Sunday, February 15, 2009

Quick takes #2

Supposed scarecrows in Kenta Fukasaku's X-Cross (2007).

(Kenta Fukasaku, 2007) - My expectations on a new film by Kenta Fukasaku were at rock bottom after the crap fests that were Battle Royale II (2003) and Yo-Yo Girl Cop (2006) but Fukasaku actually delivers some high-tension suspense with X-Cross, even though it's somewhat ruined by too much sucking up to fans of the crazier side of Japanese cinema.

The film starts out with Shiyori and Aiko going on a trip together to a secluded village resort following the break up between Shiyori and her boyfriend. They soon discover that the villagers are up to some foul play involving cutting limbs off of young girls and sacrificing them to their gods and as if that wasn't enough, there's an insane scissor-wielding woman in a french maid's uniform after Aiko.

The plot is just as silly as it sounds but Fukasaku manages to put the screws on and make you feel like there really is no escape when the villagers chase the two girls through the woods. The structure of the film, being told in flashbacks from Shiyori's and Aiko's perspective cross-cut with each other also helps to keep you guessing who's really to be trusted, but the tension is ultimately ruined by some strange choices, like having Aiko turn into a chainsaw-wielding, ass-kicking heroine and some ill-placed humor. A more serious approach would have been a better fit for the rest of the film.

I Just Didn't Do It (Masayuki Suo, 2006) - Masayuki Suo's return to the cinemas ten years after making Shall We Dansu? (1996). It deals with a man, Teppei, falsely accused of groping a teenage girl on a packed commuter train and when charged refuses to admit to it to get off easier since after all, he didn't do it. Suo depicts the Japanese legal system as a corrupt process, everything from the arrest and interrogation of Teppei up until the final verdict is more about just falling in line with the authorities and accepting the blame to get off with a slap on the wrist, no matter if you're guilty or not. But if you stand up for yourself thinking the truth will be known, the system will crush you.

I don't know enough about the legal system in Japan to go into all of the details that the film brings up during its 140 minute runtime but as a film it is very engaging and upsetting. You really get to feel for Teppei, played by Ryo Kase, and his fight to clear his name. But the main focus isn't really on his being guilty or not but on the actual process and the system that causes the fact that it's better to confess to something you didn't do and that you have to prove your innocence rather than that the prosecutors have to prove your guilt. Suo couldn't have made a better return.

Raw Summer (Keisuke Yoshida, 2006) - The directorial debut of Shinya Tsukamoto collaborator Keisuke Yoshida is another film on the theme of train gropers but here it is an actual stalker, Masuo, who is following a high school girl, Anko, around, taking pictures of her from a distance.

When Masuo works up the courage to talk to Anko and give her a letter and a gift (albeit with a hidden microphone in it), he later hears Anko and her friend talk about how weird he was. Anko's rejection ruins Masuo's world and filled with anger he pushes up against her on the train with a knife against her back while he starts groping her but a sudden push from another passenger makes Masuo accidentaly stab Anko. Torn up by guilt over something he didn't intend to do, Masuo tries to kill himself but as the loser he is he fails at that too and ends up in the hospital bed next to Anko's and this is where the film loses its steam. Going from being a cheaply made but creepy thriller to Masuo and Anko becoming friends in the hospital is just a bit too unlikely. Even though Masuo is somewhat of a "nice" pervert, becoming friends with the girl he has been stalking and stabbed is not what you want for him. In the end though, it might just have been a dream.

Before We Fall In Love Again (James Lee, 2006) - Slow moving Malaysian drama directed by James Lee. Chang's wife Ling Yue has been missing for a month so Chang decides to go to Prague, a place they visitied/wanted to visit together, to look for her. When he arrives at home after having been at the travelling agency there is a man, Tong, waiting for him who claims that he is Ling Yue's lover and that he is also looking for her. They go inside to talk and in a series of flashbacks the viewer and the characters themselves learn about Ling Yue's personality.

Ling Yue has been playing them both, possibly having more than one lover on the side as Chang and Tong find a letter adressed to her first love. From the way Ling Yue talks about her first lover in one of the flashbacks I got the feeling that Ling Yue is consciously playing with the mens' feelings without really thinking about the consequences. She puts it in a romantic light even though it's just her being unable to resist anything she might want or that shows her attention and her having trouble letting go of past relationships. Her lover, Tong, is married and has children, he is aware of what will happen if anyone finds out, hiding in hotels with Ling Yue when they meet, but he still can't keep himself from cheating on his wife. Neither of them will be happy.

In the last third of the film, Chang and Tong sets out to deliver the letter to Ling Yue's first lover, but when they find him the see that her description of him is far from true. He has turned into a failed criminal who is beaten up by meaner thugs right infront of Chang and Tong.

I'm not sure what all this means, if I'm even close to the intentions in my interpretation of the characters' motives, but as the first part in James Lee's love trilogy I think Before We Fall In Love Again shows two kinds of betrayal as well as the unknowingness of the betrayed and perhaps that what you remember as being great not necessarily still is and is not worth giving up everything for.

Chye Chee Keong, Len Siew Mee and Pete Teo in James Lee's Before We Fall In Love Again (2006).