Today was a marathon sort of a day, filled with diversity and high quality movies all around. Armed with a spicy lamb burger from Xian’s Famous Food, some bottles of tea (jasmine and green tea latte) from Dainobu, oth of which were picked up and brought back uptown via Citibike…ahem, corporate sponsorship, anyone? These bill do got to get paid….I was ready for a large scale Asian fusion of film and food.
The movies started with Filipino horror THE FRIDGE. And, considering the ridiculousness of its premise (made quite clear in the title), what was surprising is how straightforward it plays. Shot in muted tones that would have it fit right in with ‘70s exploitation riffs on voodoo and possessions, it details the troubles of a young woman who has returned from the US to live in her old family’s home in the Philippines, despite her aunt’s protests. Once there she learns of the dark history of her family, and is terrorized by hallucinations and tentacled attacks (which seem a reference to Japanese schlock scifi horror).
There is a filthy feeling that comes along with THE FRIDGE, as blood is spat fountain-like at the protagonists and forms large splattered puddles around the kitchen. The background of Christina’s family tragedy is humorously macabre. And a final confrontation, when the bowels of the beast are explored, features an impressive rendering of a cave that evokes both Indiana Jones and Nightmare on Elm Street.
VERY ORDINARY COUPLE, a South Korean comedy with plenty of drama mixed in, was the today’s highlight for me. It is done with a minimum of cloying, honing in on the post-break up antics of a couple who work at the same bank. The 1st half of the film is a well written round of vindictive acts perpetrated against one another, as they refuse to realize how attached they really are. After escalating antics with a backdrop of other dysfunctional couplings amongst their colleagues, things seem like they could wrap up neatly, but the show goes on. It’s not always a thrilling ride in fact it can be a drag seeing negative patterns repeat. VERY ORDINARY COUPLE is far more dedicated to the dark destructive nature of relationships than the sunny feel good parts, making the bright spots that do shine through feel that much more earnest. The cyclical nature of the pair’s struggles to get along is very true to life, making it a far better than average relationship comedy. The storytelling mechanism makes reference to The Office, perhaps receiving recent popularity in South Korea and there are clever self -referential moments in the film that shows respect for the intelligence of its movie going audience.
COLD WAR is a taut police drama from Hong Kong and in keeping with tradition, it is aggressive, at times explosive, and crammed details. Blink and you’ll miss something. It tells an immense story that involves terrorism, internal conflict, betrayal, nepotism, and debate over the public’s right to information versus maintaining national security. It is part tightly wound hostage negotiation and part internal investigation. While violent battles are at a minimum, they are quite extreme in when they do occur. Along the way though is a thrilling verbal exchange between higher ups Lau and Lee (played by Aaron Kwok and Tony LeungKar-fai respectively) that escalates to a fever pitch of simultaneous dialogue that needs doubled up subtitles to keep up.
With a streak of nihilism running through it, and a conclusion that tempers optimism with a cynical lining, the ambitious movie seems very deliberate about having franchise legacy in its sites.
The last film of the evening was another Filipino film, the slow burn of THE ANIMALS. It is a blunt social criticism that looks like wealthy youth for whom lack of guidance or need to take anything seriously leads to debauched behavior that gets uglier and uglier as the film progresses. Things end up in a techno rave hell, shot in a manner worthy of comparisons to the dizzying yet hypnotic club scenes in Enter The Void. It is hard stuff to absorb as the teens of the film succumb to threats from within and without, completely unprepared due to their spoiled lifestyles. The glitter of their extravagant getups is dashed as director Gino M. Santos drags as through graphic scenes of vomit covered bathrooms. Shot in a matter of fact style that doesn’t feel heavy handed or preachy, THE ANIMALS brings us face to face with gang hazing that is something akin to indentured slavery, and predatory behavior that puts it in good company with Ron Morales’ GRACELAND as a feel bad display of ugly realities.
Tomorrow, things get interesting as Unseen Films goes all split screen on ya as Steve will check out South Korean hit comedy SECRETLY GREATLY while I jaunt over from two South Korean films in the day time, HOW TO USE GUYS WITH SECRET TIPS and JUVENILE OFFENDER (which will each be shown along with an interesting short film preceding them) before jaunting off to The Japan Society for the kick off of the Japan Cuts/New York Asian Film Festival crossover, which features a screening of Toshiaki Toyoda’s I’M FLASH! with the director at the theater.