Posted in Fantasia 2011, Fantasia International Film Festival, Film Festivals, Reviews

Fantasia 2011: Mini reviews

Mini reviews of Ocean Heaven, Quirky Guys and Gals, Cold Fish, Petty Romance, Battlefield Heroes, and Detective Dee after the jump.

Ocean Heaven (2010)
Director: Xue Xiaolu, Screenplay: Xue Xiaolu
Cast: Jet Li, Wen Zhang, Kwai Lun-mei

Jet Li gives a very good performance as a father (referred to as Lao Wang) who struggles to take care of his autistic son, Dafu.  After being diagnosed with terminal cancer Lao Wang tries to teach Dafu basic tasks so that he can survive without him.  Because Dafu is in his early 20s he’s too old for the special children’s school and too young for elderly care so Wang takes Dafu with him to the aquarium where he works every day.  The story is realistic in portraying these every day occurrences which while trivial to most are often not so straight-forward for Dafu.  The one not so realistic aspect is that all the supporting characters seem to be all too understanding of Dafu’s autism.  There are moments that will make your eyes water for sure but they aren’t moments which are artificially constructed.  There’s an obvious message in this film but never did I feel it was emotional manipulative in conveying it.  I’ve read other reviews that differed and having never watched any other films with autistic characters I can’t say how they compare to this movie but I thought Ocean Heaven was good.

Quirky Guys and Gals (2011)
Director: Yosuke Fujita, Tomoko Matsunashi, Mipo O, Gen Sekiguchi, Screenplay: Yosuke Fujita, Tomoko Matsunashi, Mipo O, Gen Sekiguchi
Cast: Yosuke Fujita, Yoshiyoshi Arakawa, Aoi Nakamura, Tomochika, Kyoko Koizumi

This is an anthology of four comedic shorts films by different directors.  The first short was about a trio of cheerleaders or cheer girls who on the drop of a hat go into song and dance to cheer up individuals who require encouragement whether it be to overcome an obstacle or commit suicide.  The second short is about a shy boy who tries to get the attention of the girl of his dreams by cross dressing.  The third is about a lonely woman whose electricity is cut off and subsequently complains about the customer service.  the last one is about a woman who “collects” unemployed businessman, giving them a place to stay during working hours instead of hanging out in the park.  This collection of low budget shorts was pretty funny overall.  The first short I think was the best with its satirical situations.  The second one was a nice twist on the typical shy boy-dream girl story.   The 3rd entry offered the least laughs being only funny at the beginning and end but was nonetheless interesting to watch.  The last one was also very funny for its absurd humour featuring older adult characters.

Cold Fish (2010)
Director: Sion Sono, Screenplay: Sion Sono, Yoshiki Takahashi
Cast: Mitsuru Kukikoshi, Denden, Asuka Kurosawa, Megumi Kagurazaka, Hikari Kajiwara

You can find infinitely better reviews about this movie than coming here but if you must know I found this movie quite disturbing.  This shouldn’t be a surprise since it’s about a serial killer named Murata (portrayed by actor Denden who gives an excellent performance) who runs a pet fish store and manages to manipulate a meek, everyday man (with his own family problems) to aid with his murders.  There is some shocking violence and disgustingly gory scenes as well as sex and nudity.  It pretty much has all the elements that westerners like about extreme Japanese cinema.  Although I did find it entertaining in visceral way, its portrayal of women is demeaning as they are mostly controlled, beaten and raped by men (sometimes with the women being “willingly” raped if that makes sense).  The message of the movie also seems to be saying that in order to be respected as a real man that you have to essentially beat and rape women to impose your will.  At least that’s my amateur analysis of the “social” aspects of this film.  Not that I’m against movies about bad, amoral sickos but these are aspects worth mentioning for those who prefer not to watch such things.  The movie is inspired by a real life serial killer although I would bet the word “loosely” would apply quite strongly here.  The only other film I’ve seen by Sion Sono was Hazard which I was kind of disappointed with but you can’t compare that work at all to Cold Fish.  This film doesn’t pull its punches at all and certainly anybody who watches this will have a strong reaction to it negative or positive. It was 10x more entertaining than Hazard but I can’t say I actually liked this movie.

Petty Romance (2010)
Director: Kim Jeong-hoon, Screenplay: Kim Jeong-hoon
Cast: Choi Kang-hee, Lee Seon-kyun, Ryu Hyun-kyung, Song Yoo-ha, Oh Jung-se

This was the first movie at Fantasia to sell out its first two screenings which prompted a third extra screening to be added which also sold out.  The main couple to be comprises of artist, Jung-Bae (Lee Sun-Gyun who was in the Kdrama Pasta) and recently fired sex columnist, Da-Rim (Choi Kang Hee who was in My Scary Girl) who ironically has never had sex.  They join forces to write an adult manhwa (comic book) to compete for a large cash prize and worldwide distribution.  It offers some decent laughs with some amusing sequences that combine real life and animation.  Easily the most hilarious sequence was their first sexual encounter where Da-rim employs nearly every seduction tactic mentioned in a women’s magazine and performs them all wrong.  The development of the attraction between the main leads was unconvincing and I didn’t feel like there was enough chemistry between the actors to make up for this.  Like some romcoms the forced climax is a result of an easily avoidable misunderstanding.  In this movie its a flimsy one about a painting.  Despite these shortcomings it was entertaining but I am surprised that this movie had three sold out screenings since it is only barely average as far as romcoms are concerned.

Battlefield Heroes (2010)
Director: Lee Joon-ik, Screenplay: Jo Chul-hyun, Oh Seung-hyun
Cast: Jeong Jin-yeong, Lee Mun-shik, Ryoo Seung-ryong, Sun Woo-sun, Yoon Je-moon

This is a historical war comedy involving three factions, the Korean states of Shilla and Goguryeo and The Tang Chinese.  The Shilla make a deal with the Tang to attack PyongYang castle which is situation in Goguryeo territory.  It’s a follow up to Once Upon a Time in a Battlefield although no knowledge of that film is required to watch this one.  Battlefield Heroes has many characters and plot lines covering both the machinations of the leaders but also the reluctant peasants who’ve been enlisted to fight in the war.  It easily confused me  although I managed to figure out enough of it to make sense of the ending.  One of the peasant soliders named “Thingy” is quite central to the story as a man who’s managed to survive by being a deserter in every war.  There’s even a completely random and comical song and dance number that Thingy and his fellow peasants perform to try to convince Goguryeo to surrender.   Although the film looks realistic with some inspiration from real historical events (Goguryeo-Tang wars), the comic sequences clash with this reality.  I went into my first viewing of this film without any knowledge that it was a comedy so I found this juxtaposition of war and comedic hijinks quite jarring and I simply wasn’t able to get into a mindset to accept it.  I would have to watch this again with a more open mind to fairly review this film but I came out of it more confused than anything else.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010)
Director: Tsui Hark, Screenplay: Chen Kuo-fu, Zhang Jialu, from Robert van Gulik
Cast: Andy Lau, Carina Lau, Li Bingbing, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Jean-Michel Casanova

This is a historical fantasy mystery with some action and talking deer tossed in for fun.   It’s based on the book of the same name by author Lin Qianyu and it uses fictionalized versions of real-life characters like Detective Dee (Di Renjie played by Andy Lau) and Empress Wu Zetian (Carina Lau).  Detective Dee has been released from jail in order to serve the Empress who needs him to solve the mystery of two officials who spontaneously combusted while working on a giant statue.   My first impression of this movie was that the pacing and editing were all off in a way that I can’t quite explain.  It felt like there was no transition between scenes as the the story seemed to jump from one plot point to the next which made me lose track of the story early on.  Not that I think the story was complicated but certain parts later on didn’t make sense to me although the inevitable solving of the mystery did make sense.  The action was not bad although the effects were not so convincing at times.  This is another one of those movies I’d have to watch again in order to give a fair review. There were some things I liked but overall it was jarring and unpleasant viewing experience.



Longtime fan of East Asian films. Former "movie reporter" on the music radio show / podcast "Beats From The East" broadcasted on Concordia University's CJLO 1690AM radio station in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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