Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Phantom (2023) NYAFF 2023 Fantasia 2023

PHANTOM is based on the novel THE SOUND OF THE WIND by Mai Jia. It was turned into the Chinese film THE MESSAGE in 2009 which was one of my favorite films I saw in 2011. That said there are enough tweaks that I didn’t realize it was the same story until it was mentioned in the post screening Q&A.

Set in occupied Korea, the film has five potential spies brought together by the Japanese in the hope of rooting out a spy organization. There was an attempt on the new Governor of the country and they suspect another is coming. They then grab people they suspect might be part of the organization of phantoms.

What starts as a spy film as the organization tries to set up the assassination;  turns into an Agatha Christie film as the Chinese try to figure out who the Phantom is; before blowing the doors off with a switch to crazy action. It’s a bumpy ride that fully hits the stride in the second half. I was confused at the start and fully engaged by the end.

The problem with the film at the start is the film is juggling a lot of balls. Setting up a lot of plot and even more characters, some of which appear and then disappear until later, things got left out. I wasn’t sure why we are seeing somethings at times. The reasoning as to why the five people are chosen by the Japanese is in no way clear except that the film focuses on them. Some people made sense and some people didn’t. I think this is why I didn’t pick up that this was a remake, there were details missing.

However once the film gets to a certain point, right about the time of a truly brutal fight scene, the film clicks and just goes straight on until the end. It’s a don’t you dare look away action thriller as the good guys try to get away from the bad guys without getting killed. Sure it isn’t perfectly plotted but you can’t look away.

The filmmaking here is magnificent. Yea the film goes for style over content at times but it works. The whole sequence in the rain outside the movie theater is pure cinematic sex  and shouldn’t work but some how it does. Other sequences don’t make logical sense but they look great.

If you want kick ass women taking charge and killing everyone with film is for you. All the women in this film are magnificent and I’d love to see another action film with them. And give the film bonus points for making the fact one of the women is a lesbian just a matter of fact. It’s just part of the film and as Lee Hanee said in the post film Q&A it results in her not being able to grieve for a lost lover as she should and it colors her whole character.

This film is great fun. I suspect it’s more fun in a theater than at home where the big picture and big sound will really let you feel you are part of the action in the second half


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