VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2010 – DRAGONS & TIGERS
NO END OF ANIMAL?
Vancouver’s special niche in the world film calendar has evolved, over two
decades, from a small hometown event into one of the key portals for new films
out of East Asia. Programmed by Tony Rayns and Shelley Kraicer, the Dragons and
Tigers selection of 43 new feature films and 20 shorts, draws on productions big
and small from 14 countries. The range is huge, reports Geoff Gardner from
Vancouver – where the jury, to Geoff’s surprise, ignored Jo Sung-Hee’s End of
Prestigious films from the major production centres Japan, China and South
Korea, most previously premiered at earlier competitive events in Europe,
repeatedly filled the festival’s biggest cinemas. At the other end of the
spectrum, the eight film Dragons and Tigers competition for first time directors
presented in the luxurious intimacy of VIFF’s own Vancity Theatre, again drew
hardcore cinephiles and adventurous viewers. Neither element disappointed.
Between these two groups were another set of movies having their international
or North American premieres.
But first to the competition and the big shock. The jury comprised three of the
biggest names around – Bong Joon-Ho, (the continent’s hottest director and one
whose next film is currently the subject of much speculation even in the pages
of the latest Film Comment which reports a rumour, not true says Bong, that he
is teaming with JJ Abrams), supported by French-Canadian Denis Cote, a recent
double prize-winner at Locarno, and Chinese master Jia Zhangke.
They gave the prize, and the cash from local arts patrons Brad Birarda and
Robert Sali, to Hirohara Saturo’s Good Morning to the World, a smart and
beautifully directed story about a loner schoolboy searching for answers about a
dead man he finds in the street. Honourable mentions went to Xu Ruotao’s
Rumination, a playful, neo-Godardian, portrait of China during the years of the
Cultural Revolution played out in a desolate abandoned industrial estate by a
troupe of actors summing up Chinese history in gestures and mime and to Phan
Dang Bi’s Don’t Be Afraid, Bi!, a surprisingly frank examination of Vietnamese
"the most remarkable debut film from Asia since..."
The shock however was that the judges completely ignored Jo Sung-Hee’s End of
Animal which might just be the most remarkable debut film from Asia since...
well, let’s make it personal, Jia Zhangke’s Xiao Wu back in 1997 or Bong Joon-Ho’s
Barking Dogs Don’t Bite in 2000.
A road movie which might have been made by a young David Lynch, End of Animal is
replete with enigmatic characters with psychic powers, last minute plot swoops,
violent unexplained events, dark secrets and some blackly humorous collisions of
all of the above. The assurance of its direction is extraordinary and it is
aided immeasurably by the performance of young star Park Hae-Il’s performance as
the mysterious stranger who knows all. Park, a star in the making with a couple
of standout performances already under his belt, was so impressed by the script
that he agreed to do the movie for nothing. The film is next being screened in
the London Film Festival so maybe its time will come in that neck of the woods.
While big names Miike Takashi (13 Assassins), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle
Boonmee who Can Recall his Past Lives), Sono Shion (Cold Fish), Lee Chang-Dong
(Poetry), Jia Zhangke (I Wish I Knew), Hong Sang-Soo (Hahaha and Oki’s Movie)
and Feng Xiaogang (Aftershock) expectedly delivered for their audiences, VIFF’s
usual capacity to spring surprises was also on show with several international
"seriously sexually explicit material"
Imaizumi Koichi’s The Family Complete will make its name because of the
seriously sexually explicit material it contains. A former gay porn star,
Imaizumi’s third feature apparently continues his exploration of gay sexuality,
this time around an SF plot involving a family struck down with a mysterious
virus which firstly traps them into never aging but, more hilariously, produces
sexual desire which causes all family members to only seek satisfaction with
their own grandfather.
Imaizumi, somewhat heroically given the context and the requirements of the
plot, plays the grandfather himself, while his film riffs off Ozu and all the
other Shockiku home dramas of Japanese cinema history. Very droll indeed but, as
we were warned, only for the broadminded and maybe a tad too explicit for a
nation which recently refused a local festival permission to screen Bruce La
Bruce’s LA Zombie, a film which drew happy midnight screening crowds in
straight-laced and innocent Vancouver.
Zhu Wen’s Thomas Mao is a droll two part exposition of the relationship between
the esteemed painter Mao Yan and his long time friend the German art curator
‘Thomas’. Where the fiction begins and the documentary ends is the jokey
sub-text to a movie which sets out to describe the friendship in two parts – the
first in the wilds of Inner Mongolia and the second in Mao Yan’s studio where
the painter makes yet another portrait of his fetish subject. Shades of
"a film that, literally I kid you not, caused gasps
of pleasure, shrieks in fact"
Finally, leaving the intellectual world for a moment and the best for last,
to a film that, literally I kid you not, caused gasps of pleasure, shrieks in
fact, among its large audience of young Korean women, especially at the moment
when its star Won Bin, last seen playing the son in Bong’s Mother, took off his
shirt. He revealed both a bullet wound and torso of such honed and rippling
musculature that the audience seemed to collectively swoon.
But that was barely part of the excitement. Lee Jeong-Beom’s The Man from
Nowhere, a huge domestic hit, posited a story of an ex-CIA (South Korean branch)
hitman/agent, now passing his days in anonymity as a pawnshop proprietor, coming
to the rescue of a drug addled neighbour and her child. Jokes abound, especially
with the drug dealing community longing for a return to the certainties of
military dictatorship, but it’s Won Bin’s magnetism and Lee’s breakneck pace
direction and superslick editing that keeps you on the edge throughout.
There is enough plot for three movies but some seriousness as well in the
background milieu of child prostitution and organ harvesting. You would like to
think that the film’s reward might be as a sure fire international hit and
something that might even attract the attention of American remakers.
For the record, Australia was represented at VIFF by Julie Bertucelli’s The
Tree, a handful of docos and two shorts included in a compilation under the
rubric ‘High School Stories/Teenage Hell – Felix Thompson’s (an expat) Bedford
Park Boulevard and Alexander von Hofmann’s Tinglewood.
Published October 14, 2010
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End of Animal
The Family Complete - "sexually explicit"
The Man From Nowhere - "caused gasps of pleasure, shrieks in
fact, among its large audience of young Korean women..."
Good Morning to the World