Fantasia 2019, total films seen: 21 + 6 attempted
I wasn’t too familiar with a lot of the movies this year so I didn’t have any expectations especially considering my disappointments in the movies I watched last year. But much to my surprise I found a good number of movies that I liked a lot. These were mainly Japanese and Korean comedies or dramas. I was moved in some emotional capacity by these films which is something I hadn’t felt in maybe the past two years. This was definitely one of the better fantasia editions for me even if I disliked most of the animated features I saw and didn’t see a really great action or crime movie.
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Tokyo Ghoul ‘S’ / 東京喰種 トーキョーグール S [Tokyo Guru S ] (2019)
Director: Kazuhiko Hiramaki, Takuya Kawasaki
Writer: Chuji Mikasano
Cast: Masataka Kubota, Shota Matsuda, Maika Yamamoto
This sequel (although I doubt that’s what ‘S’ stands for) has Kaneki facing off against an uber foodie ghoul, Tsukiyama, nicknamed the “Gourmet” who becomes obsessed with Kaneki due to him being a hybrid of ghoul and human. Tsukiyama wants to eat Kaneki. Obviously Kaneki does not want to be eaten.
While I’m tempted to say the ‘S’ stands for stupid, I don’t think this sequel is all bad but it is a step backwards. Before getting to why that is, this sequel makes several references to the first movie. The main plot is simple enough that it could be understood without watching the first movie but a lot of background will be lost on those who didn’t watch the first movie or don’t remember it. I strongly suggest that you watch the first movie before this one. The first movie establishes the world and characters and the sequel assumes you’re already aware of all that.
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Twilight / 薄暮 [hakubo] (2019)
Director & Writer: Yutaka Yamamoto
Cast: Hiyori Sakurada, Seishiro Kato
A female freshman, Sachi, who likes to play the violin and a male freshman, Kijinami, who likes to paint meet at a bus stop. Sachi enjoys seeing the countryside during twilight just after the sun sets and part of the sky turns green. Kijinami likes to draw outdoor scenery and the two students strike up a friendship and potentially more.
This is apparently the third movie of a trilogy of movies that deal with the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. It’s a short one that a bit less than an hour but it uses that time effectively to delivery a simple but endearing story.
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Kingdom / キングダム [Kingudamu] (2019)
Director: Shinsuke Sato
Writer: Tsutomu Kuroiwa, Shinsuke Sato, Yasuhisa Hara
Cast: Kento Yamazaki, Ryo Yoshizawa, Masami Nagasawa, Kanna Hashimoto, Kanata Hongo
Two slave orphans, Shin aka Xin (Kento Yamazaki) and Hyou aka Piao (Ryo Yoshizawa) and grow up and practice sword fighting because they believe this will help them escape the slave class. One day a nobleman picks Hyou to work for the emperor while leaving the other one behind. But when a gravely injured Hyou comes back to Shin, he asks Shin to protect the emperor.
This live action movie is based on a manga/anime that itself takes inspiration from real Chinese history, namely the Warring States period. I am unfamiliar with the manga/anime or the real history.
Although this is a live action, the way the characters act made it quite obvious that this is a manga/anime adaptation. It’s exaggerated in a way that tells you this isn’t meant to be taken completely seriously. In this sense, those expecting a serious movie will not find it here. The king’s plan in the end is also kind of dumb and gets resolved by a deus ex machina character. The use of flashbacks is kind of annoying and I think largely unnecessary. In fact, I find the use of flashbacks to rouse or inspire a character to be a cheap trick to elicit audience feelings. The repeated talk of dreams is meant to inspire but becomes insipid after seemingly the umpteenth time it’s mentioned.
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White Snake / 白蛇：缘起 [Báishé: Yuánqǐ] (2019)
Director: Amp Wong, Ji Zhao
Writer: Da Mao
Cast: Xiaoxi Tang, Tianxing Yang, Zhe Zhang
A snake demon, Xiao Bai / Blanca, who has attained human form loses her memory and is rescued by a human man, Xuan. They begin to fall in love but Xiao Bai’s fellow snake demons including her sister, Xiao Qing / Verta, track her down in order to remind her of her mission. Humans and demons are enemies and cannot be allowed to fall in love with each other.
The inspiration of this story has roots in Chinese folklore and mythology. This movie is apparently meant to be a prequel to the Chinese legend, Madame White Snake, an extremely popular tale in China. Like that legend, this movie’s story is very much a forbidden romance type of story. It’s also more adult oriented. There’s nothing that is necessarily sensitive for kids to see but there is an obviously implied sex scene at one point but nothing is shown at all. There’s no blood (or at least I don’t really remember it) but some fight scenes can be pretty violent and one involves something being cut into multiple pieces.
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The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil / 악인전 [Akinjeon] (2019)
Director & Writer: Lee Won-tae
Cast: Don Lee aka Ma Dong-seok, Kim Moo-yul, Kim Sung-kyu
Fantasia recently added a second screening on Sunday, July 28.
The English title pretty much states the three main characters of this story. It’s not a three way confrontation but more of a tenuous team-up of a gang boss (Don Lee) and a cocky detective (Kim Moo-yul) to track down a serial killer, who tried to kill the gang boss and didn’t succeed. The gang boss has a reputation to uphold and agrees to an uneasy alliance proposed by the detective who has been trying to convince his own superior in the police department that there is a serial killer on the loose.
This movie is definitely aware of Don Lee aka Ma Dong-seok’s numerous cinema appearances as a no-nonsense nigh unbreakable brick house of a man. There’s no doubt that Lee is the star of this movie but Kim Moo-yul does pretty well to stand out himself, showing a bravado and persistence that plays off Lee’s character well. The detective is definitely a loose cannon.
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Miss and Mrs Cops / 걸캅스 [gal keopseu / Girl Cops] (2019)
Director & Writer: Jung Da-won
Cast: Ra Mi-ran, Lee Sung-kyung, Yoon Sang-hyun, Choi Soo-young
A mother (Ra Mi-ran) who is a former police officer and her sister in law (Lee Sung-kyung) who is a police officer team-up to unofficially investigate the case of a woman who was drugged and raped in a video that the perpetrators plan to release on a website when the video gets 30,000 likes.
The is a tale of two tones. One serious and the other comedic. This movie flips between the two extremes numerous times throughout the running time. It’s not the first movie (particularly Korean) to do this but it is a balance that is tricky to get right. But some subjects are maybe not appropriate to try mixing comedy with. I’d argue spy cam rape video qualifies as such a subject.
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House of Hummingbird / 벌새 [Beolsae] (2019)
Director & Writer: Kim Bora
Cast: Park Ji-hu, Kim Sae-byuk, Lee Seung-yeon, Jeong In-gi
During the year 1994, a teenage girl struggles with a seemingly unsympathetic family and other challenges with school and friends. She encounters problems big and small but ultimately there is happiness and love to be found in her less than ideal life. She begins to realize that those around her also struggle with their own problems.
This is the first full length feature of director (Kim Bo-Ra) and what an amazing debut it is. It’s a slice of life family drama shown mainly from the perspective of the youngest daughter, Eun-hee (Park Ji-hu) who has an older sister and brother. She has to deal with her brother hitting her and friendships that seem to come and go on a whim. She meets a sympathetic cram school teacher, Young-Ji (Kim Sae-Byuk) but like many things she latches onto, it doesn’t last.
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