Posted in Art & Animation, Fantasia 2017, Fantasia International Film Festival, Film Festivals, Reviews

Fantasia 2017 mini reviews

Mini reviews of Free and Easy, The House of the Disappeared, Shock Wave, The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue, Napping Princess, Love and Other Cults, Rage, Extraordinary Mission, Night is Short Walk On Girl.

The Final Master (2016)
Directed by: Xu Haofeng
Written by: Xu Haofeng
Cast: Liao Fan, Song Jia, Jiang Wenli, Chin Shi-Chieh, Chen Kuan-Tai

I actually watched this at a previous film festival (China Canada International Film Festival) and despite the somewhat obtuse story and languid pacing, the fight scenes are well choreographed, entertaining and even intelligent. There are also dry moments of humor. This movie is worth watching for martial arts fans especially for the final sequence where the main character fights several different masters who wield different weapons in a narrow alley.

Free and Easy (2016)
Directed by: Geng Jun
Written by: Liu Bing, Geng Jun, Feng Yuhua
Cast: Xue Baohe, Gu Benbin, Xu Gang, Yuan Liguo, Zhang Xun, Wang Xuxu, Zhang Zhiyong

An incredibly slow paced movie set in the countryside with con artists trying to outcon each other while the two police officers remain somewhat indifferent. There seems to be a Chinese specific genre that feels like a Western because of the desolate surroundings and unsavory characters but takes place in the cold climate of China’s northeast. This work would qualify as that type of movie. There are moments of dry humor and unexpected outcomes. The team behind this definitely shows potential but the glacial pacing won’t go over well with most audiences.

The House of the Disappeared (2017)
Directed by: Dae-Woong Lim
Written by: Jae-Hyeon Jang
Cast: Yunjin Kim, Taec Yeon Ok

This is a remake of a Venezuelan movie. I haven’t seen it but after reading the plot summary of it, this Korean version deviates very little from it. Although I’d say there are maybe one or two key differences in the Korean version that do improve the story but more the reason for something than the actual events that occur which are pretty much exactly the same. It’s well shot and well acted, particularly the mother (Kim YunJin) who is present in most scenes and anchors the whole work. But I do wonder how much of the movie’s appeal is due to the story which does have its surprises. I figure this Korean film’s impact would be much less if one had already seen the Venezuelan original.

Shock Wave (2017)
Directed by: Herman Yau
Written by: Erica Li, Herman Yau
Cast: Andy Lau, Babyjohn Choi, Jiang Wu, Phillip Keung, Song Jia

This is a solid action movie where criminals hold a tunnel (that runs under water) full of drivers hostage in Hong Kong. A bomb defusal expert (Andy Lau) is at the center of it since he worked undercover with the criminals. The story has effective emotional moments even if they are setup in a hasty or less than convincing manner at times. It kind of reminded me of the movie Speed in the sense that the main action/tension occurs in only a few locations and a crazy bomber. Here it’s on a much larger scale with full police force against a criminal group. Andy Lau is predictably solid and convincing in his role. The main villain is merely serviceable.

The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue
Directed by: Yuya Ishii
Written by: Yuya Ishii
Cast: Shizuka Ishibashi, Sosuke Ikematsu, Paul Magsalin, Ryuhei Matsuda, Tetsushi Tanaka, Mikako Ichikawa

A movie about two lonely people that meanders aimlessly and doesn’t necessarily have the humor or insights to justify the aimlessness. The actors are pretty good and the cinematography is very nice but ultimately, I felt little emotion to this film and pretty much no attachment to the characters. I’m not even sure why the characters even got together other than “loneliness”.

Napping Princess (2017)
Directed by: Kenji Kamiyama
Written by: Kenji Kamiyama
Cast: Mitsuki Takahata, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Tomoya Maeno

A fun, lively animated film for the family that intertwines a fantasy storyline with a in real life storyline. It’s creative at first but also muddles the events in real life. The story is about a young school girl and a tablet that her father has that has some important information that a car company wants. It also has links to her mother who died in an accident in the past. I was actually a bit confused by the switching between fantasy and and real life at times but I was also extremely tired during the screening and would need to watch it again to give a better evaluation.

Broken Sword Hero (2017)
Directed by: Bin Bunluerit
Written by: Suwan Takongkaew, Preayaporn Boonpa
Cast: Buakaw Banchamek, Phutharit Prombandal

As a martial arts display, this is disappointing. Overuse of slow motion and boring choreography. Usually the bad guy gets in his hits but then the good guy get his hits and wins. You never have an idea of how the good guy manages to turn the tables. Not necessarily bad but while the story and characters are fine and there are funny moments it’s nothing interesting and quite generic. It just follows a guy as he trains under different masters which leads to him joining an army and getting his sword broken.

What a Wonderful Family! 2 (2017)
Directed by: Yôji Yamada
Written by: Emiko Hiramatsu, Yôji Yamada
Cast: Yû Aoi, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Isao Hashizume, Yui Natsukawa, Kazuko Yoshiyuki

If you enjoyed the first one then you’ll enjoy this one. If you haven’t seen the first one, you can still watch this one first. There is nothing you need to know from the first movie that will affect your experience with this one. I might’ve actually liked this one slightly more than the first. The family is trying to get the grandfather to give up his driver’s license after finding more scratches on his car. Of course, he refuses. The main drama occurs when the grandfather meets an old high school friend and brings him to the house. There’s the usual bickering but it’s somewhat disappointing that the grandmother gets sidelined a bit. There are a few laugh out loud moments. Most other times I only chuckled but overall I was entertained with this second outing with the family.

Love and Other Cults (2017)
Directed by: Eiji Uchida
Written by: Eiji Uchida
Cast: Sairi Ito, Kenta Suga, Hanae Kan, Denden, Kaito Yoshimura

This indie film focuses on the life of a neglected teen girl as she tries to find love, a family and an identity. It’s told from the perspective of her male friend who is in love with her for no reason as he says but he wants to save her from her downward spiral. A very strong performance by the main actress makes this teen girl compelling to watch. She is at one point associated with a gang and we get to see these other characters too who are also engaging in their own ways. It’s a bit confusing initially as there are actually a lot of characters that appear but most don’t have any significance. The cinematography is not bad and there are some nice scenes with Mt. Fuji in the background. Although the trailer might make this movie seem absurd, it actually feels grounded most of the time. Not a must-watch but it was an engaging little drama.

Rage (2016)
Directed by: Lee Sang-il
Written by: Lee Sang-il
Cast: Ken Watanabe, Mirai Moriyama, Kenichi Matsuyama, Go Ayano

This is a gripping drama of three separate stories, despite a slow pace, the build-up in drama is done well. The stories and characters never intersect each other but in each one there is a stranger with a mysterious past who may be a killer that the police are tracking. However, one may find it problematic that sexual assault is the catalyst in all three stories. Two of which involve female characters. One of the female characters essentially gets sidelined from the story while the male characters talk about how they feel about her sexual assault experience. Most of the characters are portrayed with multiple layers. It’s done efficiently mostly without exposition but with great acting. One of the reasons I decided to watch this is because of the cast of excellent actors. The finale has a lot of crying. It is overblown and could’ve been dialed back for a more effective ending. There is also the fingerprints issue that I don’t think was explained but then again, despite a clear pick for the identity of the killer, some details are deliberately left out.

Extraordinary Mission (2017)
Directed by: Anthony Pun, Alan Mak
Written by: Felix Chong
Cast: Huang Xuan, Duan Yi-Hong, Zu Feng, Lang Yue-Ting

Starts off as a fairly typical undercover drug movie. The hero is super determined and despite the danger goes undercover to try to bust a large drug operation whose plant is in Thailand. He never loses his conviction or questions if it’s worth it. The purpose of the movie is really just to wait until that ridiculously entertaining action finale comes around. It is honestly one of the craziest ones I’ve seen in a while. It’s mainly a chase involving motorcycles and cars, lots of shooting in the streets, on the rooftops and anywhere really.

Night is Short Walk On Girl (2017)
Directed by: Masaaki Yuasa
Written by: Makoto Ueda
Cast: Kana Hanazawa, Gen Hoshino

The art style is certainly vivid, creative and interesting but I found the story itself to be too random and some sequences create sensory overload that felt nauseating, confusing and repetitive. For example, the sequence where the male character overthinks about the crush he has on a girl that feels like it goes on forever long after the point has been made that yes, love can make you feel crazy and indecisive. Similarly, the final sequence when the female character is walking through the storm feels absurdly long that I had to close my eyes, hoping she would just get to her destination already. This was a movie I wanted to like because it seemed different from the usual animated fare out of Japan but it felt over-bloated and could’ve been reigned in a bit.


Longtime fan and reviewer of East Asian films. Formerly a short segment on the music radio show / podcast "Beats From The East" on Concordia University's CJLO 1690AM radio station in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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