Thursday, April 26, 2012

Udine Far East Film Festival Day VI Report

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

One Mile Above
(China, 2011)

A road movie chronicling a young man’s cycling trek in Tibet in the memory of his recently deceased brother, One Mile Above succeeds both in being a heartfelt voyage of discovery and a tribute to perseverance.  Du Jiayi’s  film is a beautiful work that takes tremendous advantage of the Himalayan landscape it takes place in.

Shuhao, the young protagonist, is someone who doesn’t have any direction of his own so when his brother dies he takes it upon himself to complete the trip that he had been working towards.  It is in honour of his sibling but it could also be read as an usurpation of a fixed goal as he lacks any of his own.  Throughout his journey he meets different characters who progressively become further removed from the people he knows form Taiwan.  These encounters, as well as the often difficult circumstances he finds himself confronted with, being to shape him as a character.

His growing endurance and tenacity are borne out of his developing sense of purpose and this, combined with the exceptional photography, lead to a moment of blissful catharsis that honestly gave me chills.  For that feeling and the majestic vistas alone, One Mile Above is worth the price of admission.  Catch it on a big screen if you can!

The Woodsman and the Rain
(Japan, 2011)

I have seen many films about filmmaking this year and a number of them have been standouts, including Cut (Japan, 2011) and This Is Not a Film (Iran, 2011).  Now I have another film to add to that list: The Woodsman and the Rain, from director Okita Shuichi, which is a testament to the thrill of creation.  As some people noted following last night’s screening, it is very ‘Japanese’.  This is mainly in reference to its dry sense of humour, which is full of mordant wit but it is also charming and welcoming, leading to an irresistible mix.

A taciturn woodsman in rural Japan has been a widow for nearly two years and lives with his recalcitrant son.  His fixed routine is shaken with the arrival of a film crew to his town.  The production underway is a zombie film, directed by a hoodie-wearing and diffident 25-year-old who seems to be in over his head.  The film chronicles how these very different characters begin to bond and slowly reawaken dormant pleasures, passions and creativity within them.

The pacing of the film is deliberate and by some accounts a little slow but I felt it suited the temperament well and accented the comedy.  Whereas Cut was a dark love letter to the medium which is framed in the context of the cinema’s greatest works of art, The Woodsman and the Rain is less concerned with artistic mastery than the sheer pleasure of filmmaking and swell of passion that enables it.  Shuichi’s characters do not visit the graves of Kurosawa, Mizoguchi and Ozu, instead, they are making a zombie B-movie and they seem all the better for it.

My Secret Partner
(South Korea, 2011)

I had a chance to see this before the festival and I must say that I was surprised to see it programmed.  One of the main qualifying factors for a film’s presentation at the FEFF is it popularity in its domestic market as the festival is a showcase for ‘Popular Asian Cinema’.  My Secret Partner (aka Perfect Partner) does not warrant that distinction.  In fact it was a flop, attracting less than 100,000 viewers at the time of its release.  So one would be forgiven for thinking that, since it was not a commercial hit, it must have been a critical one.  Once again this is not the case as the feature was mostly derided when it hit screens and then promptly forgotten.

I’m sure you can see what I’m hinting at: yes, it’s a bad film.  I had low expectations but was hoping for a surprise and though it gets off to a decent start, it begins to fade rather quickly.  The main problem is that it is a thin premise, furthermore it isn’t mined very well.  Compounding this is the film’s 125 minute running time, which, in the back stretch, feels like an eternity.

My Secret Partner aspires to be a relevant erotic romance but it’s lacks any real weight and its punchline, is never a mystery and it elicits little more than a shoulder shrug when it finally arrives.  And what does it say?  Not a blessed thing, which, in itself, is telling of the film.  Park Heon-soo’s film seems like it might have a purpose early on but any such hope evaporates by the halfway point.  By that time, it just becomes a chore.

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