Saturday, May 29, 2004

Brussels Fantasy Film Festival 2004

The run-down from best to worst at this years festival....


The best Korean film I've ever seen. Starting off as a light-hearted comedy about an alien conspiracist who kidnaps a guy he believes is preparing an extraterrestrial invasion, switching to dark psycho-thriller when the motivation of the kidnapper comes under question, then switching to detective movie and horror movie, before throwing it all away for a deranged sci-fi action conclusion, Jun-Hwan Jang's debut film defies conventions at every turn. It manages to successfully blend elements from THE X-FILES, MISERY, MARS ATTACKS, 2001, even THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Great performances, great effects, and a killer gag at the end that will leave you chuckling for weeks.

GOZU (Japan) *****

The real deal. Forget imitators like BIG SLAUGHTER CLUB, GOZU deservedly enters the "premier league" of Takashi Miike movies, as good as ICHI THE KILLER, VISITOR Q, DEAD OR ALIVE or AUDITION. An ultra-sick, ultra-funny, ultra-twisted horror/mystery/road movie about a yakuza searching for a vanished corpse and encountering all manner of oddballs along the way. Takashi Miike is the only film-maker in the world right now who is able to still surprise audiences. Only Miike could get away with an opening scene where a dog is identified as "anti-yakuza" and subsequently smashed repeatedly to death against a shop window. And only Miike could dream up that incredible climax. Warning: genius at work.

UNDEAD (Australia) ****

Peter Jackons's BRAINDEAD/DEALIVE is still the greatest zombie comedy ever made. But UNDEAD comes a damn close second! A meteorite shower turns the inhabitants of a quiet Australian town into flesh-eating monsters, the few remaining humans are trapped in a house... The gore effects are excellent, the pace is fast & frenetic, the gags are amusing. With the choice of way-out weaponry and the supremely silly dialogue, its clear that this is a film made by fans for fans. The Spierigs realise they could never match BRAINDEAD's gore-fest finale, so they manage to subvert expectations by swerving into sci-fi mystery mode for the final reel, but still manage to keep it compelling despite the shift in gear, and never give away its low budget origins.

NOTHING (Canada) ****

2 losers harassed by the police, employees, neighbours, estate agents wish the outside world would just disappear. And it does. All that is left is their house: everything else is just an endless white expanse (that "feels like tofu"). Vincenzo Natali has proved before he works very well with these kinds of "high-concepts": like CUBE, he sets up a crazy world with its own rules without any explanation, throws some people into it, and lets them figure out what the hell is going on. Unlike CUBE, NOTHING is played for laughs, and it works! Its frequently laugh-out-loud funny, there is some hilarious dialogue ("we can't be dead, we have cable"), some great visual gags (the bouncing heads), and 2 great performances from the leads, David Hewlett and Andrew Miller.

SKYHIGH (Japan) ***

Ryuhei Kitamura's latest is a manga adaptation with Yumiko Shaku (PRINCESS BLADE) caught up in a life-after-death battle with a mad geneticist collecting human hearts, and his sword-fighting female assistant. Kitamura is an undisputed master of cool sword fights: the super-slick poses and stylised dance-like choreography are pure cinema. And there is plenty on show here, even though the plotting and clumsy expositional dialogue let him down, as they did in VERSUS. Its no coincidence that ARAGAMI is his best film: it disposed of story altogether. Still, those swordfights, and that beautiful evil battling babe, easily save the movie.

AZUMI (Japan) ***

Described by Kitamura as a "rock-n-roll samurai movie", in fact its a surprisingly restrained piece, respecting the chambara tradition, with its slow, deliberate pace and occasional outbursts of extreme violence, Takeshi Kitano's ZATOICHI also follows this pattern, but here the results are a bit more populist, with more fight scenes, more comedy, and less dancing! But its still not a typical Kitamura movie: VERSUS fans would probably do better with SKYHIGH. Aya Ueto is both cute and convincing as the samurai assassin on a deadly mission. As for Kitamura, With a new GODZILLA movie in the works, a re-worked ULTIMATE VERSUS, and a move to Hollywood in progress, it will be interesting to see how his career progresses from here.

THE BEYOND (Italy) ***

A Lucio Fulci "classic" from 1981, part of this year's BIFFF zombie retrospective, about a hotel that is built on top of one the 7 gateways to Hell. Truly disgusting gore. One really nasty spider attack. A storyline that falls apart at the slightest analysis. Hilarious and terrible dialogue. Stupid idiots who continue to waste bullets shooting zombies in the chest, despite all the evidence indicating only head-shots work. Stupid idiots who continue to waste bullets shooting zombies in the chest when it would be easier to just walk past them. Sorry, thinking too much. This is horror Italian-style. Don't think, just feel.


How do you top the superb original? You don't try. The Fukasakus turn their attention from the issue of troubled teenagers and generation gaps to the "war on terror". It kicks off in fine style with Riki Takeuchi (DEAD OR ALIVE) doing a great deranged turn as the new teacher putting the school kids through hell. Their mission: not to kill each other, but to kill the survivor from the original movie, who has become some kind of romanticized Osama Bin Laden style terrorist leader. The blackly comic violence of the original is substituted with SAVING PRIVATE RYAN style mass slaughter, interspersed with long thoughtful sequences where not a lot happens. Problem is these thoughtful bits become more and more prevalent, slowing the film to snail's pace by its conclusion. Still, any film with such a direct, controversial viewpoint on the post-9/11 situation is a must-see.


HK teen idols Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung hit the big screen in a kungfu-romcom vampire movie. Sadly these vampires are the European variety, no hopping MR VAMPIRE "geung-si" in sight. Instead we get lots of HK star cameos: Ekin Cheng, Josie Ho, Anthony Wong, Karen Mok, even Jackie Chan all make an appearance. The tongue-in-cheek approach, charisma of the 2 teen leads, and exciting choreography of the Donnie-Yen directed wire-fu fight scenes, carry the film in spite of the more pedestrian romantic stuff, the derivate BUFFY-style plot and overly MTV-ish visuals.


The "evil twin" concept has been done to death, so director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (CURE) interestingly opts to make it only the background of his story of an engineer trying to perfect his mind-controlled wheelchair with help and hindrance from his more uninhibited other self. The slow pace and low budget is wearying at first, but it picks up later on when it realises its actually a comedy! People getting hit by trucks, running away from small balls, absurd sight gags like these make it all worthwhile.


Takashi Miike finally receives the ultimate honour: a film that can be described as "Miike-esque"! The obvious influence on this comic horror movie (from the screenwriter of DOA3), about some schoolgirl prostitutes who are terrorized by a guy they killed and buried in the woods (Kenichi Endo), are Miike's sick digital movie VISITOR Q, but the off-beat feel that runs through all of Miike's works, especially HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS, is also present. We also have clumsy parodies of EVIL DEAD, BRAINDEAD/DEADALIVE, BLAIR WITCH.... there is simply too many ingredients here, and director Hitoshi Ishikawa never quite pulls of Miike's trademark craziness, always trying too hard to be weird.

DEAD END RUN (Japan) *

Three short stories from Sogo Ishii, director of ELECTRIC DRAGON 80,000V, all ending with 2 people dead: a musical ghost story, a gangster shoot-out, and a rooftop hostage-situation starring Tadanobu Asano (ICHI THE KILLER). The first 2 are forgettable, the 3rd is amusing enough for its short running time. Hard to see what all the fuss is about.


A silent factory worker loses his job, and starts to walk home. Along the way, he stumbles into one bizarre situation after another, some funny, some poignant, some ridiculous. I was expecting a lot from Sabu's latest film, His previous DRIVE was one of the highlights at last year's festival. Unfortunately it seems Sabu has gone out of his way to be different this time round and the results are not good. Where DRIVE had energy, warmth, humour and a decent narrative, THE BLESSING BELL is achingly slow, a lot of the gags are just not that funny, and there is no real point to it all.


"Hey, I've just been to Uzbekistan and found lots of places that would make a great post-apocalypse location shoot! Lets do it!" A film that seemingly exists just to show off the geography, and has no story of interest (2 people escape from a train wreck in tunnel, on reaching the surface they discover the world is ended, nobody knows why, there are a few survivors struggling for existence etc etc), and no characters of interest (a couple of dull teenagers, a sprinkling of nutcases, only some twins who have been operated on to have their fear removed spark any interest). Its hard to believe this is based on a manga: who would read such a dull comic? Nothing happens: at the end, it feels like it was just a feature-length first episode of a mini-series. So what about this geography? Well, yes, its definitely desolate, colourless, cold, post-apocalyptic. But 2 hours of looking at people stumbling through it? No thanks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi. Found your blog while looking for IF Com 2006 reviews.

I also found this: "spending time with white american college kids is unappealing at the best of times".

That sounds like a racist remark to me.