Day 6 – Korea Day with Spanish subtitles. 

Style-conscious Hong Kong director Oxide Pang (The Eye) is an odd choice for directing the adaptation of “The Tesseract,” the character-driven second novel of Brit writer Alex Garland (The Beach). At first it seems indeed that the shoe won’t fit: Fast cuts without rhyme and reason, random switching between b/w and color, and even – oh, please! – bullets flying in slow motion, leaving trails in the air. But surprisingly, the film quickly changes from a stale action video clip to an engaging drama without losing its polished look. The multi-layered story revolves around four characters in a run-down Bangkok hotel: A British psychologist researching a project on kids in the city and dealing with the death of her own son, a killer dying from a shot wound in her room, a con-man messing up a drug deal with a bunch of angry mobsters, and an underage thief whose actions will bring the storylines together and lead them to a fateful conclusion. Pang uses a slightly different visual style for each of the characters which seems random and artsy at first, but makes more sense as the film proceeds. The plot is full of surprises, the acting top-notch, and there is never a dull moment. Even the slow motion bullets are forgiven.

Today was declared Korea Day by the festival, with guests from Korean cinema as well as politics, and snacks. I will honor this day by watching two South Korean films, the horror thriller “Into the Mirror” and the docudrama “Memories of Murder.” The only real shortcoming of “Into the Mirror” is that it never quite lives up to its brilliant opening scene which is not only extremely creepy but also offers the most aesthetic use of screen blood since the hey-day of Dario Argento. The story begins with a series of apparent suicides in a posh department store that is about to re-open after a devastating fire. The police and store security are worried. And they are right to worry, as the killings are not suicides but murders committed by the mirror reflections of the victims. The film makes surprisingly clever use of the old horror staple of scary things happening in or coming out of mirrors. The story’s internal logic is consequently followed through and results in an unexpected and unique ending. The two hours running time is not completely free of unnecessary and repetitive scenes, but still “Into the Mirror” remains a solid horror yarn that might not sign up for festival favorite, but will be remembered fondly. Please keep this film away from DreamWorks executives.

My knowledge of Spanish has somewhat improved over the last couple of days, mainly by me forcing myself to read the daily festival newspaper and watching old episodes of “The Simpsons” in my hotel room. So I was able to guess my way pretty good through the first half of “Memories of Murder” which was shown in Korean with Spanish subtitles only. But what happened later, I have no clue. The fact-based film is about a serial murder investigation by two cops in the South Korean countryside. From all I know these cops are real assholes, torturing innocents, manufacturing fake evidence, getting in fights a lot, and not catching the killer. There is also the backdrop of the political tensions between the Koreas and how it affects the characters and the investigation. I caught myself thinking: “It’s… ‘L.A. Confidential’ in South Korea!” But I might be wrong. People liked this film. It did win awards at other festivals and was a smash hit in its native. One day I would like to see it in a language I understand. 

Day 7 – Hooray, a remake! 

Nobody is more surprised than I that I’m not one of the many worshippers of hard-working Japanese director Takashi Miike. Though interested in Japan in general and Japanese films in particular, I never warmed up to the one-man movie machine, churning out multiple movies each year. “Gozu” and “Graveyard of Honor,” two of his more recent works shown in Sitges, will not change that. “Gozu” starts off promising enough, though. A young yakuza is searching for his wounded, probably dead brother in a rural village near Nagayo, putting up with eccentric characters and situations galore. It’s like Jim Jarmush handling Tarantino material, very laconic with very little hot-blooded gangster antics. But the second half falters into weirdness for weirdness’ sake and unfunny silliness, cumulating in an ending that is blatantly stolen from Lars von Trier’s “The Kingdom.”

“Graveyard of Honor” is clearly the better film. The remake of Kinji Fukasaku’s 1971 original is about a young yakuza (again) rising quickly in rank when he saves the life of the godfather. When he accidentally shoots the wrong man, he has to go into hiding. The film doesn’t glorify the whole gangster crap too much, is aptly unpleasant to watch and shot in an almost minimalist style. Still it leaves little lasting impression. We have seen films like this before. Some of them are by Martin Scorcese and much better.

A real bad movie can be a real bonding experience. The ending of Hong Kong horror film “The Park” had the entire audience roaring with laughter and loudly ridiculing the events on the screen. The film about ghosts killing people in a closed-down amusement park borrows heavily and badly from “Ju-on: The Grudge,” “The Blair Witch Project,” “Poltergeist,” “The Evil Dead,” “Funhouse” and every horny-teens-get-killed flick in the book. Add impossibly bad acting, dumb dialogue, tacky 3D effects seen through red/blue glasses and probably the most unintentionally funny finale ever committed to celluloid, and you have the so far worst horror film in this year’s festival. Possibly one of the worst in the history of Sitges.

Damn, sometimes this Hollywood fluff gets the better of you. For a while I did quite good hating Richard Donner’s “Timeline.” Slow beginning, obnoxious characters, Paul Walker – the works. And suddenly I realized: I’m enjoying this. Not the hating, but the actual movie. It’s a silly story about archeologists traveling through a wormhole to the site of a historic battle between the French and the English in the 14th century to rescue their time-traveling boss. I don’t buy any of this time-travel/wormhole nonsense for one minute (let alone 140 minutes), but it’s a good adventure story with a great final battle. There is nothing fresh about this film, you see the not-so-surprising surprise twists coming from miles away, and still I even enjoyed the sentimental ending where everybody is happy, even those who died centuries ago.

Admittedly I only went to see “Timeline” to pass the time until “Twentynine Palms.” And I only wanted to see “Twentynine Palms” to confirm my hunch that it’s a load of pretentious bullshit. Luckily I was right this time. The film by Bruno Dumont, grandmaster of pretentious bullshit, is about a couple driving through California without anything out of the ordinary happening. They drive, they stop for sightseeing and peeing, they swim, they quarrel, they have sex, they watch TV, they order Chinese. And sometimes they do nothing at all. That is when the camera lingers on them extra-long. I’m sure that something out of the ordinary will happen eventually, though, as the press kit urges you to not give away the ending. I would happily give it away here without any spoiler warning, but watching this film to the end is quite a feat. A feat that takes a stronger man than me. My guess, however, is that the surprise ending has something to do with Sudden Outbursts Of Violence™. These films are all the same. 
Festival coverage continues in part six of 10 DAYS IN SITGES>>>

Posted on January 7, 2004 in Festivals by

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