Posted in Fantasia 2014, Fantasia International Film Festival, Film Festivals, Reviews

Fantasia 2014 mini reviews

Mini reviews of Kundo: Age of the Rampant, That Demon Within, From Vegas to Macau, The Suspect, The Five, Days of Wrath, Steel Cold Winter, Puzzle, Dancing Karate Kid, Cold Eyes, The Fatal Encounter, and Jellyfish Eyes after the jump.

Kundo: Age of the Rampant (2014)
Director: Yoon Jong-bin
Screenplay: Yoon Jong-bin, Jeon Cheol-hong
Cast: Ha Jung-woo, Kang Dong-won

While there is some good action, the characters are mostly one-note and nothing much happens in the story to make this more than an excuse to cheer for the good guy to kill the bad guy. Jo-yoon is the main bad guy, he’s an aristocrat with incredible martial arts skill who runs the government with strength and exploits the poor. Doimuchi is a lowly butcher who’s asked to kill somebody as ordered by Jo-yoon. Doimuchi doesn’t go through with it and faces the deadly consequences. He manages to survive and ends up joining a Robin Hood like band who steal from the rich and give to the poor. After that well you can guess what Doimuchi wants to do next. While there’s a pretty decent set-up for this inevitable showdown, nothing interesting happens after story-wise or character-wise. There’s some ingenuity on Doimuchi’s part in the final fight but it feels handicapped since Jo-yoon ends up fighting with only one arm while carrying something else in the other. Still, this is a decent historical, action film but likely will only impress those new to the genre.

That Demon Within (2014)
Director: Dante Lam
Screenplay: Dante Lam, Jack Ng Wai-Lun
Cast: Daniel Wu, Nick Cheung, Christie Chen, Andy On, Liu Kai-Chi

The strongest aspect of this film is the general atmosphere it creates with its focus on the dirtier, darker areas of Hong Kong with an interesting musical score that uses traditional instruments. It’s a combination that creates a supernatural, film noir setting. There is some action, with  a lot of fire, some of it gruesome but it is mainly focused on the charcater plot of straight-arrow cop named Dave. When a seriously injured man walks into a hospital while Dave is on duty, he helps out by donating blood without knowing that the man is actually a dangerous criminal named Hon, who is known as the Demon King, the head of a gang of robbers who wear demon masks. Hon later escapes the hospital after recovering.  This appears to trigger a past memory that causes Dave to become mentally unstable as he seeks to locate Hon and also punish the gang members. Daniel Wu as Dave gives a great performance and this is largely what kept my interest throughout the film, wondering whether his character was simply revealing his true nature or if he somehow been infected by Hon’s evil traits. The ending appears to give a definitive answer to this but that doesn’t diminish the initial mood that pervades most of the film. Some reviews have mentioned that they find the film a bit boring or not that interesting as it could’ve been but while it doesn’t all make sense, I found that the film does succeed at immersing you into its version of Hong Kong where ghosts could possibly roam the streets and evil is an ever persistent presence.

From Vegas to Macau (2014)
Director: Wong Jing
Screenplay: Wong Jing
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Nicholas Tse, Chapman To, Philip Ng, Kimmy Tong

Not very good with more limp jokes than good ones but it does manage to maintain energy and a sense of fun for an undemanding audience. Chow Yun Fat and company are on fine comedic form despite limited material. The straight-forward story somehow manages to become confusing towards the end. There’s some decent action but the CG card throwing scenes are pretty silly. At least the film doesn’t last long and ends with a nice “surprise” cameo. More for those who have nostalgic memories of the God of Gamblers movies.

The Five (2013)
Director: Jeong Yeon-shik
Screenplay: Jeong Yeon-shik
Cast: Kim Sun-a, Ma Dong-seok, Sin Jung-geun, Jung In-ki, Lee Chung-a

There’s some creativity in this revenge story. A family while celebrating the daughter’s 14th birthday gets attacked by a serial killer. The mother, Eun-A, was the lone survivor and just barely at that. Confined to a wheelchair, she decides to offer to trade her organs to various people in exchange for their help in tracking down the killer. Things gets dicey when some of the people try to turn on her and then again when the killer discovers he’s being targeted and goes after Eun-Ah. It leads to an interesting showdown between the two although it involves some incredibly fortuitous luck. It’s worth a watch although perhaps the most interesting thing is seeing actress Kim Sun-A playing a completely different role than her usual romcom ones.

The Suspect (2013)
Director: Won Shin-yeon
Screenplay: Lim Sang-Yoon
Cast: Gong Yoo, Park Hee-soon, You Da-in, Cho Seong-ha

Fast, hard and sometimes hard to follow describe both the story and action in this film. Really all you need to know is that Ji Dong-chul was a North Korean spy before defecting to the South. He gets framed for the murder of his boss, an executive who has ties to both South and Norh Korea. Before his boss’ death, he was provided some information on the man who killed his wife and daughter and also a pair of glasses which he is told ominously to “bury”. A military sergeant, Min Se-yoon, is tasked to take down Dong-chul but he isn’t the only one Dong-chul will have to deal with as he fights multiple agents and gets into car chases (with a couple of entertaining if totally ridiculous sequences where he drives downs stairs and evades traffic, in reverse). Some of the hand to hand fights are actually fairly well filmed while others, particularly towards the end are more a confounding mish-mash of close-ups of fists hitting body parts and people shoving each other through walls. The story is passable but the main thing going for this film is that it never lets up and keeps speeding towards its over-extended ending. Probably worth a watch for the action but not much else.

Days of Wrath (2013)
Director: Shin Dong-yeop
Screenplay: Yun Jun-hul
Cast: Yang Dong-geun, Joo Sang-wook, Lee Tae-im, Jang Tae-sung, Ban Mi-jung

This is a revenge thriller at the expense of women. They are either killed or raped in this movie just to give even more motivation for the protagonist. The rape in particular I found to be gratuitous and unnecessary story-wise. Chang-sik is a teenage boy from a wealthy family who bullies Joon-seok who is poor. All this bullying eventually leads to a devastating tragedy. 15 or so years later, Joon-seok struggles to get a decent job due to his past while Chang-sik is successful and about to be married. When Joon-seok randomly encounters Chang-sik, who doesn’t seem to remember him, he begins to plot his revenge. It’s a pretty good setup that starts promising as Joon-seok manages to slowly ruin Chang-sik’s reputation. However, Chang-sik’s retaliation to this is pretty uninspired. The acting was good but the story ends up feeling very predictable.

Steel Cold Winter (2013)
Director: Choi Jin-seong
Screenplay: Choi Yoon-jin
Cast: Kim Yun-hea, Kim Si-hoo, Jang In-sub, Oh Hee-joon, Park So-dam

Note: This film will screen August 5

A very apt title for this film. Cold, distant and nary even smile will be found in this film. A boy moves from Seoul to a village in the countryside to get a fresh start, one of his first sights is a girl skating on a frozen lake. He sees this girl again in his class and gradually hears rumors about her but this only makes her more intriguing to him. I won’t say more because the mystery of it all is the main driving force. I will say it does go to dark places. Characterization, however, I found to be shallow. The main characters seem to do little other than looking like sad, stone faced teens, most of the time even when their romance begins to form. It makes it hard to empathize with them as they feel more like empty vessels.

Puzzle (2014)
Director: Eisuke Naito
Screenplay: Makoto Sasaki, Eisuke Naito, Yusuke Yamada
Cast: Kaho, Shuhei Nomura, Kazuya Takahashi, Saori Yagi, Kokone Sasaki

Extremely gory and violent where people injure others in gruesome and graphic ways. It’s definitely not for the squeamish (i.e. me) but the film does its job as a revenge movie with over-the-top violence and elaborate schemes that get desperate people running around looking for puzzle pieces but occasionally being met with bombs instead. To go along with all the blood is some moments of dark humor. There’s a reason for all the deaths which all relate to a girl who attempted suicide. It’s unclear how the boy knows who was responsible but on her behalf he wields bloody vengeance on those who wronged her. I was unprepared for the graphic violence, I expected some but the Fantasia description for this film is somewhat deceptive in barely alluding to the explicit nature of the violence. This is not a bad film but not an enjoyable one to watch.

Dancing Karate Kid (2013)
Director: Tsukasa Kishimoto
Screenplay: Norio Enomoto
Cast: Joey, Yui Koike, Akihito Yagi, Masahiro Aragaki

The Fantasia description for this film made it sound super fun and awesome. Unfortunately, it’s at best mildly amusing with fairly weak jokes, a few interesting dance solos and not much fighting. The mix of dance and fighting is surprisingly unimaginative and not that entertaining to watch. I don’t think even watching this with an audience is really worth it. This one is a disappointing dud.

Cold Eyes (2013)
Director: Cho Ui-seok, Kim Byung-seo
Screenplay: Cho Ui-seok
Cast: Seol Kyung-gu, Jung Woo-sung, Han Hyo-joo, Lee Jun-ho, Kim Bung-ok

This was a great surveillance action thriller so it’s odd that I don’t really have a lot to say about it. It’s a remake of the Hong Kong film Eye in the Sky which I haven’t seen. This Korean take adheres apparently adheres quite closely to the original but with tweaks and better production values. The film follows a surveillance team who are trying to track down the leader behind some high profile thefts. The story focuses on the head of the surveillance team and the recently hired young rookie with a photographic memory. Their interactions are great to watch. There are some funny moments interspersed, particular one hilarious part where the young rookie goes to the washroom but forgets to turn off her mic. Otherwise, the story is mostly serious with slick visuals and nice shots of Seoul from high above. There is some luck and chance involved as the surveillance team comes closer to tracking the leader but it leads to a tense ending.

The Fatal Encounter
Director: Lee Jae-kyoo
Screenplay: Choi Sung-Hyun
Cast: Hyun Bin, Jung Jae-young, Cho Jung-sook, Cho Jae-Hyeon, Han Ji-min

This could have been a pretty great historical movie. It’s the year 1777 and almost nobody can be trusted by the king whom has already faced a few assassination attempts. There’s great acting and some good action. The action unfortunately only happens near the end of the story. However, it’s all ruined by a decision by someone that the story should go back and forth like a yoyo in time throughout the whole movie. Some flashbacks like ones into the far past make sense to have but the ones in the near past (as in within the last 24 hours) make for all sorts of confusion . It especially becomes tiresome when they continue to occur in the final moments of the movie. It’s really a shame because I actually somewhat enjoyed the latter parts of the movie when I had finally sorted some things out but again that’s a credit to the acting.

JellyFish Eyes
Director: Takashi Murakami
Screenplay: Takashi Murakami, Jun Tsugita
Cast: Takuto Sueoka, Himeka Asami, Takumi Saito, Shota Sometani, Masataka Kubota

Some time after his father died, a young boy and his mom move to a new area. The boy discovers a weird but friendly creature to play with in one of the moving boxes. It turns out he’s not the only one who has a friendly creature as all the kids in his new school have creatures as well. There are also evil scientists with evil plans that are somehow related to the creatures. Cuteness ensues but quickly becomes grating and cheesy in a bad way. The overall look is like a below average made for TV movie. The CG creatures don’t really impress and the odes to Japanese pop culture are nothing new. The ham-fisted acting and exaggerated facial expressions induced its fair share of unintentional laughs with the Fantasia audience. Maybe it was intentional but it makes it impossible to take the dramatic moments in this movie seriously. The story structure is actually pretty sound other than the over-extended finale. Given better execution, this film could have been much better but in its current form is a definite film to skip.

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Author:

Longtime fan of East Asian films. Occasional guest "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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