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April 29, 2014

Far East Film Festival - Day Five


Somehow I must have gotten sleep even though all I can remember is being kept awake by the sound of my own wheezing. My cold is abating with the help of lots of orange juice which fortunately for me is one of the beverage offerings at Teatro Nuovo. Anyways, I woke up in plenty of time to see a couple of morning screenings.

From the title, Personal Tailor (Si ren ding ahi) might seem like it's about clothing. The tailoring in this case is about a quartet who fashion fantasies for their clients, personifying the the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for, you might get it." Among the day long fantasies are a chauffeur who thinks that if he's in a position of power, he would not be corrupt, unlike the men he has served, and a poor woman who is given the opportunity to play at being part of Beijing's nouveau riche. There is also the film director who has won scores of awards for his "vulgar" blockbuster movies, looking to get some high culture in his life, and make an art film.

Feng Xiaogang is better known for his serious epics like Aftershock and Back to 1942. I prefer the lighter works like If You are the One and A World without Thieves. While the lessons to be learned by the characters may not be revelatory, Feng has a way of consistently being affectionate about his characters, as much because, rather than in spite of, their foibles. I have to admit that the introductory fantasy, taking place in World War II, was a bit off-putting seeing Chinese actors dressed as Nazis. Some critics have also expressed discomfort at the final piece, where the quartet apologizes to nature for various forms of environmental damage. Even if Feng might not offer any immediate solution, he is clear-eyed enough to not let his audience off the hook. Through Feng's frequent star, Ge You, the question is raised on what anyone would really be willing to give up to make life better for others.

campus confidential poster.jpg

Far lighter is College Confidential (Ai qing wu quan shun), more or less the Taiwanese version of Revenge of the Nerds. The campus queen and the college's biggest geek come together when the campus lake mysteriously is drained and the two bump into each in the mud. Legend has it that two people who might not otherwise come together will be together for life. For all of her efforts, Kiki seems to be unable to be free of the ironically named Lucky Wu, before discovering that there is more than just what meets her eye.

For me, one of the signs of a truly good comic actress is to not be afraid of looking foolish onscreen in scenes that would be very embarrassing in real life. As Kiki. Chen Yi-han is up to that task in the film's several slapstick moments, such as walking through campus with her head glued against that of Chen Bo-lin as Lucky. Director Lai Chun-yu also knows how to be simply, and effectively, poignant with a single shot. Lucky and Kiki search for a special hammer that when striking a bell on campus, will allow the two to go their separate ways. The hammer is found. Lai frames the shot so that we see Lucky in the foreground, with the knowledge that his relationship, such as it is, with Kiki, is about to end, while Kiki is seen in the background triumphantly running up a hill. As I've written before, sometimes all it takes to make a movie worth watching is that one shot where everything about it is right.

The Journey.jpg

Then again, not always. The one moment I really liked in the Malaysian film, The Journey was when the college aged Bee takes a black marker and draws a picture of her father and her fiancé riding on a motorbike. We see the drawing against the suspended electrical lines by the highway making for a very simple animated image. The Chinese Malaysian Bee in engaged to the British Benji. Bee's father, Chuan, has it in mind that he's going to personally invite classmates from fifty years ago to the wedding, and Benji drives Chuan through several scenic locations. The film is more interesting in its presentation Malaysia as a mix of Chinese and ethnic Malay cultures, and the old folks are certainly more fun to see than the soon to be wed couple.

Even though Benji learns a bit about Malaysian and Chinese culture, he's only a bit less of the insufferable twit that he was at the beginning of the film. The film is held together by Frankie Lee as Chuan, insistent on having a traditional wedding feast for his daughter in the face of a changing Malaysia that he doesn't recognize. The film by the singularly named Chiu, was released last January and has already set the record as the most financially successful local production. The one part that did strike me personally was when the actor playing Benji, Australian Ben Pfeifer, attempts to speak several Malay and Chinese words. My similar experience was with Thai, where on some of the few words I spoke, I could never get the intonation quite right.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 29, 2014 07:44 AM