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May 01, 2014

Far East Film Festival - Day Six

very ordinary couple.jpg

Like opening night, three film in a row during the late afternoon, past Midnight. But first, a few minutes with French freelance photographer/documentarian Fred Ambroisine, who is in Udine doing coverage of the festival. Fred is also working on a project of video greetings for Hong Kong star Gordon Liu. Most people may be familiar with Liu from his appearance in both Kill Bill films, if not the classic Shaw Brothers martial arts films like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Liu has had a stroke which explains why this action star has more recently been seen acting from a chair, as in Kill 'Em All. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in Fred's project.

First up for viewing was the debut film by Korean Roh Deok, Very Ordinary Couple (Yeonaeui Wondo). Putting this on-again, off-again, on-again couple on a very twisty roller coaster ride is probably too obvious a visual metaphor for this young couple. There may be some who will view the relationship between Young and Dong-hee as a cautionary tale about co-workers in love. It is, for the most part, a very likable film. The Korean title translates as "Temperature of Love".

Roh has her couple speak directly to the camera about how they view their relationship, as well as alternating parallel situations that the two find themselves in. Attempts to be civil disintegrate quickly, when Dong-hee gets his destroyed laptop returned in a collect shipment. The comic high point would be watching Young and Dong-hee takings steps to subvert each other at work. Nothing is secret at the bank where they both work, neither about themselves or anyone else, with havoc spilling over to their coworkers at a special employees retreat. The two try their best for a reconciliation after wandering away from the hotel where they have disrupted the team building activities. It's a relatively modest first film, and as such, should be enjoyed on those terms.


Far more ambitious is Derek Kwok's film about firefighters, As the Light Goes Out (Gow for ting hung). Things do get a bit stacked when you have an abandoned warehouse that should have been dismantled decades ago, close to the gas pipeline that helps keep Hong Kong functioning, which is barely a hop, skip and a jump from the power station where the son of one of the firefighters is lost. There are also old and new rivalries between old and new firemen. A monsoon is coming. And it's Christmas Eve.

What really makes this different from something like Backdraft is that it is based on the premise that it is the smoke, not the fire, that is the most dangerous part of firefighting. While Kwok goes about too heavily into the hallucinatory effects of smoke, where the film is best is in depicting the uncertain sense of space when trying to find your way through a thick, black cloud.

snow white murder case.jpg

Best of the evening was The Snow White Murder Case (Shirayuki hime satsujin liken). This is a murder mystery for the Twitter era. Not having read the novel by Minato Kanae, I don't know how much of the film owes to the source novel, or where to credit director Yoshihiro Nakamura or screenplay writer Tamio Hayashi. The film begins with the discovery in a national park of the charred corpse of a woman, stabbed multiple times before being burned. A youngish reporter, essentially a slacker who seems to have drifted in to television news is contacted by a female acquaintance who worked with the victim, and is pretty certain about the identity of the murderer. The reporter, who mostly kills time with quickie reviews of ramen joints in Twitter, interviews his friend as well as others who knew the victim and the alleged killer, both employees at a company that makes "Snow White" soap. The reporter has a very tenuous grasp on the concept of confidentiality and lets loose with various clues on Twitter, while the tabloid news show he works for takes his footage at face value.

What we see are various incidences replayed from two or more points of view. Sometimes the changes are minor, though there are sometimes huge differences in details. What makes the film fascinating is that part of its structure resembles that of the French novelists like Duras and Robbe-Grillet in which there is no objective history but only the way people recall specific events, but done within a recognizable genre framework. The Twitter messages are like an ongoing Greek chorus of people ready to make certain judgement behind their respective pseudonyms. There are also subplots involving a classical music trio of young men who look like members of Asia's ubiquitous boy bands, and two young girls who bond over the book, Anne of Green Gables. A very clever film, and one of my favorites of this festival, so far.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 1, 2014 02:34 AM