Fantasia 2014 | Report #3

filmfest fantasia_75Director Benny Chan has a gift for setting action sequences in realistic locations, from the Thai forest to the crumbling apartment blocks of Hong Kong to a luxury restaurant in Macau.

 

 

 

fantasia white storm

One of the advantages of going to a film festival is that you end up seeing films you might never have seen otherwise, not necessarily just because those films are not available elsewhere, but because it would never have entered your mind to seek them out. Plus, sometimes you wander in on a film expecting something else, and sometimes there’s only one film to fill the time slot you have available. So there you have it: the serendipity of film festivals.

I went into The White Storm not knowing what to expect, besides the fact that it was a Hong Kong crime film and hence should have lot of stylized action and beautifully clear cinematography. I was not disappointed on either score, but the film also has a surprisingly tender side, with emotionally involving subplots of both the familial and fraternal variety. The story revolves around the attempt of three Hong Kong cops to capture a Thai drug kingpin known as the Eight-Face Buddha (Lo Hoi Pang) (heroin is the “white” of the title). They’ve been friends since childhood, and each represents a type familiar in action movies. The divorced Tin (Lau Ching Want) is the careerist obsessed with making the mission succeed; Chow (Louis Koo) is a gifted undercover cop who wishes he could get out of the business to spend more time with his pregnant wife; and Wai (Nick Cheung) is the quiet but essential gear that makes it all work.

The White Storm is formulaic but thoroughly entertaining, although it does go on about a half-hour too long (seriously—I thought it had ended about five times before it actually did). The buddy comedy/tragedy is the centerpiece of the story, while the international police action provides the backdrop, as well as, of course, the motivation for the numerous action scenes. Director Benny Chan has a gift for setting action sequences in realistic locations (from the Thai forest to the crumbling apartment blocks of Hong Kong to a luxury restaurant in Macau), and the second subplot about Chow and his family is also played effectively.

Monsterz, directed by Hideo Nakata (Ringu), is a Japanese remake of the 2010 South Korean film Haunters. It’s a spin on the theme of mutant humans, but instead of a whole crew of X-Men, there are only two mutants in this story, one evil (Tatsuya Fuiwara) and one good (Takayuki). The evil mutant can hypnotize anyone he can see, making them freeze in their tracks, attack someone else, or commit suicide, while the good mutant, Shuichi, is resistant to his powers and also has magical self-healing properties. Other than that, Shuichi is an ordinary guy who works for a moving company, along with two sidekicks: goofy Akira (Taiga) and the flamboyantly gay Jun (Motoki Ochiai).

Shuichi goes to work for a friendly guitar repairman whose beautiful daughter soon takes an interest in him, but the evil mutant won’t let him alone. The police also get involved; there’s some discussion about whether the only good mutant is a dead mutant, and lots of action. Unfortunately, Monsterz also goes on about 20 minutes too long, and the many scenes of the evil mutant freezing everyone and/or making them do destructive stuff soon becomes same-old, same-old.

I don’t have much positive to say about Hana-Dama: The Origins, directed by the noted pinku eiga (soft porn) director Hisayasu Sato. It’s a basic high school bullying story (four alpha females gang up to pick on the new girl in school, who attracts a disturbingly childlike supporter) crossed with a science fiction tale about a tentacled creature that hatches inside a nubile schoolgirl and manifests as a sort of papier-mâché flower hat. It was clearly shot on the cheap, and the violence and sex are both really graphic (way beyond what I would consider soft porn; there’s lots of full-frontal nudity and a really disturbing rape scene) but the theater was moderately full, so there’s clearly a market for this type of film. I’ll put it down as one of my experiments on just going to a film without researching it—sometimes this strategy works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Film festivals always put me in mind of food, primarily because I get too busy going to films to stop and get something to eat. Anyway, I wonder if business at Montreal’s noodle shops increases during Fantasia. I know that I had a hankering for noodles after seeing several Asian films in a row, and although I elected for the instant variety (and thank you, Concordia University, for furnishing your lounges with microwaves and hotpots), but I may stop by for some of the real thing after tonight’s screenings. | Sarah Boslaugh

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