Saturday, April 28, 2012

Udine Far East Film Festival Day VIII Report

Ongoing reports on the 14th Udine International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering onsite.

Splendid Outing
(South Korea, 1978)

The second Kim Soo-young film of the retrospective (after Night Journey, 1977), Splendid Outing was a fantastic island drama that was almost a horror in its design.  It’s also seem to be a huge influence of one of the best Korean films of the last few years, Jang Chul-soo’s Bedevilled (2010).

The film’s central protagonist is a successful businesswoman, which is an anomaly in 1970s Korea.  She owns a high rise, has a big office and seems respected by all of her peers.  She has two children but doesn’t seem to have much time for them.  Early on in the film the pressure starts to get to her and she takes a trip down to the South in her car, at which point she is swallowed up by a mob in coastal town, abducted and brought to an isolated island where she is given to a man who believes that she is his wife.

Once again, notions of female identity in contemporaneous Korea dominate.  Is she being punished for not conforming to the standard role of a woman?  The abundant power she holds is instantly stripped from her and after neglecting her duties as a mother in the home she is forced to care for a new offspring and has no means of escape.

Of course the traditional position of woman in society also comes under the microscope as she is literally stripped of all her freedom and forced to debase herself.  She is beaten and people ridicule her when she tries to explain who she is.  Like a number of other Korean films, old and new, the main character is transplanted from a comfortable urban environment to a rural one.  The islands in Iodo (1977), Splendid Outing and Bedevilled, as well as the villages in Bestseller (2010) and Moss (2010) are presented as spaces of horror, where dogmatic traditionalism or religion lead to horrific acts of abuse.

One of my favorite films of retrospective and the festival, Splendid Outing is a classic Korean film that could win over many spectators if given the chance.

A Woman Chasing a Killer Butterfly
(South Korea, 1978)

This bizarre effort from Kim Ki-young was loved by some and derided by others but it is certainly one of the week’s films that elicited the strongest response.  A Woman Chasing a Killer Butterfly (aka Killer Butterfly) seems like a cultish B-movie but it also has many philosophical overtones as it references Nietzsche and other works, including Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will (1934).

I won’t bother providing a synopsis because to be honest I wasn’t really sure what was going on most of the time.  The film seemed relatively clear at first as it went through two pseudo-chapters but its third section, which swallowed most of the narrative, lost me completely.  I was frustrated not to understand what as going on but I was never bored.  Killer Butterfly is furiously inventive and often hilarious though this is not always intentional and poor subtitles from an old copy didn’t help matters.

Compared to Kim’s other films I was surprised at the lack of a polished mise-en-scene, which leads me to imagine that this was made in a rush.  This would also explain the choppy plotting and uneven pacing.  That said, I will definitely give this another chance some day, if I’m presented with the opportunity, as I think there was much that I didn’t catch during this viewing.

Afro Tanaka
(Japan, 2012)

I’ve been lucky to see some wonderful Japanese comedies this week, including Sukiyaki (2011) and The Woodsman and the Rain (2011), but it’s true that sometimes, Japanese humour can be a little dry.  The films of Miki Satoshi (In the Pool, 2005; Adrift in Tokyo, 2007), which I had a chance to see earlier this year at the East Winds Festival, walk a dangerously fine line but just about get away with it.  Afro Tanaka has a lot of charm and is frequently inventive but it pushes this style of comedy to an extreme and at times it was too much for me handle.  However, the audience in the theater certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves and true enough the film has many laugh out loud moments so perhaps this just wasn’t one for me.

Tanaka is a young man with an enormous afro who has yet to have a girlfriend.  He is invited to the wedding of a childhood friend and must now find a companion so as not to lose face.

I couldn’t quite make sense of the ridiculous afro, it was funny for a moment but over the course of the film, which stretched to nearly two hours, it starts to become a bit of an eyesore.  The script contents itself with situational comedy for the most part which is a shame as I think some more focus on the characters and a stronger plot may have yielded a much stronger film.

The Bounty
(Hong Kong, 2012)

This HK movie world premiere was attended by director Fung Chih-chiang as well as the producer, costume designer, production designer as well as a co-star.  An action-comedy about a bounty hunter tracking down a fugitive on a little island in Hong Kong, The Bounty had its moments but was not a satisfying effort.  Chapman To, the star, was hilarious but this pales in comparison to his performance in Vulgaria (2012).  There wasn’t much to the plot which in and of itself isn’t really a problem for this kind of a narrative but it dragged on for far too long.  There was a clear ending point which seemed to work quit well but then the film trundled along for another half an hour which really spoiled it.

Maybe the film would have played better if it had remained a straight comedy but as it stands its slide into melodrama was poorly conceived and killed any momentum that the film had built early on.  There were elements of the film I liked, the comedy mostly worked in the early stages and as already mentioned Chapman To was good, he’s a very reliable performer in this type of role, but overall this is not a film I could recommend to anybody besides diehard HK film fans.

(South Korea, 2011)

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