VANCOUVER FILM FESTIVAL 2009 – WRAP
GATEWAY FOR ASIAN CINEMA
The Vancouver Film Festival, a significant gateway of Asian cinema to the West,
also showcases award winning films from other festivals – and it serves the
festival well, reports Geoff Gardner.
The South Korean film Eighteen directed by debutante Jang Kun-jae has won the
Vancouver International Film Festival Dragons & Tigers Award for 2009. The film
is a powerful, authentically felt and exact story of teen love going off the
rails and getting way out of hand. Focussing on high school seniors Mi-Jeong
(Lee Min-Ji) and Tae-Hoon (Seo Jun-Yeong) who take off for the weekend and then
come back to face the wrath of their parents, the film follows the liaison as it
flowers, falters and then spins out of control as heavy pressure is exerted to
end it and for the kids to conform to Korean mores and study, study, study.
Tae-Hoon is an unhappy and rebellious kid; he bolts from home and tries to
contain his continuing fury as he gets a job as a delivery boy for a Chinese
restaurant. The resolution is downbeat but the eventual conformity rings true.
"with considerable command of his narrative"
The jury admired the film for its structure and direction, both assured,
suggesting a young director with considerable command of his narrative. Hard to
disagree with that. Jang joins distinguished company. Previous winners include
Hirokazu Kore-eda, Lee Chang-Dong and Jia Zhangke, now established figures in
modern Asian film-making.
An honourable mention went to the Bakal Boys, the directing debut of Ralston
Jover, known until now as a scriptwriter for Filipino wunderkind Brillante
Mendoza though I thought that the other really meritorious work was Sasaki
Omoi’s Left Out, an enigmatic off-kilter romance involving a team of junk
collectors, the mysterious woman who joins the group and a flamboyant gangster.
It was in some ways reminiscent of the more contemplative side of Kitano Takeshi
and his early work like A Scene at the Sea. Silence and looks create sub-texts
and understated desire fills in the background.
Strangely Sasaki tried to be dismissive about the film, an odd look for a
director trying to pursue a commercial career and especially so as many were
quite impressed with what the film achieves.
Elsewhere in the remaining thirty plus films that constituted the East Asian
selection big and appreciative crowds streamed in for selections ranging from
Sai Yoichi’s eye-popping ninja movie adaptation of the popular manga Kamui to
Pema Tseden’s Kiarostami-like, The Search. Shifting the action to Tibet’s
backblocks but otherwise following the same trajectory as the master’s Through
the Olive Trees, Tseden’s gently lyrical work about a director searching high
and low for the cast of a forthcoming film took us through village life,
colourful communities and much reticence.
"the sex toy who comes to life"
Another master Hirokazu Kore-eda has recut his Cannes entrant Air Doll and
observers thought that the film stood up better shorn of ten minutes or so. The
ravishing Korean actress Bae Doo-Na who plays the sex toy who comes to life, and
leads an independent life of her own when her master isn’t looking, provides a
couple of positive new developments for the director, notably a gentle sense of
humour and some quite erotic moments. Lee Hey-Jun’s Castaway on the Moon should
also be noted as the funny first solo effort of the director after his job
co-directing the wonderful gay comedy Like a Virgin.
Most of these directors and films don’t or won’t get on the local radar but they
do fulfil VIFF’s self-imposed mandate as one of the key portals out of Asia and
into the west. It would be nice to say expect to hear more but further
circulation remains unreliable.
Otherwise let me mention just one other movie that seemingly came out of nowhere
thanks to VIFF’s smart program strand of films which have won awards at other
festivals. (Cedar Boys was selected to screen at VIFF after it won the Audience
Award at the Sydney Film Festival.)
"the best and smartest private eye/crime/war/love
story/thriller/comedy made "
Vinko Bresan’s Croatian/Serbian film Will Not Stop There (Nije Kraj) won
prizes at Karlovy Vary and at Pula before screening at Vancouver and it proved
to be just about the best and smartest private eye/crime/war/love
story/thriller/comedy made since, well, since Jean-Luc Godard started gleefully
mixing up the genres. An investigator rescues a prostitute porn actress (the
delectable Nada Sargin) from her drunken, drug-addled fate. He’s assisted by a
generously endowed Gypsy porn star whose wife thinks he’s a professional
musician. The film delves back into Serbo Croat hostilities in a way worthy of
Ross Macdonald or maybe even Chandler himself might have used such material.
It’s directed with complete assurance by Bresan and that makes you wonder
whether we should have been paying far more attention to the work of a director
who has now made four movies over the last decade all of which may have got
under the radar of all but the SBS scheduler. We’ll have to check.
Published October 15, 2009
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Eighteen – big winner
Will Not Stop There – an award winner from Karlovy Vary; “the best and smartest
private eye/crime/war/love story/thriller/comedy made since, well, since