Monday, July 9, 2012
Bloody...Attorney...Zone: New York Asian Film Festival day 7
Today was my last day of seeing movies at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival. In a way it makes me sad, when I consider the many great screenings in the coming week that I won’t be able to be at. There is a less gloomy side, too. If it’s true that it’s good to end things on a positive note, today’s slate would most definitely fit that description. I talked to some great people and saw three eye popping movies, in the theater -- the way they are meant to be seen, back to back with no long breaks in between. In fact, today’s proceedings were almost like a perfect microcosm of the festival on a whole: It started with something new (Bloody Fight In Iron-Rock Valley), low key enough to probably go largely overlooked but accomplished enough to really excite me. I’d venture to put forth it marks the beginning of a new director’s very promising path. Then, there was a cross cultural anomaly in the form of Miike Takashi’s video game adaptation Ace Attorney. It’s the kind of mainstream treat that would probably never be made here, yet rabid fans of Japanese culture exports and video games alike gave it a frenzied reception that it would probably not see the likes of in its country of origin. And then there was an underappreciated classic Killzone (Shao Po Lan), an ultraviolent ode to rage that had not been known to me before, and therefore knocked me flat on the ground. And this of course was followed by one of the festival’s stellar guests, action expert Donnie Yen, talking about the film and meeting fans. The only thing missing was perhaps a midnight movie, but after the previous night’s screening of Miami Connection, it’s hard to imagine anything that could go any higher...or should I say, lower....in the holy crap that’s crazy department.
Bloody Fight in Iron-Rock Valley (Korea, 2011) is an exciting entry into the action revenge genre giving exposure to several future talents (especially director Ji Ha-Jean. It is noteworthy for capturing numerous beautifully composed scenes in a barren wasteland of a remote town, and with a minimum of attention to wardrobe. The story is set in a vacuum, not making any references to a particular time or place, although the clothing and setting suggest something contemporary. The movie also scores points for very efficiently establishing a background, in fact spending very little time on it. Rather there is much attention devoted to building up a mood of suspense. Expect a more detailed follow up look at the film over at the Violent Eye (because damn, this movie is violent!), and in the meantime DB’s most recent report from the festival looks more closely at the Bloody Fight’s Western genre roots.
Ace Attorney struck me as a fascinating cultural phenomenon. As an adaptation, I’ve heard it’s spot on. As I was unaware of the particulars of the video game, the movie has got me coming around to appreciating the gaming world as having far more potential for producing exciting and innovative narratives. The world of Ace Attorney is set in a dystopian future that suggests plenty of criticism of our current society. It poses the possibilities of accelerated crime rates leading to a backlog of court cases -- the solution being speed up the trial process. And at the same time, the cases become a spectator sport with the the prosecution and defense shouting out cries of objection with martial arts gusto, and projecting giant digital displays to introduce evidence. You are dead on you are guessing these cases are presented as spectacles for the masses, complete with confetti and flashing lights adorning the party with the winning verdict. It bears a striking similarity to the notion of people’s real life fates becoming the entertainment of the day that is explored so prominently in The Hunger Games.
And to make things further interesting, instead of just presenting a few isolated juicy cases, all of them build together into a story about influential figures and corruption. It is long and has many convoluted details, many of which left me more confused than anything else. But the bells and whistles that Miike adds into the courtroom scenes along with his knack for making every character the perfect living embodiment of cartoonish exaggerated expression make it a visual wonder. I found the wardrobes, effects, and performances outshined even his joyful tribute to Yatterman from a few years back. Possibly best viewed when accompanied with crib notes, or at least the game’s instruction manual, but definitely worth the visual treat you would be giving your eyes.
SPL: Shao Po Lan was a 90’s shot at bringing back Hong Kong grit and no nonsense action from the decade prior. It did so along with an injection of rocket fueled action choreography brought on by an on the verge of becoming huge Donnie Yen. Interestingly, just the night before, fellow Unseen contributor Mr. C and I were talking about the big guests that NYAFF has been landing after moving to Lincoln Center; among them, pillars of Hong Kong cinema Sammo Hung and Simon Yam. And in SPL, the two of them along with Donnie created a tour de force of raw anger and physical aggression. There is a frantic alleyway fight scene between Donnie Yen and Wu Jing that involves an unbelievable intensity of steel crashing against steel. Donnie also has an extremely physical fight with a very King Pin-esque Sammo Hung involving wrestling and MMA moves that do not seem humanly possible, and that is before bodies are dropped onto tables or a towering glass wet bar.
For the second night in a row, Donnie Yen would greet fans enthusiastically and with a relaxed sense of humor. He discussed the budget constraints he had to contend with to bring about the unforgettable fight scene with Wu Jing. He spoke highly of his working relationship with Ip Man director Wilson Yip, comparing Yip’s calm with his own boisterousness, and their interest in developing a third installment of the Ip Man movies. He also gave an endorsement to Cung Le when asked which MMA fighter he would be most excited about working with and expressed general and genuine interest in working with the many talented individuals in the realm of action cinema today.
All in all it's been another great year, full of surprises, and far more than I have yet been able to digest. After a temporary resituating, I will return with a look back at some of the highlights and some extras from the q & a's and interviews that happened. But don't let my forlorn note of farewell distract you. You have much to go out and see: Wu Xia screened before Donnie Yen is awarded the Star Asia Award, the South Korean science fiction 3-ring circus that is The Doomsday Book, the onslaught of Japanese films when things move over to the Japan Society for co-presentations with the Japan Cuts festival and more, more, more!
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