Posted in Fantasia 2015, Fantasia International Film Festival, Film Festivals, Reviews

Fantasia 2015 mini reviews

Mini reviews of Big Match, Shinjuku Swan, Battles without Honor and Humanity, Crimson Whale, Office, La La La at Rock Bottom, Deadman Inferno, Ryuzo and the Seven Henchman and Kung Fu Killer after the jump.

Big Match / 빅매치 / Big Maechi (2014)
Director: Choi Ho
Screenplay: Choi Ho
Cast: Lee Jeong-jae, Shin Ha-kyun, BoA, Lee Seong-min, Kim Eui-sung

As far as action movies goes, this one is pretty ridiculous but also very self aware of this. Ik-ho is an MMA figher who’s forced to participate in a series of missions that have been orchestrated by a mastermind named Ace. Through private feed, the missions are displayed to extremely wealthy individuals who bet on the outcome of each mission. Ik-ho must participate or else his brother dies. It’s pretty much set up like a video game almost and the missions or scenarios that Ik-ho must get through are actually quite creative. A female ex-boxer and some gang members also get involved. Some CGI is used in some obvious sequences but is kept to a minimum. Actor Lee Jung-Jae as Ik-ho does well in the action scenes and the comedic scenes. BoA as the ex-boxer is surprisingly believable despite her petite frame. When she puts on those brass knuckles and punches the crap out of people you definitely wince. Shin Ha Kyun hams it up really good as Ace. The fights are hard hitting affairs that strain believability at times but the film was definitely a crowd pleaser at Fantasia.

Seen in the theatre at Fantasia 2015

Shinjuku Swan / 新宿スワン (2015)
Director: Sion Sono
Screenplay: Rikiya Mizushima, Osamu Suzuki
Cast: Go Ayano, Takayuki Yamada, Yusuke Iseya, Erika Sawajiri, Nobuaki Kaneko

Mostly well plotted but ultimately confused in tone when the ending comes around. The story is quite complex as different characters scheme while making and breaking allegiances but I did not have a hard time following it. It mainly focuses on Tatsuhiko, a loser without a job who gets hired as a scout in Shinjuku, the red light district of Tokyo. His job is to look for attractive girls to be hostesses or workers in massage parlors and other shadier activities. I guess because it’s based on a manga some of the acting is quite exaggerated that includes Go Ayano as Tatsuhiko and the actor who played Seki. The other actors seemed a bit more restrained by comparison. Erika Sawjiri does a fine job portraying Ageha, one of the girls that Tatsuhiko tries to protect. Tatsuhiko is given a pretty clear rival in Hideyoshi and there is foreshadowing to a past between these two but the reveal ends up being laughably silly and is hard to take seriously. There’s a lot of interesting elements in the film so the reveal does not invalidate the rest of the film. Worth watching if only to find out how Tatsuhiko’s ridiculously frizzy blonde hair actually factors into the story.

Seen in the theatre at Fantasia 2015

Battles without Honor and Humanity / 仁義なき戦い / Jingi Naki Tatakai (1973)
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kazuo Kasahara, Koji Shundo, Koichi Iiboshi
Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Nobuo Kaneko, Kunie Tanaka

This film deserves a full review but I just happen to not have much to say about it but that does not mean it was not good. I was impressed by it and found it to be a very engaging yakuza film. It packs a lot of plot. A lot of characters are introduced at the beginning, whose names I immediately forgot afterwards but it did not affect my ability to follow the story mostly. In fact, I was surprised at the running time because it felt like a lot more had happened. It’s gritty and violent with many tough gangsters battling it out and lots of scheming too as the different clans don’t hesitate to kill each other. It ends on an unresolved rivalry which I assume is picked up in future installments. This is the first film out of a series of five and I would very much look forward to seeing the next part. Fantasia was showing a nicely restored version of the film. Apparently this film is sometimes referred to as the Japanese equivalent to the Godfather.

Seen in the theatre at Fantasia 2015

Crimson Whale / 화산고래 / Hwasan Gorae (2014)
Director: Park Hye-mi
Screenplay: Park Hye-mi
Cast: Lee Ji-sook, Kim Sung-in, Lee Young-gi, Kim Ji-hyung

For an independent animated feature, the art is quite good. The post apocalyptic setting is one that is not seen in Korean animation. The main character Ha-Jin, is a resourceful, tough and tricky young girl with a special talent. She can communicate with whales. She’s recruited into a group whose goal is to kill the monster, which is a deformed whale that lives in a volcano where there are precious gems. Yeah that plot is like the Hobbit essentially. While the characters and setting are interesting, the story is not and I was not entirely sure why Ha-Jin decided to help the group kill the monster since it never did anything to her and she had nightmares where she blamed herself for killing whales because adults forced her to lure them for hunters. There seemed to be a contradiction there. The monster does look menacing with its lava rock exterior but the final confrontation is pretty generic. There was potential here but what started out as potentially interesting became very boring with the kill the monster goal.

Seen in the theatre at Fantasia 2015

Office / 오피스 / Opiseu (2015)
Director: Hong Won-chan
Screenplay: Choi Yun-jin
Cast: Ko A-sung, Park Sung-woong, Bae Seong-woo, Kim Eui-sung, Ryu Hyun-kyung

This film is the most convincing argument to not work late nights at the office. It is a combination of horror and office politics where you’ll be rooting for the killer. The film starts out without really much of a hint that this will be a horror/slasher type movie. The cattiness and verbal swordplay between colleagues is sharp and cuts deeply. Mirae is a the new intern who is often on the receiving end of this verbal abuse, the only colleague who was kind to her was a manager named Byung-huk who inexplicably murders his family and returns to the office. After this, workers start turning up dead. The actress, Ko A-sung, who played Mirae actually played the daughter in the film the Host. She gives a very good performance in this film. One thing that another review mentioned is that for some odd reason only the women in the film are killed on screen and while they certainly deserved it, some of the men most definitely deserved some on screen torture. There’s a bit of mystery to the killings themselves even when the killer is eventually revealed. I enjoyed this film even though I’m not into horror. The Fantasia audience was certainly having fun as they cheered for each deserved kill.

Seen in the theatre at Fantasia 2015

La La La at Rock Bottom / 味園ユニバース / Misono Yunibasu (2015)
Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita
Screenplay: Tomoe Kanno
Cast: Subaru Shibutani, Fumi Nikaido, Sarina Suzuki, Katsumi Kawahara

This is an understated Japanese drama about a criminal who loses his memory and joins a band that’s managed by an 18 year old girl. He turns out to be a very good singer but when he regains his memory, he quits the band. The film explores the two characters, how one has no past while the other is sort of stuck in the past. For a film that I was anticipating, I unfortunately just found this boring. There’s also one scene (the “gotcha” scene) that doesn’t quite make sense in terms of how one character was involved. The strongest aspect of the film are the characters particularly the amnesiac criminal and the young girl. The actors do well portraying these characters who try to hide their pain and grow to understand each other a bit better but there’s really nothing interesting that is revealed. At least the songs are pretty good but otherwise, I fail to see what is so charming or special about the film.

Seen on a screener at Fantasia 2015

Deadman Inferno / Zアイランド / Z Airando (2015)
Director: Hiroshi Shinagawa
Screenplay: Hiroshi Shinagawa
Cast: Show Aikawa, Sawa Suzuki, Shingo Tsurumi, Yuichi Kimura, Daisuke Miyagawa

I initially had no intention to watch this but it turned out to be a good crowd pleasing movie with a premise that will appeal to a certain demographic. It’s essentially Yakuza vs zombies that parodies the tropes of both genres but itself ends up being a pretty good mash-up of both. Toss in karate school girls, samurai weapons and a film that’s not afraid to kill off most of its protagonists and you have even more to like about the film. It also manages to be touching at times but doesn’t let this get in the way of zombie killing. It’s a fun and funny time that fans of these types of films will enjoy.

Ryuzo and The Seven Henchmen / 龍三と七人の子分たち / Ryuzo to Shichinin no Kobuntachi (2015)
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Screenplay: Takeshi Kitano
Cast: Tatsuya Fuji, Masaomi Kondō, Akira Nakao, Tōru Shinagawa, Beat Takeshi

This is the latest comedy from renowned director Takeshi Kitano. It focuses on a group of elderly yakuza who decide to take on the younger criminals who have no honor and resort to making money by scamming others. As far as comedies go, this is a pretty decent one with a fair amount of laughs but it does lose steam towards the end. Somehow through sheer luck the elderly yakuza manage to stymie their younger rivals. I admit I got a bit bored of the premise towards the end of the film but I think it’s a decent comedy worth watching for fans of yakuza films.

Kung Fu Killer
/ 一个人的武林 / Yī Gè Rén De Wǔ Lín / Yat1 Go3 Yan4 Dik1 Mou5 Lam4 (2014)
Director: Teddy Chan
Screenplay: Lau Ho-Leung, Mak Tin-Sue, Teddy Chan Tak-Sum
Cast: Donnie Yen, Wang Baoqiang, Charlie Young Choi-Nei, Bai Bing, Alex Fong Chung-Sun

A merely okay martial arts film. There is a serial killer that is targeting martial arts masters and killing them with their own style. The only fight worth watching is the final one between Donnie Yen and Wang Baoqiang and even that one has its lackluster moments. The other one on one fights between Wang Baoqiang and other fighters are way too short. The premise of fighting against masters is a bit of a lie since he fights masters who are past their prime. Despite taking place in different locales, the fights fail to be interesting. There are a couple of twists in the story but it’s nothing worth talking about. What the film does demonstrate is that Wang Baoqiang could be a worthy new martial artist to look out for in the future. Martial arts fans can skip this one.

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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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