoshimi's bedroom ceiling starts to grow. And drip.
Murky water is everywhere in this film, and it's an integral part of the plot as well, giving us clues and images that propel the story and hint as to what's happened and what's coming. Nakata is an expert at generating quiet menace, and this film very quickly gets under our skin with its grimy set design and unsettling music, plus insinuating glimpses and characters who all seem so disturbed that it's hard to trust anyone. As a result, we really get into Yoshimi's head and feel her combination of fear and defiance. At the same time, anyone who has seen Ringu will feel several steps ahead of the plot here--it's very familiar, with similar scenes and even the same shocks and climaxes (although they will get you again!). This aside, it's still one of the more effective thrillers around ... much scarier than the loud, effects-heavy nonsense Hollywood throws at us. [15 themes, suspense] 21.May.03
back to the top FRIDAY NIGHT [Vendredi Soir]
lindon and lemercier
dir Claire Denis; scr Emmanuele Bernheim, Claire Denis
with Valerie Lemercier, Vincent Lindon, Helene de Saint-Pere, Helene Fillieres, Gregoire Colin, Micha Lescot, Florence Loiret-Caille, Gilles D'Ambra, Nicolas Struve, Gianfranco Poddighe, Jerome Pouly, Nausicaa Meyer
release US 23.May.03; UK 22.Aug.03 • Canal+ 02/France 1h30 2½ out of 5 stars
After detouring to make the vampire thriller Trouble Every Day, Claire Denis is back in Beau Travail mode with another nearly wordless micro-drama--beautifully filmed and somewhat maddeningly elusive. It's Friday night in Paris and Laure (Lemercier) is finished packing up her flat before moving in with her boyfriend tomorrow. She's driving to have dinner with a friend (de Saint-Pere) when she gets stuck in a horrific traffic jam. Relaxed in the calm oasis of her car, Laure lets her guard down and picks up a stranded pedestrian, Jean (Lindon). Soon the two are flirting shamelessly, then trying to find a way out of the jam down sidestreets ... until they spot a cheap hotel and get another idea.
The team of director Denis and cinematographer Agnes Godard is a potent one. As with Beau Travail, they elegantly capture the moods with telling details, clever angles and intriguing editing. There's something ethereal and naughty that makes the film feel like an extended fantasy in the mind of a woman stuck in a traffic jam (there are lots of mini-fantasies here and there, as well as a couple of wacky special effects). The camera work is close-up and very intimate, rarely letting us get the whole picture of what's going on, and the effect is insinuating, sexy, and more than a little bit dull, since it moves at a snail's pace and feels heavily padded out. Performances are superb from the central duo as well as the rest of the cast, who are limited to cameos (Lescot's hotel receptionist brings a welcome blast of humour). But more than a narrative film, this is a current of emotion washing across the screen for 90 minutes. Not terribly engaging, but surprisingly moving. [15 themes, language, sexual situations] 13.Jun.03
back to the top FULLTIME KILLER
lau and lin
dir Johnny To, Wai Ka-Fai; scr Joey O'Bryan, Wai Ka-Fai
with Andy Lau, Takashi Sorimachi, Kelly Lin, Simon Yam, Cherrie Ying, Suet Lam, Teddy Lin
release HK 3.Aug.01; US 21.Mar.03; UK 27.Jun.03 • 01/Hong Kong 1h40 3½ out of 5 stars
There's an assured, bracingly original style to this cops-and-hitmen thriller that makes it far more engaging than you expect it to be. The cocky, movie-obsessed Tok (Lau) is a gun-for-hire who only gets the second-best jobs. Always in his sights is top hitman O (Sorimachi), who quietly and invisibly goes about his business while Tok gleefully makes each job a theatrical spectacle. Then Tok starts falling for Chin (Lin), the woman who runs his local video shop, not knowing (or does he?) that she's the object of O's affections. Soon Chin is caught between the two killers, while a tenacious cop (Lin) tries to track them down.
The action spans much of Southeast Asia, as the characters travel between Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Macau and Thailand, speaking a mixture of Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese and English. And this multi-cultural approach makes the film much more accessible and contemporary, especially when combined with To and Wai's pacey, colourful direction and a cheeky script that keeps us intrigued by never going where we think it will. The cast is also very good, with Lau's flamboyant, arrogant, acrobatic Tok contrasted nicely against Sorimachi's technophile loner O. You can easily see why Chin is attracted to both men, and why her choice is so difficult, and yet Lin makes the character even more compelling than just that. When both Tok and O violate their own rules, the film takes a turn that is both much more involving and a tiny bit disappointing. The final segments are somewhat over-egged, trying to wedge a lesson in and refusing to let it emerge organically. But until then, this violent film is one of the most suspenseful, unpredictable and entertaining anti-hero thrillers we've seen in ages. [18 strong violence, themes, language] 27.May.03
back to the top A SNAKE OF JUNE
dir-scr Shinya Tsukamoto
with Asuka Kurosawa, Yuji Koutari, Shinya Tsukamoto, Susumu Terajima, Mansaku Fuwa, Tomorowo Taguchi
release Japan 24.May.03; UK 13.Jun.03 • 02/Japan 1h17 3 out of 5 stars
Here's another creepy and unsettling Japanese drama from the guy who made the Tetsuo movies. Rinko (Kurosawa) is a 30-ish woman deeply in love with her middle-aged husband (Koutari) even though he hardly ever touches her. She works as a counsellor on a suicide hotline, and things start getting scary when one of her callers (Tsukamoto) starts stalking her like a snake. This mystery man has very intimate photos of her, and he starts using them to blackmail her ... but with a twist: He gets her to live out her own fantasies, unashamedly making up for her husband's neglect (without being unfaithful). And it gets even stranger when he starts stalking the husband as well ... to teach him a lesson he'll never forget. If he survives.
Shot in black and white then washed in blue, the film is absolutely soaked in water--constant rain, sinks and showers, all running down into various drains. This is a wet, wet film; well, June is the rainy season in Japan, apparently! It's also an extremely arty film, with experimental-type camerawork and editing that makes it occasionally inexplicable and hard to follow. Still, the visual style sets the tone for a terrific story at the centre that first touches and then launches an attack on several taboos in Japanese society. This is not an easy film to watch. The thematic elements are deeply disturbing as they probe into relationships and sex; and the violent/thriller aspect of the film pulls no punches at all. It's thoroughly horrifying without getting too explicit on screen. As each character begins to lose the ability to control their own actions and destiny, writer-director Tsukamoto taps into our fears so deeply that he leaves us strangely both shaken and cleansed. [18 very strong adult themes, violence, sex, language] 3.Jun.03
shin and bae
dir Chan-wook Park; scr Jae-sun Lee, Mu-yeong Lee, Yong-jong Lee, Chan-wook Park
with Ha-kyun Shin, Kang-ho Song, Du-na Bae, Ji-Eun Lim, Bo-bae Han, Se-dong Kim, Dae-yeon Lee
release Korea 29.Mar.02, UK 30.May.03, US 19.Aug.05 • 02/Korea 2h01
3½ out of 5 stars
There's quite a good flow of Asian films at the moment, and this is one of the more outrageous entries, boasting the usual slick Korean production design plus a fiendishly artistic and twisted approach to the story. The plot centres on the blue-haired deaf-mute young man Ryu (Shin), working in a factory to try to raise money so his sister (Lim) can have a kidney transplant. But it's not going well; his boss Park (Song) is threatening layoffs and a lead he gets through underground organ traffickers goes rather nightmarishly wrong. So Ryu and his wannabe-terrorist girlfriend (Bae) decide to kidnap Park's young daughter (Han) and use the ransom to pay for the operation. But Ryu and Park end up in an escalating cycle of horribly violent retribution. Where will it end?
This is stylish, witty filmmaking--it looks fantastic and is directed with skill and inventiveness. And the acting is excellent as well. But as the story progresses it gets increasingly hard to watch, simply because it's so grisly. There are several sequences of unspeakable awfulness; much (not all!) of the gore is off-screen but it's still devastating. As the film slips from desperate to bleak to horrible to sad, it's actually quite telling, like a black satire about the violent nature of society. There's a lot of humour laced through the film, although it's often hard to notice amid the carnage. The real problem here is with the narrative, which is extremely convoluted, choppy and frankly unbelievable, while all the characters all get less and less likeable as they sink into ruthless animalism. But I guarantee it will get your adrenaline going! And leave you shaken for quite a while afterwards. That's something a lot more movies should do, really. [18 very strong adult themes, violence and gore, sex, language] 23.May.03

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
Matthew Bingham, Cambridge, UK: 5/5 "The very concept of a deaf mute as a main character would never appear in any Hollywood studio. Considering that Ryu can neither hear nor speak this film is alive with sound even when it seems silent. Machines buzz, footsteps resonate along circular passages, men are clubbed with baseball bats, all in glorious technicolour sound. Which is I suppose both ironic and amazing since Ryu hears none of it. However the sound aside the film is packed with interesting and unusual visual ideas; the stairway sequence is a particular favourite, and may well represent Ryu's distancing from his life earlier in the film, although no-one's quite sure. The acting is sound and well thought through. Even though Bae is played in a rather exagerated manner, and may appear hammy, it is all in keeping with the style of her character. I don't know what else to say except this film is sheer brillance on a stick, is the best thing since celluloid was invented, and in my opinion is just a cut above the rest." (20.Jul.04)
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© 2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall