While elaborate costumes and visual effects may provide good distractions on his new album Capricorn, Jay Chou needs some new tricks to keep center stage.
Fresh yet predictable, Wayne Wang's free-floating digital poem drinks from a familiar fountain of youth.
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Here is part two of APA's capsule reviews of the AFI Fest 2008.
Dir: Michel Gondry/Leos Carax/Bong Joon-ho
Not all of the three short films that comprise this omnibus really take up the actual space of Tokyo, which somewhat defeats the purpose of the omnibus.
The bad: Sandwiched in the middle is Carax' Merde (French for "shit"), a tiring take of a Dostoyeksian man from the underground who just happens to come up for air in Tokyo instead of, say, Rio de Janeiro or London. The first 5-10 minutes of the film, in the aftermath of the creature walking down a main Tokyo thoroughfare and bustling against inhabitants, is promising. But I could've done without everything else, especially the tedious trial sequence that becomes literally meaningless.
The peculiar: Bong's Shaking Tokyo ends the omnibus and presents the most serious tone of the bunch. He takes on the phenomenon of hikikomori, people who cease to come out of their homes and cut off all ties with society. As an ironic result, we don't get to see much of Tokyo. It's only when the film becomes a strange love story between two hikikomori that we get to venture outside. There's an aspiration to the universal ultimately at work here, the idea of reconnecting with people and all that. Laudable, as usual, and graceful in detail but a tad stale.
The good: Gondry's contribution, Interior Design, is actually beyond good. A quirky tale of a couple moving in with a friend while they try to find jobs and their own place has charm oozing all over the place, even within the super-tight living spaces for which Tokyo has become known. One really gets a feel for the kind of hustle for space that goes on simultaneously all over Tokyo, thanks to the great cast and characters. Interior Design is so engaging and comical in its take on making do with the space you have and your role within it (literally and metaphorically speaking) that even though it switches gears on you three-quarters into it, it's forgivable. Because it kicks off the omnibus, the only negative side effect is that it makes you think you'll be getting two more films of the same caliber. Suggestion: get the DVD and watch it in reverse order. --Rowena Aquino
Gachi Boy Wrestling with a Memory (Gachi Boi)
Dir. Norihiro Koizumi
Focusing on the culture of collegiate pro-wrestling clubs in Japan, Koizumi directs a light-hearted, Rocky-inspired film that uses over-exaggeration to its advantage. Ever since a tragic bike accident left Igarashi (Ryuta Sato) without memory, the Hokkaido University law student must plan his tomorrow, yesterday. Every morning, Igarashi wakes up to signs that line the entire border of his bedroom wall ("Read your dairy!") because every day, his short-term memory has been wiped clean. To rid himself depressing thoughts about his life having no meaning, Igarashi joins the pro-wrestling club on campus. He covers up his late night practices to save face from his father and sister's disappointment. He also fails to mention his condition to the team. Polaroid in one hand, notebook in the other, Igarashi appears more like an obsessive fan than a dependable teammate, as he struggles to learn even basic pro-wrestling choreography.
Like any standard comedy, the suspense lies in whether they can defeat Hokkaido's pro-wrestling arch nemesis, two stunted blonde versions of a Dwayne Johnsons (the Rock) who call themselves the "Coelacanths." The romance in the story turns into an unfortunate love triangle, but the surprise comes in the form of a former pro-wrestling member who listens to his head rather than his heart. Gachi Boy is memorable not because of its eccentric characters and endearingly-awkward storyline, but because it also reminds us that even if the hero doesn't always win, he always has a screaming crowd behind him. --LiAnn Ishizuka
Dir: Na Hong-Jin
Na Hong-Jin's debut film is startling at its dramatic heights and uncomfortably taut at its lows. Joong-ho is a crass corrupt cop-turned-pimp who seeks out an elusive client that has stolen his call girls. After he forces one of his few remaining girls, Min-ji, to lure the client, Joong-ho comes after her when he realizes she's in danger. Joong-ho eventually meets and incarcerates the client, Yeong-min, who claims he killed the missing girls but that Min-ji may still be alive. In a dynamic reminiscent of Silence of the Lamb, the imprisoned and purposefully vague Yeong-min leads the police and Joong-ho on an increasingly desperate search for the bodies of his victims. As he scrapes together clues and inches towards finding Min-ji, Joong-ho's transformation from detached pimp to desperate private eye is indelible. Graphic bouts of violence and dramatic revelations punctuate the film's urgently unsettling tone. Min-ji's disturbing violent encounter with Yeong-min feels eerily like a scene torn out of a torture-horror film. Some of the tension is alleviated by irreverent dark humor, with the film's occasionally oddball dialogue and the appearance of a feces-flinging felon. Even with the antagonist is tied up for most of the film's duration, The Chaser relentlessly maintains a sense of dread and tension with its unsettling narrative, disturbing violence, and obsessed characters. --William Hong
The World We Want
Dir. Patrick Davidson
A heated discussion ensues over the importance of clean water and sanitation in the Ross Bethio community of Senegal. The words of a local official are challenged with statistics from a New Delhi newspaper report on government corruption. An appeal to abolish a tax on Indonesian silversmiths is presented to the Indonesian House of Representatives. For three days in Washington DC, social justice projects that travel across borders, beyond religions, and within communities are undertaken by the most unlikely groups of people -- youth. Teens as young as 14 to 16 , representing over 33 countries, become real humanitarian ambassadors by participating in the 2007 International Project Citizen Showcase.
Davidson's empowering documentary focuses on eight of the 33 countries, where we meet young activists ready to make a difference in their local, national, and world communities. In Vancouver, WA teens decide to battle their school administration to demand 80% less trans fat foods in cafeterias for their entire school district. Even problems that extend beyond classroom settings are realized: kids in Russia notice the unhealthy trend of gambling and the underlying fear it causes in their neighborhoods. In a remote area of Columbia, the traumas of drug cartels in the late 1990s which killed hundreds and displaced many children into single parent households are not forgotten. The Colombian teens decide to successfully publish a constitution (the first of its kind) that attempts to tackle all such social issues. Shot without narration, the teens become the honest storytellers of their own projects. The teens remind the cameras that its more than just a competition. Teens from Jordon visit elementary classrooms and realize that youngsters are being hit and physically punished by their teachers. So the teens break out into smaller groups and explain to the children their rights. And what is better than a film about empowerment? When a film like The World We Want empowers you. --LiAnn Ishizuka
Date Posted: 11/14/2008