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April 25, 2014

Far East Film Festival - Day One

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Unbeatable poster

First discovery, Teatro Nuovo is really a fairly close and easy walk from my hotel. Second, they serve very reasonable priced snacks there including bottled water and coffee. It was a bit more of a challenge to find where my reserved seat was, although it will be the same for the run of the festival. Unlike some of the past Far East Film Festivals, this one will be held entirely at Teatro Nuovo.

Hopefully that chronicler of Pinoy cinema, and virtual friend, Noel Vera, will forgive me for skipping out on an opportunity to see a restored version of Lino Brocka's Manilla in the Claws of the Night.

My first film of three today was Dante Lam's Unbeatable. I figured that with two films by Lam at this year's festival, I should at least see the one with Nick Cheung's performance that beat out Tony Leung (for The Grandmaster, for the recent Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Actor. Maybe not intentional, but the story line is something of a contemporary spin on King Vidor's The Champ, the film that won Wallace Beery his Oscar. Little Crystal Lee is the precocious young girl, and fortunately nowhere near as annoying as Jackie Cooper as Beery's son. I'm not sure what Lam intended with several of the dramatic moments taking place in the rain. There is also the use of the Simon and Garfunkel song, "Sounds of Silence" made odder by the often thundering soundtrack.

Cheung plays a washed up boxer whose career ended when he threw a fight. Now adrift in Macau, an old friend gets him a job at a gym leading housewives in exercises. Cheung is persuaded by the inexperienced Eddie Peng to train him for a Mix Msrtial Arts match where the winner gets a large purse, and the losers get a bruised ego as the least of their injuries. Cheung rents a room in the apartment of Miss Lee, who is tending after her very mentally unstable mother. While the domestic drama is the stuff that only happens in the movies, the fighting is realistic enough so that there is no underdog "going the distance". The big winner here is sentiment. Lam does provide a knowing wink at the homoerotic aspect of male contact sports.

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Aberdeen poster

Pang Ho -Cheung's Aberdeen was the official kick-off film for this year's festival. While retaining some of Pang's satirical edge, this is a mostly dramatic look at a Hong Kong family, in which acceptance of others is tied in with self acceptance. For a film partially financed by one of the major mainland Chinese studios, H. Brothers, there are still a few moments given to sex and nudity, in addition to a story that is specifically related to life in Hong Kong. Visually, Hong Kong is sometimes seen as a fantasy city in phosphorescent colors, with a highway sign for "all directions" as a recurring motif.

Pang's absurdist humor is presented with a mysterious cell phone that has "The Funeral March of the Marionettes", known better as the theme to Alfred Hitchcock's television anthology, as a ring tone, and discussions on the effect of eating noodles in creating wrinkles around the lips. Pang also takes a pointed look at sexism in the film industry, and convention notions of female beauty.

My favorite subplot involves the daughter of Louis Koo and Gigi Leung, a young girl with a pet lizard. There is an amusing bit where the daughter dreams of seeing her lizard reincarnated as a Japanese kaiju monster looking to return to the sea. Later, the lizard is imagined to be reincarnated as a very real beached whale that has lost its bearings. The whale provides a metaphor for the family members, each in their own way uncertain about their respective sense of direction.

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Miyuki Oshima and Yoshiyoshi Arakawa in Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats

In the past few years, Far East Film Festival founders (pardon the alliteration) Sabrina Baracetti and Thomas Bertacche have gone from presenting Asian films, to founding a distribution company, Tucker Films, that has commercially brought several major Asian films to Italian theaters in addition to home video. That venture has been successful enough that Tucker Films was one of several European partners, along with England's Third Window Films, to produce the Japanese Fuku-Chan of Fukufuku Flats.

Fujita Yosuke's good natured comedy first is centered on a group of young men in their early thirties, two of them working as building painters, and all of them with limited prospects. Fukuda is a shy guy who would rather hang out at home rather than step out socially with his boisterous and earthy friend Shimmachi. The two guys are on the stocky side, yet nothing seems to get in Shmmachi's way, least of all his penchant for crude humor. Things change when Chiro reappears in Fukuda's life. As a junior high school student, Chiro was instrumental in a traumatic event that made Fukuda distrustful of women.

Yosuke took the unusual step of casting a female, Miyuki Oshima, as Fuku-chan. With her close cropped hair, most western audiences would easily not realize that the title role was taken by a woman. The reunion of Chiro and Fuku-chan, initially a way for Chiro to lighten her karmic load, takes an unexpected turn when the heavy set man becomes an unlikely muse for the would-be photographer. Along the way, Yosuke takes some potshots at the more pretentious aspects of Japan's art scene.

Posted by peter at April 25, 2014 07:08 PM