Saturday, July 2, 2011

Mondocurry NYAFF report vol. 1: Soy bean machines, samurai, and severed members

Opening night at the New York Asian Film Festival 2011 tenth anniversary edition was wildly entertaining.  The first two films of the night, SELL OUT and MILOCRORZE, made for a fitting double feature and has me feeling hopeful that many of the movies will be scheduled to go down well one after the next. Even the late night entrée, Horny House of Horror, had some rather fantastic elements, which made it a not out of place closer to the night.

If there was a theme to the evening, it was surrealism.  Extremely imaginative ideas hopped off the screen during both SELL OUT and MILOCRORZE.  You could even say the two movies share elements of magic realism; in both, extraordinary events happen with little or no notice of anything out of the norm from the films’ characters.

Sell Out kicked off the festival and it is a film that must be experienced by all who are fans of out of the ordinary cinema.  It starts out with a hilarious opening sequence that shows director Yao Joon Han has a cutting sense of humor about everything: himself, the austerity of the arts, and capitalist society at large.

It is the less spectacular looking of the films shown that evening, due to budgetary constraints, yet the ideas in the movie are brilliant.  With the quirky invention (an 8 in 1 soy bean machine) at the center of the plot and the premise of the main character being split into his boring self and a dreamer double, a more polished version of the film would gain it comparisons to the work of Michel Gondry, and favorable ones at that.  In fact, Peter Davis, the half British MMA instructor who plays the lead, could absolutely pass for a slightly more rugged Gael Garcia Bernal, with his naive and idealistic yearnings to be accepted in the cynical society he toils away in.

Beyond the aforementioned financial constraints, the film has an amazing background story of strong opposition from the movie studio and beyond, which the director discussed during the film’s introduction and q &a.

This may be because the movie skewers society a million ways from Sunday, but does so in a hilarious way.  It is the stuff of classic satire, where dunces have all the power.  Their thoughtless, mean-spirited actions would be maddening if not for how funny their dialogue is.
The film did not seem to resonate quite as positively with everyone.  There are low key moments that drag out a bit too long, without giving a very clear direction of where the story is heading next. It’s interesting to note that, like some other recent peculiar films, the movie’s actual title screen doesn’t appear until the 1 hour point.  After it does, the film’s pace picks up considerably.

Fans of absurd dialogue will find the witty exchanges humorous from beginning to end.  A note to fellow linguists, jokes related to miscommunications caused by ambiguities in the English language (almost the entire movie consists of English dialogue) may have you rolling in the aisles.

The next event of the evening found the Star Asia Award being presented to Yamada Takayuki, the actor whose masterful performance in the film Milocrorze, would thrill audience members a few moments later.  The award was presented by Film Comment Selects Editor & Programming Associate Gavin Smith in a moment that signified the giant strides made in bringing progressive international films to New York.

Milocrorze is an outstanding looking film that I have to believe will win accolades for visual achievement, if it has not done so already.  It is an omnibus of sorts, with Yamada Takayuki playing three very distinctive lead roles, each a different take on the male ego.  The story that takes place in the opening and closing moments of the film is the stuff of sheer fairy tale with stunning costumes and set pieces that call to mind the vivid imagery wrought by Nakashima Tetsuya (Memories of Matsuko, Confessions) and Sono Sion (Love Exposure).  In the packed theater, Yamada’s performance stole the show, especially when he is strutting and lurching  about as the gaudily dressed, oily lady killer Besson Kumagai.  The real magic trick of the movie comes when the most substantial of the three stories (almost two stories in itself) shifts seamlessly from contemporary Japan to a dreamlike feudal setting without batting an eye.

The last film of the evening was an unrelenting midnight movie of highly concentrated debauchery, Horny House of Horror.  I was ready for cheap laughs, but this 60 minute sensory overload was visually impressive as well.  A host of underground J-film luminaries were involved in the product, but most notable to me is Yoshihiro Nishimura, whose splatter effects were in full force.  I expected the movie to be one note, with a few suckers entering a massage parlor and getting a lot more than they bargained for.  In fact, there is back and forth struggle, impressive action sequences, and rather inventive weapons used by the evil seductresses (think vagina dentata!).  Asami, another name which has gained a lot of notoriety with fans here of Japanese underground splatter films, delivers a rabidly enthusiastic performance that is equal parts seductive and vicious.

All three of these films will receive another screening at the festival, (in the case of Milocrorze, you have to head over to the Japan Society) and I highly recommend checking them out, as it may be the only chance to see these films again!

Today promises to be a much more straightforward action packed day at the film festival with several more serious violent films.  Bangkok Knockout and 13 Assassins (which DB will see, but I will not make it to), Hong Kong’s Punished (with Anthony Wong!), and the late night combo of Fillipines-centric Machete Maidens Unleashed and Raw Force.  Those last two are only showing today so if you are curious, get yourself over to the Walter Reade Theater tonight!

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