BY MICHAEL FRAIMAN
Also check out our BIFF FESTIVAL GUIDE.
BIFF Overview: Movies Worth Keeping Your Eye On
One must be superficial when choosing what movies to see at a festival. It sounds harsh, but aside from the name and maybe a trailer on YouTube, there’s very little to effectively distinguish one film from 306 others. I recommend instinct— take a look at the program and find something you like. Failing that, just take my word for it and pick one of these.
THE HOST IN 3D
The Host, one of the most famous South Korean films (AKA film nerds in North America have seen it), is a politically-charged sci-fi monster movie by Jong Boon-Ho, whose entire body of work I have seen and can qualitatively state is near-fucking-flawless. The Host wasn’t made in 3D, but the producers seem pretty excited about the translation. And by “pretty excited” I mean they admit that it’s kind of dumb. From the BIFF website: “On the downside, some of the graphics are hard on the eyes, and the focus is inconsistent. But on the upside are a fast-paced plot and spatial elements of the Han River that merit 3D effects.” Points for honesty, guys. It’s still an awesome flick.
This is the latest from Luc Besson, the dude who gave Natalie Portman her big break at age 12 in Leon the Professional way back in 1994, and then nailed sci-fi action with The Fifth Element, then did a bunch of other French stuff and eventually Angel-A which was absolute pretentious shit. The Lady stars Michelle Yeoh as a woman at the forefront of the Burmese 8888 Uprising (a topic Wikipedia could tell you more about than I). Might be worth a shot if only because Besson himself will be floating around the festival to shed some interesting commentary on his work.
For anyone interested in Korean history, you might dig this latest film by Im Kwon-Taek, who has directed literally 100 films before Hanji. (This is his 101st.) It’s a fictional docu-drama about a people who try and restore Jeonju Sago, the annals of the Joseon Dynasty that were burned hundreds of years ago, using the traditional Hanji script. Director Im is effectively South Korea’s Robert Altman/Sergio Leone/Akira Kurosawa, a director who’s been making films since the 1960s, but whose style is so delicate and deliberate that it might be deemed too slow for anyone not immediately grabbed by the phrase “restoring traditional annals”.
This Egyptian film, fresh from praise and controversy at Cannes, is like if Paris, Je T’Aime or New York, I Love You were radically political and actually apropos of something. 18 Days is the result of collaboration between dozens of different filmmakers, actors and writers who compiled 10 short films about Egypt’s political uprising earlier this year. Based purely on the history of the “collaborative filmic smorgasbords” genre, odds are you’ll love some of the shorts and be bored to tears by others, but the intense timeliness of its topic gives the movie a certain attraction.
INDIE 3D: A FISH / PERSIMMON
These two low-budget 3D Korean indie films are being screened separately, but I am cramming them into one paragraph because they both fall under the genre “low-budget 3D Korean indie films”, which is a genre I flatly did not know existed. A Fish is Park-Hong Min’s directorial debut, about a professor who hires a private detective to search for his former wife-turned-shaman. Persimmon, meanwhile, takes place entirely within a rural town’s public toilet, and tells individuals’ stories with allegedly good use of its 3D effects. I’m sold on both.
YOYOCHU IN THE LAND OF THE RISING SEX
A documentary on Japan’s porn industry. Yep.
THIS IS NOT A FILM
This is a documentary and essentially one-man-show featuring acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who is currently serving a six-year house arrest sentence and 20-year filmmaking ban in Iran for alleged political and social subversion. (He denies all charges.) Because he cannot legally make a movie, his moviemaking friend, Mojtaba Mirtahasebi, showed up to his apartment and filmed what he does in an average day. General response from Cannes: “You think it’ll be boring, but it’s actually really interesting.”
A politically charged action movie directed by director Hong Juhn-Jae (Beautiful) and writer Kim Ki-Duk (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring). Poongsan deals with a smuggler who runs across the North/South Korean border to deliver a North Korean woman to Seoul, but gets caught up in gun fights and Mexican stand-offs along the way. Stylistically similar to 2010’s The Man From Nowhere and those other movies where badass loner Korean killers get mixed up in politics they’d rather avoid.
RYANG-KANG-DO: MERRY CHRISTMAS, NORTH!
There isn’t a lot written about this film, but the premise is immediately intriguing for anything with any interest in North Korea. It is a fictional series of snapshots showcasing children in a small North Korean village, with purportedly amazing child actors. It’s director Kim Sung-hoon’s debut feature, but he’s worked as assistant director to Kim Ki-Duk (one of the festival’s key guests), so he can’t be that bad.
CHINESE ACTION CINEMA: THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE / LET THE BULLETS FLY / THE SWORD IDENTITY
There are a few Chinese/Hong Kong action movies to watch out for, but these three get points for being wildly different in style and direction. The Sorcerer and the White Snake is a magical CGI romp filled with dragons and tsunamis and Jet Li; Let the Bullets Fly is the latest Chow Yun-Fat flick, a slower-paced, more brooding sort of violent landscape that takes place around the turn of the century; and The Sword Identity is a debut effort by a film scholar and novelist, taking a decidedly more philosophical approach. Take your pick.
KIM KI-DUK: ON THE FRONT LINE OF KOREAN GENRE FILMS (A RETROSPECTIVE)
This year’s retrospective will be on director Kim Ki-Duk (the 1934-born filmmaker, not the 3-Iron director mentioned above), featuring eight highly different genre films, including Buy My Fist (1966), a classic boxer-comeback story; Monster Yonggari (1967), a Godzilla-style monster movie; and his most influential work, the post-war The North and the South (1965).
There are literally hundreds more—including a Vietnamese gay prostitute love story, Terrence Mallick’s recent hit The Tree of Life and an Estonian adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot—but we’ll leave the list alone here because you can figure things out for yourself. Worst comes to worst, choose one at random and see what happens. For six bucks, the worst that happens is you’re bored for an hour