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May 02, 2014

Far East Film Festival - Day Seven

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I started the day by attending the "FEFF Talk" for Thursday, a brief roundtable with four newer directors - Roh Deok, Chiu, Derek Kwok and Panjong Pisanthanakun. Spoke a bit with Panjong afterwards about Alone, and my experience of getting contacted by the "godfather" of Hollywood remakes of Asian movies, Roy Lee, about that film, and how the bottom fell out on the "Asian Extreme" market at almost that same time. I also got to be Darcy Pacquet of Koreanfilm.org., who I once wrote to back when there was a special showing of Korean films at the Starz Denver Film Festival in 2011.

Panjong's Pee Mak was the only Thai film to be shown in Udine. It also has been a critical hit, as well as the most financially successful Thai film ever made. I wish I liked it better. The basic story is of a soldier, Mak, in some past 19th century war who leaves his pregnant wife, Nak, and comes home. Mak is the last one to figure out that his wife and child are dead and that he's been living with ghosts. What may be considered the best film version was made by Nonzee Nimibutr in 1999. There have been a few more versions since, including one in 3D.

Panjong begins with the original premise but has created a more comic version, aiming towards a youthful audience with popular star Mario Maurer. Even though the film takes place in an unclearly defined past, there are relatively contemporary references to Rocky and Ang Lee. Those unfamiliar with Thai films might be taken aback by some of the humor which is hardly politically correct. There are also sight gags making fun of some of the conventions from Thai horror movies, such as the upside down hanging ghost and the arm that seems to extend infinitely. Goofiest of all is a scene at a carnival haunted house where those in costume are scared by the real ghost. Panjong is good in creating a creepy atmosphere, and could well have made a straight horror film if he wanted to. Too often though, the film depends on how funny it is to see grown men shrieking like little girls. Pee Mak starts off well enough but after a while was closer in spirit (pun intended) to something like Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein.

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The lure of Venus Talk (Gwanneungui Bubchik) was seeing my favorite Korean actress, Moon So-ri, on the big screen. The film is about three friends, women "of a certain age" trying to navigate their respective ways through satisfying relationships. Moon's character, a housewife who seems sexually demanding of her husband once again shows how fearless she is onscreen, including taking on the role of a woman a few years older than her actual age. The title literally translates as "The Laws of Pleasure".

Jo Min-su, better known as the mysterious "mother" in the Kim Ki-duk film, Pieta, turns a poignant performance as the coffee house owner who faces cancer. There is also Uhm Jung-hwa as a television executive, dealing with a relationship with a man in his Twenties. Uhm is considered the "Madonna" (the singer, not the religious icon) of Korea. At age Forty-four, she looks great. Venus Talk is entertaining, and touching at times, but I also starting to nod out . . .

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. . . and then I saw Boy Golden: Shoot to Kill. Director Chito Rono stated in his introduction to the audience that the film was his homage to Filipino action movies of the Seventies and Eighties. Be that as it may, it's a finely calibrated piece of work, and far better than anything I've seen from Cirio Santiago, probably the best known filmmaker of that time to get films released stateside. The story, which takes place in 1960, was inspired by real life criminal Arturo Porcuna.

This film is lovingly and unapologetically lurid and unsubtle. Everything is big, from the bloody gunfights to the displays of love and hate. In one of the many wonderful scenes, the showgirl on the run played by KC Concepcion gets into a no holds barred cat fight with a gangster's moll. The two tumble down a flight of stairs and into a casino. The moll tears open the top of Concepcion's shirts, stopping the fight long enough to let the men in the casino gawk at Concepcion's overly generous cleavage. The top billing goes to the seemingly unstoppable Eddie Garcia, still busy at age Eighty-five, and by busy, this includes a bit of lovey-dovey with Gloria Sevilla, just a few years younger. Sevilla may look like a grandmother in appearance, but a scene that brought spontaneous applause showed her character to be far from matronly. I do hope that Boy Golden will have the chance to shine on US screens.

Posted by peter at May 2, 2014 02:25 AM