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May 02, 2014

Far East Film Festival - Day Eight

einstein and einstein.jpg

There's some kind of continuity at work when Chinese director Cao Baoping follows The Equation of Love and Death with a film titled Einstein and Einstein. And Cao's newest film is certainly set up for jokes about the theory of relativity in that the film is about relatives, the junior high school girl, Wan, and her family. Except that Einstein is that name of her dog, a ginger cocker spaniel, actually two dogs, and some of the common dog metaphors aren't difficult to identify.

Very much at the heart of all this is 16 year old Sophie Zhang as Wan. And Wan is not too different from any other teenage girl, something of an underachiever who's never really certain about the rewards for fulfilling her potential, ambivalent about her future. Wan lives with her grandparents. Wan's career centered father makes has a history of unkept promises to Wan, while keeping secret that he's the father of a baby son. One might make the case that this is almost the equivalent to Rebel without a Cause.

The film was shot in central China, the home of screenwriter Mia Jiao, in the city of Xi'an. There is one scene with a group of businessmen trading classic Chinese aphorisms. Cao and Jiao are smart enough to avoid cliches as Wan learns to make peace with her family and herself.

Bilocation poster

Not making peace with themselves are the characters in Bilocation. Mari Asato continues with the horror genre, although this is more psychological horror than her more graphic earlier films. While some of the effects were done through editing tricks, it also appears that Asato had a bigger budget to work with. I'm not sure if the source novel by Haruka Hojo would make any more sense, but the story is about doppelgangers, twins that manifest from a small group of internally convicted individuals. Not only do these doubles look the same, but the "originals" and the doubles sometimes get confused about their own identities.

What worked quite nicely is when the artist Shinobu first meets her new gift bearing neighbor, Masaru, it appears that the young man is clumsy, accidentally dropping the gift box in the rain puddle that seems always to be in front of Shinobu's door. The next scene indicates that the two are now married,and Masaru accidentally knocks over a glass of milk. It is only when we see Masaru leaving with his white cane that the viewer realized that he is blind. The painting Shinobu is working on, a view outside her window, also becomes the subject of an unexpected plot twist. The film manages to remain reasonable intriguing even if making any kind of sense out of the plot might be an exercise in futility.

The Face Reader poster

Kim Hye-su, one of my favorite Korean actresses, was my primary reason for seeing The Face Reader (Gwansang). And she's the lure for the title character, as the madame of the largest courtesan house, opening her shirt a bit, showing off her legs. Lately, it's been the Korean costume films that have been of interest both with the various plottings in the royal court and opportunities for some boisterous humor. The story does have have historical elements as well, taking place in 15th century Korea. The face reader, Nae-kyung does follow the courtesan against is better judgment where his reputation eventually gets him involved with the royal family, and a prince who will do what he can to gain the throne of Joseon.

The film might be best described as a story about a man who can observe the futures of others by looking at their faces, but misses seeing his own fate. One very funny scene has the Nae-kyung, disguised as a doctor, performing surgery to make the prince have what are suppose to be the facial markings of a traitor. Things do end badly for almost everyone, with Nae-kyung contemplating his short time in the court with the much longer play of history.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 2, 2014 04:05 PM