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Fantasia 2006 Complete preview : Asian Films


South Korea, Dir: Kim Ji-Woon, 2005
Montreal Premiere
+ In a country increasingly
known for producing stylish genre films, South Korea’s Kim Ji-Woon has quickly
emerged as one of the very brightest talents. His bleak comedy debut, The
Quiet Family
, won attention worldwide before being remade by Takashi Miike
as The Happiness of the Katakuris. From there, Kim moved on to wrestling
picture The Foul King, before cementing his reputation as one of the
world’s premiere visual talents with the stunning atmospheric horror A Tale
of Two Sisters
. Kim’s latest is a stunning visual film, flawlessly composed,
beautifully shot, and filled with scenes of shockingly coldhearted violence. It
is the heroic bloodshed film gone arthouse, a John Woo film as executed by the
bastard child of Wong Kar Wai and Park Chan Wook. 

Hong Kong, Dir:Jeff Lau, 2005
Canadian Premiere
+ The characters of “Journey
to the West” (aka the Monkey King adventures) have been the subject of numerous
cinematic adaptations, like this year’s Lost in Wu Song. Steven Spielberg
is currently working on his own interpretation. Versatile director and frequent
Wong Kar-Wai collaborator Jeff Lau has taken a new slant to this
soon-to-be-classic revisionist fantasy. An all-star cast graces this HK$100
million production, filmed entirely on the exotic canvas of mainland China, and
filled with gloried appearances by the HK industry old and new – including Shaw
Bros.’ regular Gordon Liu (Dirty Ho, Kill Bill 2) as white-haired
Emperor of Heaven. The film received five well deserved HK Oscar nominations for
its ambitious visual effects, art direction, costume, make-up and its majestic
score by Hayao Miyazaki’s frequent music collaborator Joe Hisaishi. Jet Li’s
regular action choregrapher Cory Yuen expertly directs the action with style and

South Korea, Dir Kim Dae-Seung, 2004
Montreal Premiere
+ In 1808, special
investigator Wong Gyu is sent to an isolated and largely autonomous island, away
from the Korean mainland, to solve a case of arson, but soon finds himself in
the middle of a murder investigation. As he strives to find the killer, and the
lies and secrets grow as fast as the body count, he begins to understand the
complexity of life in this small community. Blood Rain is a shocking
historical thriller with lush cinematography, a picturesque setting and an
intricate set and costume design, giving the film a sense of beauty and
grandeur. The many suspects, the surprising revelations and the sudden plot
twists, all come together to keep us riveted to the screen. In stunning fashion,
director Kim Dae-Seung expertly weaves a murder-mystery plot, traditionally
associated with detective fiction, together with a little class-conscious social
commentary and a flair for gore.

Thailand, Dir: Wisit Sasanatieng, 2004
Montreal Premiere
+ Pod’s a simple country boy
from rural Thailand, and as he sets out for a new life in bustling Bangkok. Once
in the big city, Pod encounters all sorts of bizarre events and characters – a
rainstorm of red helmets, a ghostly taxi-cycle driver with advice for the
lovelorn, a bitter, chain-smoking eight-year-old girl who has an abusive
relationship with her talking teddy bear, and his salty grandmother,
reincarnated as a gecko lizard. Thai ad-clip director Wisit Sasanatieng, whose
2000 feature-film debut Tears Of The Black Tiger was the first Thai film
ever officially selected for Cannes, is simply bursting with laugh-out-loud
comedy, mind-bending weirdness, stirring romance and above all a deeply empathic
fascination with ordinary people. Gift-wrapped for the audience in a dazzling
package of rich colours, brilliant composition and snappy editing, Sasanatieng’s
lively, magic-realist meditation on one of the cornerstone conundrums of human
life – how does one stand out while fitting in?

Japan, Minoru Kawasaki, 2006
Canadian Premiere
+ Tamura is an average
divorced salaryman in Japan – and also a man-sized, suit-and-tie wearing,
upright-walking koala bear. Though not a human being, he’s a successful
businessman with ventures overseas who refuses to play office politics. Tamura’s
corporate lifestyle is severally cramped when his human girlfriend Yoko is
mysteriously murdered and he finds himself a suspect with the police. Even
worse, he learns the he is their only suspect!  Executive Koala is the
latest production from brilliant oddball filmmaker Minoru Kawasaki, whose
Calamari Wrestler
dropped countless jaws at Fantasia 2004.  The film is
funny and absurdist but nonetheless manages to whip a few dark curveballs into
the fax tray, along with some kung-fu and even a musical number.


Japan  Dirs: Katsuhito Ishii, Hajime
Ishimine, Shinichiro Miki, 2005
Canadian Premiere
+ From the director and cast
of last year’s audience award winner, The Taste Of Tea, comes ones of the
most outlandish works yet to burst out of Planet Japan. A free associative
blackout sketch film featuring TV’s made of giant buttholes, powered by belly
button energy and capable of producing miniature sushi chefs. Featuring all
sorts of extraterrestrial freaks and incomprehensible biological curiosities,
mind-bending theatrics, and psychedelic surrealism of the finest grade,
delivered with a deadpan shrug. Breathtakingly, often hilariously, bizarre.


Japan, Dir: Mitsuru Meike, 2005
Canadian Premiere
+ What do you get when you
cross a counter-culture political manifesto with a sex film, an absurdist
comedy, an assault against the Bush administration and a critique on
intellectualism? Hired to make a standard softcore “pink movie,” Mitsuru Meike
delivered the barest requirements of the genre while taking full advantage of
the fact that he was actually making a film to create a challenging and hugely
original auteur work that is as hilarious as it is subversive, as politically
confrontational as it is gloriously pervy and strangely profound. Meike’s film
immediately attained underground cult notoriety, allowing him the opportunity to
add substantial footage and create an altered director’s cut which we now know
as Glamorous Life…. This recut version has been traveling the mainstream
international festival circuit, where it is absolutely blowing peoples’ minds,
and we are proud to be the first to bring it to Canada.


Japan, Dir: Takashi Miike, 2005
Montreal Premiere
+ Yokai are major figures of
Japanese folklore, spirits that occupy virtually everything in the world around
us. They are the spiritual element of everything in the world around us, and as
such they deserve to be treated with respect. But humanity isn’t much good at
respect. Give Japanese shock master Takeshi Miike a big budget to make an epic
kid’s film and you get The Great Yokai War! Wildly inventive, very funny,
rather alarming by local children’s-film standards and layered with a surprising
amount of subtext, The Great Yokai War is a Miike film through and
through. This is the sort of thing that could come from nowhere other than
Miike’s fertile mind. Miike uses every trick in the book to bring his creatures
to life and they never fail to impress, to amuse, to entertain.


Thailand  Dirs: Teekhayu
Thammanittayakul &  Sathit Pratitsahn, 2005
Canadian Premiere
+ The film opens with an
attractive young cast of media professionals, each facing romantic problems
and/or fitting into cozy genre stereotypes, and just when you think the story
will proceed along the well-worn path of having each character meet or evade
fate, Hell has them all die en masse when their van is crushed by a truck, and
the rest of the film is spent entirely in… that’s right, hell!  Yes, the unlucky
seven are all killed and thrust into the Buddhist version of eternal damnation,
which the movie renders as a sort of Bosch canvas colliding with a 1980s Italian
Conan rip-off, or Coffin Joe meets The Bride With White Hair in a
Frank Frazetta painting. With a fire-and-brimstone ferocity that almost makes
the film feel like the cautionary Buddhist equivalent to a Left Behind-styled
Christian apocalypse tract, Hell (produced by acclaimed Bang Rajan
director Tanit Jitnukul) is a lavish, FX-heavy spectacle that still manages to

China, Dir: Lu Yi Tong, 2005
Cannadian Premiere
He was strong, he
was stoic, he was morally pure and he could slay a tiger singlehandedly. He was
Wu Song, one of the greatest folk heroes of classical Chinese literature, and
millions of Chinese males – including aspiring filmmaker Men Desong – admire him
without question or qualification. He’s devoted to making the definitive Wu Song
film, after which he intends to give the rest of his life to Buddhist monastic
retreat. His task will not be an easy one. While the Herculean task of creating
a personal vision in independent cinema is a truly international one,
40-year-old first-time director Lu Yi Tong’s Lost In Wu Song offers a
special Chinese twist on the theme. It’s not just a piercing look at the
collision of art and commerce, tradition and transition in the immensely
populous and rapidly evolving nation, but also a ruthless deconstruction of the
hollow patriarchal machismo present there, punctured in this film by way of
dark, sarcastic humour.

South Korea, Dir: Jang Jin, 2005
Canadian Premiere
+ In a posh hotel room, the
body of a beautiful woman, a high-ranking employee of an advertising firm, is
found in a pool of blood. The police quickly nab the most obvious suspect near
the scene, a young man clutching a canister of gasoline. What initially seems
like an open-and-shut case for hard-as-nails prosecutor Choi and his team
quickly unravels – not only does the suspect, Kim, refuse to confess and
moreover pass a lie-detector test, other suspects with very strong motives for
the crime start to surface. Weaving together elements of the gritty police
procedural, psychological drama, subtle yet mordant black comedy and a touch of
the supernatural, Jang Jin’s Murder Take One is a film that doesn’t fit
neatly into any one category, yet comfortably stakes out its own identity.
Adapted from Jang’s own stage play, the film dispenses with flashy but
unnecessary ornamentation, focusing on the nerve-wracking process of a
high-visibility investigation.


South Korea, Dir: Bang Eun-jin, 2005
North American Premiere
+ A particularly vicious and
gruesome killing has taken place in a women’s washroom at a Seoul shopping mall.
Two detectives are on the case – rebellious young Jung and the stoic,
understated Oh, who prays frequently and is planning to leave the force to
become a Christian pastor. Detective Oh is quickly coming to the realization
that he may know the identity of the guilty party. As the body count rises and
the horrifying, heartbreaking logic behind the bloodshed starts to fall into
place in Oh’s mind, he finds himself dragged deeper into a twilight realm of
moral uncertainty and quiet but powerful personal darkness. Directed with care
and tasteful understatement by Korean actress Bang Eun-jin, who makes he debut
behind the camera, Princess Aurora boasts capable, nuanced performances
from the leads and from the quirky supporting cast. It poses some very difficult
questions about the limits of love, the morality of revenge and the extent to
which one single, sad crime can infect the lives it touches with deadly guilt. 

RE-CYCLE (Gwai wik)
Hong Kong, Dirs: Danny & Oxide Pang,
North American Premiere
+ Angelica Lee, the
award-winning star of The Eye, reunites with the Pang Brothers for
. Lee stars as a struggling young writer. When she discards the
opening chapter to her latest work, she begins to be plagued with visions and
events seemingly lifted from the pages of her rejected work, and it is not long
before she is drawn entirely into a strange other world, a nightmarish alternate
reality that serves as a repository for everything discarded and forgotten in
ours.  Not only do twin directors Oxide and Danny have a Hollywood remake of
their breakthrough international hit The Eye in the works, but they’re
also wrapping up work on their Sam Raimi-produced English-language debut, while
Re-Cycle, their most recent Hong Kong film, is fresh off a stint in the
“Un Certain Regard” program at Cannes.

Hong Kong, Dir: Tsui Hark, 2005
Montreal Premiere
+ With Seven Swords,
the great Tsui Hark, often tagged as the Chinese Steven Spielberg, makes his
overdue return to the director’s chair, and to the magnificent genre of the
grand, fantastical martial-arts epic. Stunning landscapes, gorgeous production
design and astounding action scenes (note the inclusion of the great Donnie Yen
in the cast!) are most certainly on the menu! Hark is working here from the
celebrated martial-arts novel “Seven Swordsmen from Mountain Tian” by Yusheng
Liang, part of a greater mythology that once spawned the Hong Kong classic
Bride With White Hair
. Seven Swords is a momentous event in the
glorious, ongoing history of kung fu cinema!


Japan, Dir: Shimoyama Ten, 2005
Canadian Premiere
+ Call it Romeo and
with ninjas. Director Shimoyama Ten is a respected commercial and
music-video director in Japan, and it is easy to see why. He shoots simply
gorgeous film, loading Shinobi with startlingly beautiful images from
start to finish. More a fantasy film than an outright actioner, Shinobi
strikes an easy balance between dramatic and action elements and, when the
action elements come, they blaze across the screen thanks to the charismatic
performers – Tak Sakaguchi from Versus fame again proves his is a screen
presence to be reckoned with – and a broad range of powers.


Japan, Dir: Sion Sono, 2005
Canadian Premiere, Hosted by Director
Sion Sono
+ From the director of
Suicide Club
comes this disturbing, visually electrifying shocker about a
sexually abused young woman who becomes Japan’s leading writer of erotica while
struggling with a hallucinatory hold on a constantly shifting reality. This
year’s most challenging title, Strange Circus is a surreal shockfest that
just gets more disturbing as it progresses down its increasingly dream-like
path, and much of the audience is likely to be reeling – even before the
amputations, bondage imprisonment or transsexuality come into play. A
transgressive and controversial poetic work that is as fascinating as it is
upsetting, as vital as it is dangerous.

South Korea, Dir: Park Sung-hun

Canadian Premiere
+ A three-in-one wacky pack
of horrific hilarity and fantastic fun, Sunday Seoul is modeled on those
vintage horror/fantasy omnibuses, from Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath through
to Twilight Zone: The Movie – with a sharp twist of the deadpan,
deprecating humour Koreans can’t resist injecting into such things. Keep in mind
that the film’s title is the name of a notorious tabloid paper (the Korean
equivalent of the Weekly World News), which went out of print a decade ago.
Thrills, chills and chuckles galore!

Japan   Dir: Toro Matsuura, 2005
North American Premiere, Hosted by
Director Toro Matsuura
“What you see is not what
I see.”  Synesthesia is a rare sensorial disorder in which the stimulation of
one sense invokes the response of another. Those afflicted taste colors, see
sounds and experience the world in ways that alienate them from the rest of
society. Shinsuke (Swallowtail Butterfly’s Eguchi Yosuke) has been dealing with
synesthesia his entire life, but has adapted enough social survival skills to
mostly hide his condition from those around him. He has long held a fascination
with a notorious killer who christened himself Picasso (Ryuhei Matsuda). Picasso
has become legendary among certain underground subcultures for releasing a
hypnotic video game through which players can be lulled into a trance state. He
has used the game to induce a string of murders and suicides. What particularly
fascinates Shinsuke is the unusual visual signature the killer has left on his
crime scenes. A mesmerizing and haunting discourse on loneliness, Synethesia
marks the arrival of a fascinating new auteur.

TAPE Number 31
China, Dir: Agan, 2005
North American Premiere, Hosted by Director Agan
+ Through a series of taped interviews we meet the central players, a crew of
eight documentary filmmakers assembled to travel into the remote mountain
regions of China to shoot a Discovery Channel documentary on a reported tribe of sasquatch-like “wild-men” living in isolation there. Tape Number 31 is a
very rare beast, a horror film out of mainland China. Built around the “found
tape” premise as it is, comparisons to The Blair Witch Project are
inevitable, but this is a fairly different animal. The supernatural element is
entirely absent, with the film aiming more for Grizzly Man-gone-bad than
any sort of ghost shocker. The action takes place in the remote the mountainous
regions of China, providing one of the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes in
the world.


Japan, Masanori Murakami, 2005
Canadian Premiere

+ Shot in 25 days, then released into cinemas only 35 days later, Train Man
is a sweet, lyrical, technologically savvy and occasionally magical retelling of
a true story that’s grabbed Japan by its heartstrings. It’s based on a
million-selling book of the same name from 2004, authored not by a single writer
but rather by every blog poster who did their part to bring together the titular
Train Man
and the lady he’s fallen for. It’s certainly a funny and touching
romantic comedy. As telecommunications technology evolves to a point where it
all too easily replaces the messy, complicated matters of unshielded human
interaction, and more and more people find themselves glumly locked away in a
lonely, digital simulacrum of a social life, Train Man shows how our
hunger for real love, real connection and a real sense of being part of a
community brings the best of us to the surface, like flowers breaking through
the concrete of a grim, grey sidewalk. 

More Fantasia coverage on Ioncinema :

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