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Lucky Chan-Sil

Asian Cinema, Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

A lingering example of the artistic narcissism at the heart of the cinematic artform is the habit filmmakers make of over-romanticising filmmaking; something noble in and of itself, born out of some nigh-on-divine necessity within the human spirit to create. While this can result in quite brilliant efforts (Stephen Chow’s The New King Of Comedy is an excellent recent example), which may omit the more melancholy aspects of the creative process – aspects that writer/director Kim Cho-hee digs deep into with Lucky Chan-Sil to unearth resonant gold.

The central performance of Gang Mal-geum as the titular Chan-sil, a film producer who finds herself without work after her close directorial collaborator suddenly dies, is one bursting with transitional malaise. The fear that all that time she spent devoted to her craft, rather than engaging with the other experiences life has to offer like love and family, has her in a fit of stasis that is heart-rending to see. And with auteur theory subtly playing into the reason why she is jobless in the first place, she serves as an alternative viewpoint of the industry.

From there, the way death and cinema wind around each other make for conversations and imagery that range from the smirk-worthy (Chun-sil arguing with her love interest about how he can possibly like Christopher Nolan more than Ozu Yasujirō), to the absurd (frequent visits from the ghost of Hong Kong actor and singer Leslie Cheung, played by Kim Young-min), to the immensely gratifying (Chun-sil giving the Internet some much needed advice in saying “Don’t judge someone on the movies they like”). And as framed by some very Ozu slice-of-life pacing, where the simplicity of the events ground the emotions within them, it emphasises that while art can enrich the spirit, relying on just film to do that can leave one feeling empty and unfulfilled.

As cinematic narrative, Lucky Chan-Sil exudes a respect for the artform, both on the local level as well as in context to cinema worldwide, but treats it with a fresh perspective that doesn’t fall entirely into the aforementioned romantic view of cinema and art in general; rather, it is naturalistic and without bombast, which may make-or-break it for some audiences.

But for those with the appetite for something slower and more meditative, interjected with moments where a ghost declares that “Ghosts don’t have menopause”, Lucky Chan-Sil serves as an interesting examination of the film industry and the creatives that dwell within it. And if lockdown continues to strip the industry bare, it also doubles as a commentary on questions that a lot of filmmakers and even filmgoers could be asking themselves soon.

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George Adams on The Forgotten Mysteries

Originally from Scotland, via the UK, the highly respected TV exec/producer/storyteller collaborates with actor Nadine Garner on a crime audiobook compilation that plays to both of their strengths. He explains here.
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Baseball Girl

Asian Cinema, Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Baseball Girl, the feature debut for writer/director/editor Choi Yun-tae, is a curveball within the larger spectrum of sports cinema. In depicting the story of aspiring baseball player Joo Soo-in (Lee Joo-young) and her determination to play for a professional team, it manages to both stay well within the all-too-familiar tropes of its genre, and yet approach those same tropes in a way few others even attempt.

As an example of gender politics through the wide, wide world of sports, seeing Joo Soo-in’s hardened passion for the sport and making it to the literal big leagues is quite bracing, anchored exquisitely by Lee’s quiet but laser-focused performance. It also benefits from the unusual pacing of the narrative around her, which relies less on adrenaline-fueled tautness and more on sombre contemplation. Only when the film reaches the hour mark are we even proffered with the chance to see Joo play an actual game, with focus on training and, more pointedly, getting someone else to give her the chance to even play.

The way it delves into the inspirational element is at once thorough and oddly cold. Using Joo as a springboard for a wider view of women’s treatment in various creative fields, the film aims for solidarity, with dialogue directed towards Joo incredulous that when she says she wants to play professional baseball, she actually wants to play.

Baseball Girl feels like an unfortunately compromised production, as the balancing of cool and quiet character study and inspiring athleticism ends up taking the bite out of both. There’s something commendable about it even attempting this tightrope walk in the first place, and Lee Joo-young carries a lot of the film’s slippery moments, but since it’ll likely turn out too downbeat for sports junkies, and trying too hard to channel Van Halen’s Jump for the long-haul crowd, it remains an admirable effort that is difficult to wholeheartedly recommend.

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Trailer: The Dry

Based on Jane Harper's popular mystery/thriller novel, Robert Connolly's film stars Eric Bana as a Fed, who returns to his rural town after the unexpected death of his childhood mate. Also stars Genevieve O'Reilly, Matt Nable, James Frecheville, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor and John Polson.
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Bring Me Home

Asian Cinema, Festival, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

Over a decade after personifying maternal will and rage in Park Chan-wook’s Lady Vengeance, Lee Young-ae makes a feature-length return with a different kind of vengeance. The contents of Kim Seung-woo’s directorial debut may not have the same morally-grey bloodthirst of Park’s iconic trilogy, but that doesn’t make it any less bleak or crushing.

Six years after her son went missing, Jung-yeon (Lee) hears of a child in an isolated Fishing Hamlet with an uncanny resemblance to the child she lost. Lee’s performance as this mother on a mission might be one of the most tragic character portraits of the year, merging psychological anguish with emotional deadness to give a brutal depiction of someone who has gone through the worst thing a parent can bear witness to, but still carries a small flame of hope that they may be reunited.

The Fishing Hamlet itself looks like something right out of Bloodborne, both as quite chilling locale and as geographic embodiment of the sin that has been inflicted within it.

Yu Jae-myeong as Sgt. Hong is nightmarish in his misanthropy, repeatedly shouting that he’s a cop like a verbal badge of authority, his vicious will-as-law that everyone else is either too complicit or too scared to argue against.

Jung-yeon getting repeatedly dragged through the murk to reunite with her son, and gaslit by Hong and the locals, creates an instinctive, guttural revulsion. Ditto for the way that the children are treated, where the casual physical and sexual abuse is shown with a mixture of heart-breaking clarity and a refreshing lack of graphic visual detail.

As brutal as the film gets, what truly makes it remarkable is that, much like its captivating lead, it acknowledges the darkness but refuses to let it take over. Throughout all the hardship, all the lying, all the intentional run-arounds, Jung-yeon never gives up; the filmmakers never let this entropy of empathy drown our heroine. It’s oppressively dark, but also hopeful.

Bring Me Home is a masterclass in why bleak storytelling so bloody necessary: By not pulling any punches in its depiction of cruelty, it allows those who fight against it to likewise not pull any punches in combating it.

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An Old Lady

Asian Cinema, Festival, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

Though a delicate film in terms of pace, colour and performances, An Old Lady manages to explore two sensitive topics – rape and elder abuse – and how they are perceived not just in Korea, but the wider global community.

Directed by Lim Sun-ae, the film follows Hyo-jeong (Ye Soo-jung, Train to Busan), a 69 year old woman currently receiving treatment following surgery. Tragically, during one of her sessions, she is raped by a nursing assistant, Joong-ho (Kim Jung-ki). Using a blank screen and audio, the audience is only ever privy to the lead up to the assault, but we are never left in any doubt. However, when Hyo-jeong tries to do the right thing and bring Joong-ho to justice, she is met with constant obstacles.

Starting when she doesn’t fill in the correct form at the police station, Hyo-jeong is treated with scepticism, with one detective even raising doubts that a young man would want to assault someone of her advanced age. This is just one of the many ways An Old Lady shows how the elderly can be treated as asexual non-entities, than the fully rounded human beings that they all are. While Hyo-jeong doesn’t seem to deny that she’s getting old, her assault brings all her fears into sharp relief. Her memory is picked apart by the police for not being as sharp as it once was, as if somehow she doesn’t really know what happened. Even armed with evidence, Hyo-jeong’s case is seemingly dismissed when Joong-ho spins a tale of consensual sex.

The only person who believes Hyo-jeong is her flatmate, Dong-in (Gi Ju-bong, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance), a bookseller whose youthful years are also behind him. With the police unable to prosecute Joong-ho, Dong-in takes it upon himself to crack the case and get justice for his friend. Whilst both leads give strong performances, the film’s biggest misstep seems to be in handing Hyo-jeong’s story over to her male friend. This isn’t his trauma and, at times, it feels like agency is being taken away from our female lead. Admittedly, it could be argued that this is a deliberate ploy by the film to show Dong-in throwing himself into the situation feet first without really understanding how best to support his friend.

Neither portraying Hyo-jeong as a weak-willed victim, nor an OAP with an inhuman ability to not let what’s happened phase her, An Old Lady is a distinctly human film about a difficult subject. Given the current state of the world, the film serves as reminder that women of any age can be in danger from predators and that the elderly are not second class citizens that just fade away.

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Padmavyuha

Asian Cinema, Festival, Review, short film, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

Raj Krishna’s directorial debut tackles an age-old religious mystery a la Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code or Darren Aronofsky’s Pi.

Yet, at a modest forty minutes in length, its attempt to offer a challenging – if not, provocative – thought-piece on religion proves about as stirring as the film’s length.

Fashioned, both visually and narratively, in the style of a mid-twentieth century crime-noir, Padmavyuha uses the confines of a detective-mystery to backwardly posit ideas about religious extremism. Mr Krishna’s eyes are set on presenting this through the ‘radicalisation’ of Hinduism. The troubling approach, having led to the film’s trailer being removed from the internet, brings with it an air of offensiveness that will deprive it of an audience.

Padmavyuha’s central character, a religiously-agnostic professor of religion (more cringe than irony), ‘Professor’ Shaki Ramdas (Nikhil Prakash), fields a series of calls from a mysterious, Hindi-speaking phoner.

The mystery that unfurls lacks taste, heft, and intrigue. What should unify in a time of great division, instead begets the radical views it alleges to oppose.

The film composes itself with a level self-assuredness that it is unqualified to hold. Mr Krishna’s efforts to be provocative create a feeling of indigestion in the viewer. Its visual nods to noir, however accomplished, register as derivative, and are further drowned out in pulpy, problematic dialogue; tools that the filmmaker uses to hide behind, along with the pretence of faith, to disguise his fiery one-sidedness.

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