Sunday, January 25, 2009

Quick takes #1

Berg Lee in Woo Ming Jin's The Elephant and the Sea (2007).

The Elephant and the Sea (Woo Ming Jin, 2007) - Malaysian drama by Woo Ming Jin. A fishing village is struck by an epidemic that causes people to get sick from eating fish. Ah Ngau is a fisherman who when he comes back to shore is told that his wife has died from the disease and that his house is quarantined. He gets to stay in a governement shelter and is later sent home with a box of donations from the public, nothing of use to Ah Ngau though except a shirt. For Ah Ngau life goes on as usual except now he has the freedom to experience new things.

Yun Ding lives by doing odd jobs with his friend Long Chai but when the disease claims the life of Long Chai, Yun Ding has to make it on his own. Yun Ding is like the opposite of Ah Ngau even though they both have to learn to deal with the situation they are suddenly in. While Ah Ngau has no use for donations, Yun Ding is hoping for, among other things, lucky numbers on a fish to bring him a better life.

My exposure to Malaysian cinema is very limited, I've actually only seen two Malaysian films before, Liew Seng Tat's Flower in the Pocket (2007) and Tan Chui Mui's Love Conquers All (2006) but what they have in common, in my opinion, is that even at their slow pace and almost plotless appearance they are full of life and enthusiasm for telling about the characters in the films and it is done in a naturalistic way without many embellishments or sentimentality. The Elephant and the Sea is no exception and maybe the most visually arresting of the three.

(Kim Ki-Duk, 2008) - Kim Ki-Duk's latest, starring Joe Odagiri and Lee Na-Yeong as two people connected through their dreams. When Jin dreams that he causes a car accident it's so real to him that he goes out in the middle of the night and drives to the place where it happened in his dream and he realises that it actually did happen but not with him behind the wheel. Following the police he finds out that it was a girl, Ran, who turns out to be a sleepwalker, acting out anything that Jin dreams about. Whenever Jin dreams about his ex-girlfriend who he still loves, Ran sleepwalks over to her ex-boyfriend whom she really hates and has sex with him. The solution for them is to take turns sleeping, which seems simple enough but they manage to mess it up which has bad consequences.

I'm not a big fan of Kim Ki-Duk and Dream didn't make me like his films more. It seems like a story that he could have done a lot with but it doesn't really go anywhere. Everything is explained very clearly within the first few minutes, then the rest of the time is spent watching two people trying not to sleep and that almost put me to sleep instead, I just didn't care. Too contrieved and emotionally lacking.

The Slit-Mouthed Woman
(Takuaki Hashiguchi, 2005) - A pink/J-horror combination directed by Takuaki Hashiguchi, not to be confused with Koji Shiraishi's Kuchisake onna from 2007, starring Eriko Sato and released on dvd in the US as Carved. Even though Hashiguchi's film looks (and most likely was) cheaper than Shiraishi's version of the urban legend I feel that it was the better of the two. You wouldn't expect from something that's supposed to be a film made to just show sex scenes but Hashiguchi manages to create some tension in some of the more scary scenes and the plot is enough for any J-horror rip-off in the wake of Ring and just about perfect for a 60-minute film.

Rough Cut (Jang Hun, 2008) - Another film with a Kim Ki-Duk connection, this time he's writing and producing and Jang Hun, Kim's assistant director on The Bow (2005), is directing. The story is about a film being made within the film and they're having trouble finding a co-star for the lead since he's been beating up and injuring actors during the fight scenes. What to do but hire a real gangster who doesn't mind not pulling punches for the role? Combining working as an actor with the duties of being head of a group of gangsters while the boss is doing time is easier said than done though. Rough Cut brings up the differences between being a real gangster and a tough guy in the movies but doesn't really go too far with it, most of it is an entertaining action film and even though it loses some steam towards the end it never gets too sappy unlike a lot of Korean films.

Dirty boxing in Jang Hun's Rough Cut (2008).