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Sei yan mou ho yi

Can Insurance Underwriting Be Suspenseful? Yes!
An eager and honest insurance broker is drawn into difficulties in his work: a son has died, apparently by suicide, but he's not so sure that's the case. The father is very, very adamant about receiving the insurance payout on the child's life insurance policy, and our insurance broker just doesn't think it's proper, until he knows more about what happened. In the meantime, the mother of the child is disabled in that she's partially blind and getting blinder by the minute; might she be at risk next? And is the father exactly as he seems in this complicated moment?

I loved that this story-line turns itself upside down in so many ways, while still maintaining a lot of uncertainty about what's really going on. It took the comments of my husband, though, to bring home to me the real point, which I won't reveal here, except to say that there are many ways that can lead to moral destruction. Recommended!


Something of a Romance, Something of a Slice of Life
Seo Yeung (Woo-hee Chun) is a contract designer at a company in Seoul, the offices of which are high up in a high-rise downtown. She's having a secret affair with the very good-looking senior in her division, Jin Soo (Teo Yoo), about whom all her female employees are always gossiping. She's also dealing with having hearing loss and vertigo, and a mother in another city who's on her third marriage with an unrelenting list of grievances when she calls Seo Yeung, usually drunk. Given the precarity of her life, when she sees Seo Gwan Woo (Jeong Jae-Kwang), a window washer, hanging outside the window of her workplace 40-odd stories above the ground, she notices his precarity. Seo Gwan Woo has a propensity for acting as a mime, using interesting face paint and otherwise not acting "normal," and when he notices her too, there's a beginning of an intricate dance, about relationships, love and romance; which is, of course, not without perils....

Not quite sure why this was a Montreal Fantasia Film Fest movie, it's mostly a slice-of-life and partly a romance, not usually this festival's cup of tea. But hey - I'm not a young and beautiful Korean woman, but I do have serious hearing loss and very serious vertigo* (the scene where she is walking through the office while having a major attack is portrayed exactly as the real thing feels, believe me) and those elements made this movie very relatable for me. It's not my favourite film at Virtual Fantasia this year, but it kept my attention, so worth a look.

*Vertigo is not a fear of heights, it's a lack of balance usually from problems of the inner ear, which regulates balance, such that one feels off-balance as if listing to one side or the other or always on the precipice of falling down. Not a pleasant condition.

Wu sha

When Family Is What Matters
Li and his family are excited when teenage daughter PingPing is accepted to an elite school, more expensive than they can really afford but still a great chance for the family. They don't know that a fellow student is a very entitled bully, who drugs PingPing's drink at a social gathering and films himself raping her; they also don't know that this bully is the son of the police chief of the city. When the boy tries to blackmail Pingping into further humiliation, her mother trails them and, in the ensuing confusion, mother and daughter kill the boy. They manage to bring his body back to their home by the cemetery, unfortunately seen by the 6-year-old girl in the family. And so starts a cat and mouse tale: the police chief wants, naturally, to find her son; one of her lieutenants has had it in for Li for ages, and is determined to pin the crime on him with no evidence, and Li knows how to create a reality that creates an alibi, along with the help of myriad friends and neighbours. Who's version of the truth will win out, after all is said and done?

What's great about this film is that, yes, the family is the culprit, but yes, the boy deserves his fate - and whatever his parents feels about it, they must know that too. The most interesting character to me was the cop who hated, hated Li, for apparently no reason; he was the driving force behind the persecution of this family and yet we never really know why. In the end, it's quite puzzling, but essentially, on both sides of the equation (minus the bad cop), you understand why each person did what they did. I can't say I liked the film, because of its content generally, but I certainly respect its ambivalence. Recommended.

Fan zui xian chang

Telling the Good Guys from the Bad Isn't That Easy
Master robber Wong (Louis Koo) pulls off a big jewelry heist, but the bag of loot disappears and his gang members start being picked off one by one. He's framed for murder during the heist and is determined to find the real killers and avenge his friends. Some months later, he's hiding out in an old people's home run by Joy (Jessica Hester Hsuan), a partially blind, partially greedy but also humane woman, while Detective Lam (Louis Cheung) is trying to track him down, while also wondering if perhaps his own superior officer, Senior Inspector Yip, might be somehow involved. And his only lead is the parrot found at a murder site, a parrot who could, perhaps, say who the killer really is....

This is a cat-and-mouse (or, cat-and-bird) story in which the viewer is never entirely certain who the bad guys are and who the good guys are; they seem quite interchangeable for a variety of reasons. There's a fair number of chases, exchanges of gunfire and the odd bombing or two, but it's actually not all that violent comparatively speaking, and the characters are suitably moody, dangerous, mysterious and, occasionally, almost slapstick. Also, periodically the characters speak English (mainly to say "sorry" or "yes, sir") while the subtitles tell us just that, which is a little weird but endearing. Entertaining, overall.


How Dreams Affect Us, and How the Past Is Never Really Gone
Marlene (Sandra Huller) is a flight attendant who suffers from severe nightmares, from which she awakens to draw sketches of her dreams. Her adult daugher Mona (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) takes care of her, but believes her when she says she's scheduled for a flight to Turkey. Instead, Marlene follows her dream-sketches to a hotel in the remote heartland of Germany, a town called Stainbach, and is soon hospitalized after a psychotic break at the hotel. Mona finds her, decides to stay at the same hotel run by Otto (August Schmolzer) and his wife Lore (Marion Kracht), but soon finds that the past is very much with the present in this hotel: including the suicides of the three founders, Otto's mentors, and the fact that Otto needs to be tethered to his bed to prevent him getting out at night....

That's a very sketchy outline of this very effective movie, which is really a deep dive into how the past affects the present, how bygone evil deeds and beliefs can retain their allure for some people, and how, sometimes, it's hard to know what reality is. Sleep: we all do it (even sharks who are not thought to sleep but I think it's just that we don't yet understand their version of sleep), and we all dream too. And that is when, this film suggests, we are most vulnerable - but also most insightful. I expected to be scared by this movie, because of its framing, but I never really got that jolt of adrenalin from fear because it's far more subtle than that. And, no, I don't like scary movies, so I was relieved at that. Instead, I end up finding myself thinking a lot about uncomfortable subjects such as the resurgence of fascism that has never really left us, and how easily it can come back. Recommended.

Wotaku ni koi wa muzukashii

Musical Love Story, in a Japanese Otaku World
Narumi (Mitsuki Takahata) is determined at her new job to not be known as an "otaku," because she lost her last job when that became known. It turns out that Hirotaka (Kento Yamakazi), both a childhood friend and a fellow otaku, works at the same company she's landed in, and she is worried that he might out her there. But he's not that type of person, and instead they both start re-imagining their childhood friendship into something new, and maybe lasting. In the meantime, the best way that these young people have to express their longings and fears song! With choruses and dancers, lots of dancers! But will they find their different ways too much to agree upon, on the sometimes stormy path to love?

I know literally nothing about anime beyond the word, I've never heard of "otaku" but I *think* (from this movie only) that it's sort of a video-gamer variation of anime. I read that this story is well-known in that world, and I (sadly) saw some reviews of this movie that hated it a lot, presumably by fans disappointed in this real-people version (looks like there's an animation version from a couple of years ago too). But I loved it! I love musicals - that completely ridiculous breaking into song (and with huge dance choreography) at the drop of a hat! And I love a basic love story, where the principal characters first clash, then find their footing together. And I loved that Narumi, especially, is way more than a "chore girl" in the company, she's an accomplished anime author and cos-player in her own right; not just a girl looking for love. People who know more than me about this world seem to dislike this move; for people like me who know nothing of that world (or don't care), this is quite a treat. Made me happy, anyway, and what more can anyone demand of entertainment in these Covid days?

Fukufukusou no Fukuchan

Warm-Hearted and Hilarious
Fukuchan (Miyuki Oshima) has a generous heart, helping out his neighbours and co-workers with friendship and laughter. But he won't let his best friend (Yoshi Yoshi Arakawa) set him up on blind dates; in fact, he won't have much to do with romance at all. (It seems that his heart was badly broken when he was a fat school kid, and he never recovered.) All that changes when Chiho (Asami Mikukawa), a former businesswoman, now unemployed would-be photographer, comes into Fuku's life, bringing with her a whole new way of seeing....

This Japanese gem is light-hearted for the most part, although there are moments of whimsy and even pathos here and there. It is anchored by Miyuki Oshima's performance - she is a well-known comedienne in Japan, and playing a male role here allows her incredibly expressive face to carry the emotions of the picture beautifully. It is also very, very funny, and worth the price of admission of the curried rice scene alone; highly recommended!

Me and Me

Complex, Confusing and Compelling
Young married couple Soo-hyuk, teacher in a small village, and his gentle wife Yi-young, seem to have a perfect life, but Yi-young becomes something savage after night falls. When the villagers see this first-hand, they all agree to keep her locked up overnight in a special cage-locked part of the couple's house. Sadly, when husband and wife are sleeping together in that space, an errant spark causes a house fire that kills them both. Detective Hyung-gu is sent from the city to investigate this, just to make sure it was an accident, but while he's in the village, strange things begin to happen to him: is he indeed the detective investigating the case, or is he really the teacher who apparently never died in the fire? How can he explain his memories of himself to himself in this new-world context?

I have to say I didn't entirely grasp the story here; I never understood how the detective becomes the teacher, but that's part of the focus of the tale because the story's detective also doesn't understand that. In a sense, it's a thought-piece about the nature of identity and how fragile that can be; in another sense, it's a nightmare of lives stolen with no explanation. What I *can* say is that the acting is superb; Cho Jin-woong (who I also saw in Fantasia 2020's "Jesters: The Game Changers" in a completely different role) is exquisite in his portrayal of a man who, suddenly and inexplicably, finds himself inhabiting the life and role of another person whom he knows he is not, but trapped in that world. Exquisite, even though I must say I don't yet understand it; another viewing may likely be needed!

Sting of Death

Even as a Virtual Fest, Montreal's Fantasia Brings the Jelly!
Montreal's Fantasia Festival has a tradition of bringing back to the screen old and forgotten films. In this year's virtual fest, that film is 1966's "Sting of Death," via a recently restored print. Karen, a college student, and several of her female friends visit her father, a biologist, on his remote island laboratory complex in the Florida Everglades. He is working with Jon, a brilliant assistant, and Egon, a strange and mutant-looking character who complains that nobody listens to him or likes him. He's especially upset that no one believes his theory that jellyfish can be grown to enormous sizes and then, you know, sting people to death. Karen and Jon, meanwhile, host a party of her father's students, who like to dance to Neil Sedaka's "Do the Jellyfish." When they make fun of Egon, however, they find that they have drifted into very dangerous territory indeed....

This is a fun, but really bad, movie - it's very hard not to crack up at the sight of a transformed Egon, for example, and little film-techniques like, oh, continuity or any ability to act, are thrown to the wayside, or rather, overboard into the depths of the very shallow Everglades. Would have been perfect to see with a Fantasia crowd, but it was pretty fun even just at home. I wouldn't go out of my way to search it out, though!

Tiny Tim: King for a Day

The Highs and Lows of a Tragic but Magnificent Life
Young people won't know Tiny Tim, but for a brief period in the mid-to-late 1960s, he was such a big star that he was actually married (to his first wife) on "The Johnny Carson Show," the premiere late-night TV talk show in America at the time. Born Herbert Khoury in New York City of a Lebanese Christian father and a Russian Jewish mother in 1932, he endured a harsh childhood because his parents showed no love toward him and he was always, always weird. His need to express his authentic self, which was simultaneously batty, serious, male, female, and to the greatest height honest, brought him huge problems - but also his great success; there literally was nobody else like him. For a time in the 1960s, that great celebratory time of authentic selfhood, he was the most lauded artist in the land; for the rest of his life (he died of a heart attack in 1996), he was not. In some ways his later life was tragically sad, reduced to playing in circus carnivals (where he also got his start) or in high school auditoriums where teenagers laughed at him, but in other ways it was revelatory, because he could never stop being his authentic self. Some unsavory bits to his life, of course (as a woman I wasn't too happy with his attitudes towards women, for example, and his association with Mafia types was rather unfortunate), but overall this documentary shows the life of an exceptional man. The "inner voice" narrative, fittingly provided by Weird Al Yankovic, comes from Tim's own diaries, adding even greater understanding and pathos to this unique individual. Well worth a look; highly recommended!

Jesters: The Game Changers

A Bit of A Mixed Comedy/Drama Bag
Deok-ho leads a band of merry jesters around 1400s Japan, when they are approached by Han Myeong-ho, the right-hand man of the very unpopular and cruel King Sejo, the aim being to use the rumor-mills created by the jesters to portray the King as more benevolent than he is. Not happy with the job, but unable to refuse it, the band does its best at first - until events take over and their "loyalty" becomes a problem for them....

This is a kinda strange, sort-of historically based story about an unpopular ruler, and honestly by the end I couldn't tell who was the bad guy, who was good. But the first half is quite comical, the second half is quite dramatic, and none of our favorite characters are dead at the end, which I think is the best one could hope for in this montage!

Monster SeaFood Wars

As Goofy As the Title Sounds
Yuta is bringing his family's offering to a local shrine, consisting of an octopus, squid and crab, when someone steals the seafood from him and, almost immediately thereafter, giant seafood monsters arrive to wreak havoc in Tokyo. His arch-rival, Hikoma, not only steals his formula for creating large creatures out of small ones (to solve the problem of hunger), but also steals his childhood sweetheart Nana. But when Takolla (the octopus), Ikalla (the squid) and Kanilla (the crab) turn out to not only wreak havoc but to taste delicious when bits of them are broken off and cooked, Yuta, Nana and Hikoma must team up with the Seafood Monster Attack Team (SMAT) to defeat the creatures, once and for all....

Yes, this is quite as silly as it sounds; at a short 84 minutes, it packs in a bunch of visual hilarity - especially the "monsters," who are gigantic puppet-type thingies that make the viewer laugh on sight! Turns out that the father of director Minoru Kawasaki was himself a fugu chef, so the seafood preparations are no doubt completely spot on. With a charismatic and not-afraid-to-be-silly cast, and plenty of goofy special effects, this is one feast of a film!


Bonkers Undercover Caper
Captain Ko (Ryu Seung-ryong) leads a ragtag team of undercover narcotics officers, who have the reputation of bungling the simplest job. They have been trying for ages to catch a big drug lord, and when they discover that he and his gang are staying across the street from a chicken joint about to go out of business because there are never any customers, they take over the restaurant with the aim of spying on the kingpin and, hopefully, bringing him down. Unfortunately, the chicken that they cook is a massive hit and soon they have no time at all to spy because they're busy serving an unending stream of customers. Are they really so competent in cooking chicken when they're so incompetent of cops? Do they need to reconsider their career choices? Only time will tell....

This is a very funny movie, full of good humor, sight gags and, of course, lots and lots of staged fights between the heroes and the bad guys. Some of those are so over-the-top that it feels perfectly right to throw in a little music of the spaghetti western variety - fits right in! My only quibble is that during the fight scenes, the director (Lee Byeong-heon) chose to use the wobbly camera method, which always tends to irritate my eyes; otherwise, it's not surprising that this is a big hit in its home country, or (on the negative side) that a Hollywood remake is already in the works!

Gimyohan gajok

A Funny Zombie Movie
The eccentric Park family own a run-down gas station not far from the test site of a pharmaceutical company. One of the company's test subjects accidentally becomes a zombie, which wanders away and into the Park's gas station. After showing a distinct preference for cabbages, the zombie bites the family patriarch! But an unexpected side effect of that bite is that the patriarch suddenly becomes much more vigorous than his age would suggest, and soon all the elderly men in a nearby village are paying to be bitten themselves. However, there may be more unforeseen side effects coming too....

I'm not a big zombie movie fan, as they tend to get either super gory or just tedious after a while, and often one zombie flick is much like another. Here, though, we have a zombie comedy in which a family of misfits and schemers have to cope with a situation far beyond any of their capabilities. The characters are all well-drawn and distinctive, including the zombie who (oddly enough) is very sympathetic, and the humor is more of the laughing-at-ourselves kind than the malicious sort. It's not enough to turn me into a zombie movie fan, but it was an entertaining way to spend an evening.

Neko to jiichan

Cats Galore!
The widower Daikichi (Shinosuke Tachikawa) lives with his cat Tama on a small Japanese island that is home to a great many cats and a fair number of old people, including Daikichi's friend Iwao (Kaoru Kobayashi), who is practically the only person on the island who doesn't like cats. As Iwao is a fisherman, however, cats really love him! The quiet community is shaken up a bit by the arrival of Michiko (Ko Shibasaki) from Tokyo, who opens a modern cafe that is soon the hub of the community, and before too long Daikichi is learning to cook from the newcomer. As the seasons pass, there are small changes here, larger ones there, and the effects of aging are taking their toll....

This is an incredibly gentle, quiet movie that just tugs at the heartstrings and never lets go. One flashback scene shows the 6 1/2 year old cat Tama as a kitten and the entire Montreal Fantasia Festival audience as one went "awww!" and then also as one laughed at that reaction - that's the kind of film this is. The director, Mitsuaki Iwago, previously worked as a wildlife photographer, and his way of framing the cats (of which, I hasten to add, there is at least one in every scene) is beautiful, along with his framing of all this fantastic looking food. I suppose if you hate cats, you won't want to see this film, but everybody else should really enjoy it!


Historical Epic at Its Finest!
Xin (Kento Yamazaki) and Piao (Ryo Yoshizawa) are slave children in China in 255 BC, but both teach themselves swordfighting (using sticks) together and vow to become great generals, somehow. One day, a powerful lord comes to their farm and picks Piao to go with him to the palace, leaving Xin behind. Xin continues to train on his own, determined to catch up to Piao one day, but instead Piao returns to the farm, fatally wounded. It seems he was chosen simply because he looks exactly like the King of Qin, Yin Zheng (also Ryo Yoshizawa), and Piao was killed in place of the king by the king's evil younger brother, Cheng Jiao (Kanata Hongo), who has more royal blood than Zheng and therefore believes he has more right to the throne. Xin vows revenge and takes off on an adventure, which leads him straight to Zheng and more trouble than he'd ever imagined....

It's a bit odd that an historical Chinese epic has been made by the Japanese film director, Shinsuke Sato, based on a Japanese manga, but it works really well. Sato has been described as the Japanese Steven Spielberg, which is to say he knows how to stage epic fights, glorious spectacle and resonating themes of friendship, loyalty and the struggle against oppression. A bit long at 2 1/4 hours or so, but the motivations of the main characters and the arc of the story are never lost or bogged down in too much detail; I've left out a slew of characters (including a very important female character) in the above description, but really that's all you need to know. If you like epic battle scenes featuring lances and arrows and, especially, swords, you'll love this feature!


Gorgeous, Maybe Historical but Bloody
The King of Pei (Zheng Kai) has reached an accord with the ruler of Wang, whereby the latter is in charge of Jing City even though it really belongs to Pei. Accommodations made, but then destroyed by the Commander of Pei, also called Jing (Deng Chau), who has gone to Wang and proposed a fight between himself and Wang's ruler to determine the ownership of the city. Pei's King is outraged; he's ruled by foppery and compromise, and his Commander has disobeyed him! He strips Jing of his power and sends him from Court. Meantime, the former Commander (also Deng Chau) has been training Jing from the age of 8 to avenge him for his defeat by Wang's ruler; perhaps the King's sister, Xiao (Sun Li) can help to train Jing in a way that will defeat Wang....

I love these Chinese wuxia films - wuxia meaning the type of fighting with swords and staffs and, well sometimes, magic, and director Zhang Yimou (who directed "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers," among others) is surely the current master of this genre. Those earlier films were replete with colors everywhere; "Shadow" is almost entirely monochromatic, with bits of red and green here and there but mostly done in greys. And it works, brilliantly - this film is gorgeous to look at, if sometimes head-scratching to understand. Set in a long-ago historical world (I don't know the history of China enough to know if it portrays something from a real historical period, but that doesn't matter in this context), "Shadow" portrays the complexity of Court life, and warfare, in ancient China with beauty and nuance and, well, a lot of blood. Terrific!

Hoshikuzu kyôdai no densetsu

Impressive Film for a 22 Year Old!
Shinga (Shinga Kubota) and Kan (Kan Takagi) are the singers in rival pop bands, until the mysterious Minami (Kiyohiko Ozaki) of Atomic Promotion signs them up as a pop duo to be called the Stardust Brothers. Although they can't stand each other initially, they jump at the massive amount of money on offer, and after only a week with the company, they are superstars with the #1 pop song on the charts! But fame can be fickle, and soon enough Minami is approached to raise up another artist, Karuo (Issay), the son of a powerful politician, and Shinga and Kan are yesterday's news. But Karuo has designs on Marimo (Kyoko Togawa), the young girl who first led the fan club of the Stardust Brothers and then became a pop star herself, and Karuo is used to getting what he wants....

This was an early film by director Makoto Tezuka, son of legendary Osamu Tezuka, when he was only 22 years old. Despite his youth, the film hangs together quite well, with plenty of nods to pop music of the era and an enthusiastic and energetic cast. A bit of slapstick here and an odd monochrome framing device add to the fun; the occasional homophobia-as-laugh-getter hasn't aged well, however. Overall, though, the film has its moments and the flavor of the Japanese pop culture in the mid-1980s is quite entertaining.

Extra Ordinary

Terrific Fun
Rose (Maeve Higgins) has given up her calling as a psychic after a terrible accident and is making her living as a driving instructor in rural Ireland. Martin (Barry Ward) is a widower with a troublesome ghost of a wife and an increasingly sassy daughter, Sarah (Emma Coleman). When he asks Rose for her help exorcising the ghost, she at first refuses, but then a well past his prime rock star (Will Forte) decides he needs the blood of a virgin to renew his vows to Satan in order to revitalize his long-dormant career, and Sarah is just who he's looking for; or is she?.... This is a very funny movie about ghosts, lost hopes, redemption and everything in-between; Forte is hilarious as the over-the-top Christian Winter, but it's Ms. Higgins who carries the film with humour, grace and rather an alarming amount of moxie. Throw in some sight gags referencing other horror movies along with just out-there craziness (deer head crying tears of 7-Up - "it's Mummy, she always loved 7Up!"), and this is a film that should get a wide audience everywhere. Extraordinary, indeed.

Tonde Saitama

Revolution, Androgyny and Mayhem Rolled Into One Gorgeous Package
Momomi (Fumi Nikaido) is the son of the governor of Tokyo, a prestige position that puts him in the top echelon at his school, where he is (naturally) President of the students. When Rei Asami (Gackt) joins the school from America, Momomi's position is threatened; Rei is exotic, smart *and* beautiful. Momomi wants to dispose of Rei, but cannot. But then he learns that Rei is actually from Saitama, a degraded part of Japan that has no sea and therefore is considered worthless, its people even more so - people from there even need visas to enter Tokyo! But *then* Momomi's hatred for Rei turns to something else, and they join forces to lead Saitama's people from oppression to freedom....

Some 5 years ago, I was privileged to see "Thermae Romae," a Japanese film in which a modern Japanese man enters a bath in his world and emerges in the baths in ancient Rome; it was easily one of the most inventive, funny and memorable films I saw that year. So when I saw that "Fly Me" was made by the same director, I knew I had to see it. And I certainly was not disappointed! The above description only scratches the surface, as I didn't mention the framing device or all the complications of the many other characters. Suffice it to say that director Hideki Takeuchi brings in whimsy, mixed-up historical detail from real periods in Japanese history, scary monsters that turn out to be something much different, corruption in government, hilarious moments and the most androgynous characters (something that seems to be a "thing" in Japanese cinema), along with a bit of innocent love and dastardly deeds. Oh, did I mention absurdity? Yum!

Dansu wizu mî

Frothy, Delightful Fun
Shizuka (Ayaka Miyoshi) works at a large finance company and might be about to get a big break there, but her sister asks her to babysit for her at just the wrong time. Finally finishing an assignment, she takes her niece to a carnival, where she is inadvertently hypnotized - whenever she hears music, she must immediately burst into song herself, and dance too! Having never cared for musicals, suddenly she is a musical star, as far as she knows - but the people around her just see an increasingly touched young lady jumping on tables and pulling down chandeliers. To save her job, and her reputation, she must find the fellow who hypnotized her, but he is touring the provinces, necessitating a road trip....

This is an absolutely delightful film, both a highly choreographed and staged musical and a spoof of musicals at the same time; light, frothy, with a minimum of plot (finding the old hypnotizer who is also being hunted by loan sharks, having Shizuka meet another woman conned by the old man whom she first dislikes, then needs and finally becomes best friends with) and a maximum of moments when she bursts into song. Definitely nothing that will make you question the deeper meaning of life or the human condition; just a whole lot of fun and catchy tunes too!


Kinda Funny, Kinda Gross
The Shaw Brothers were famous for producing slightly hysterical, often hallucinatory, over-the-top karate films with frequent mystical overtones. "The Boxer's Omen" is no exception, except that it throws in quite a bit of full-frontal female nudity and a copious amount of vomiting in addition to all the usual SB stuff. A gangster is bewitched by an evil wizard, but he has someone who can help him: a Buddhist monk who has been poisoned by the same evil wizard! But in order to receive that help, the gangster must give up his wanton ways and become a monk himself.... I quite like most of the Shaw Brothers movies that I've seen, but this one seemed a bit.... much, somehow. Perhaps it was the grossness factor (recycled vomit, anyone?), perhaps it was, at 107 minutes, just a little bit too long (I mean, how many times can you show recycled vomit, after all?); in any event, I ended up feeling, not uplifted by the zaniness of the show, but rather just vaguely disgusted.

Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway

A Loopy, Hallucinogenic Ride
CIA Agents D. T. Gagano (Daniel Tadesse) and Palmer Eldritch (Agustin Mateo) are given the assignment of entering the agency's operating system to find and destroy a computer virus that is taking over. The task isn't as straightforward as it would seem, because in addition to the Soviet-Leader-Masked virus there's a Substance, which induces all sorts of hallucinations in its users. Bring in the leader of Beta-Ethiopia, Batfro (Solomon Tashe), and a man who might be Jesus and might be Roy (Guillermo Llanso), and things get complicated really, really fast....

There isn't really a way to describe this film, which could be equally considered science fiction, romance, comedy, thriller, Afro-Futurism and super-psychedelic trip, depending on one's perspective at the moment. Clocking in at a fast 83 minutes, it's exactly the kind of film to see with Montreal's Fantasia Festival audience, people who love genre and love gonzo and most of all, love movies. Director Miguel Llanso's earlier film, "Crumbs," also played at Fantasia, though I must say that I didn't really understand it; despite my description above, "Jesus Shows You...." is much more coherent - and hilarious. And a great stomping shaggy dog's tale to boot!


Supernatural Horror Turned Up to Eleven
Hideki (Satoshi Tsumabuki) and Kana (Haru Kuroki) are happy young newlyweds, ecstatic about the pending birth of their first child. When a visitor shows up at Hideki's workplace, saying she wants to talk to him about Chisa, Hideki is confused - that is the name he and Kana have chosen for the baby, but nobody else knows that. The visitor disappears before Hideki sees her, the colleague who took the message is soon very, very dead, and Hideki begins to have dreams about a creature, about the phrase "blood calls" and about the fate of the baby. So, as anyone would, he turns to an exorcist named Makoto (Nana Komatsu) for aid.... I won't say more than that about the plot because it quickly becomes more and more convoluted as the (longish, 2 1/4 hours) film goes on. Many years ago, I discovered Tetsuya Nakashima's "Kamikaze Girls" (about strange subcultures among Japan's teenage girls, it's a fantastic coming of age flick) at Montreal's Fantasia Festival, and when this year's selections for that great festival included "It Comes," described as Nakashima's first foray into horror, I was hooked; "Kamikaze Girls" is not only one of my favorite Fantasia films, it's one of my favorite films of all time. True to form, "It Comes" takes all the horror tropes one might imagine, and turns it all up to eleven. I can't say that it actually *scared* me because it was just so over-the-top, but my goodness it is a mighty fine, hallucinatory ride!

Bâsudê wandârando

A Colorful Visit to a Wonder(ful)land
Teenage Akane is unmotivated and moody, just like any teenage girl. She always feels put out by her mother's requests, never more so when she's sent to see her shopkeeper aunt Chii to pick up her own birthday present! Once there, however, Chii and Akane are visited by strangers from the basement, Mr. Hippocrates and his apprentice Pipo. But Mr. Hippocrates is an alchemist, Pipo is an elf, and the basement is a portal into another world, one that desperately needs Akane's help to avoid utter destruction.... A few years ago I saw another animated film by director Keiichi Hara, "Miss Hokusai," and was very taken with the incredible beauty of the work; the director works the same magic here, with some stunningly gorgeous backgrounds (and foregrounds for that matter), along with a story filled with imagination from an evil mouse-shaped monster machine to oversized sheep who provide wool *and* protection, to the very real crisis that the Wonderland is facing, that of running out of water. Oh, and there's an enchanted Prince, too! Even if the viewer isn't taken by the story itself (based on "Strange Journey From the Basement," a children's book by Sachiko Kashiwaba), s/he will certainly enjoy simply watching this very colorful feast for the eyes.

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