Wednesday, November 17, 2010

WFFBKK 2010: Capsule reviews part 1

At the End of Daybreak
– Blogging about Thai and Southeast Asian movies for fun and having to read movie synopses for a living, it's rare that I come across a film that I know little about. All I knew about At the End of Daybreak was that it was from Malaysia and it was directed by Ho Yuhang. Hey, that's enough for me! A rat was definitely harmed in the making of this motion picture. That right there should have tipped me off that this was no ordinary Malaysian romantic drama. But in the typically slow and dreamy way of these types of Malaysian indie dramas, it lulled me in and snuck up on me. It's a mostly gentle story about a young Chinese-Malaysian guy, living with his mother, working in a grocery and dating a teenage schoolgirl. He gets in trouble and it takes a dark turn to noir-whereland. And that's probably more than enough said. (5/5)

Au Revoir Taipei – Full of quirky characters, this romantic comedy and crime farce by Taiwanese-Californian director Arvin Chen kind of reminded me of Guy Ritchie's movies. Noodle-shop kid Kai (Jack Yao) wants to get to Paris to be with his girlfriend. He studies French in a bookshop, where he meets cute with bookstore girl Susie (Amber Kuo). To get money for his trip to Paris, he agrees to retrieve a package for a sentimental retiring gangster. This gets him and Susie chased by a cop. Meanwhile, Kai's lovable goofball friend Gao (Paul Chiang, a lanky guy Chen says he found on the street) is kidnapped by a hilarious gang of orange-suited real-estate agents, who are aspiring gangsters and looking to make a score. It's a solidly commercial movie and full of fun. (4/5)

Child of the Sun – I've seen joyful celebrations of Pinoy culture like Roxlee's Green Rocking Chair and Kidlat Tahimik's Each Film ... An Island? And then there's tortured laments about Filipino society. And Child of the Sun is one of those. Christopher Gozum directs this experimental drama about the odyssey of a city boy who returns to his native land of Pangasinan, which has its own distinct language apart from the Tagalog of Manila folks. Getting in touch with his heritage seems to involve visits to places like brickworks, pottery kilns, rice farms and a killing floor where they whomp pigs unconscious. Squeal! Fire, blood and mud. It's all so primeval. Fascinating. Really. Everywhere he visits, the protagonist curls up in a fetal ball, purging himself of his post-colonial poison. A muse is there to comfort him. The dude stops and stands on a crowded pedestrian bridge. He's in the way, and the muse looks lovingly on. But the masses keep moving, and they walk around him. (4/5)

To Serve/Woman ITo Serve is a Belgian-produced documentary on Indonesian women migrant laborers who go overseas to work as maids. The action all takes place at a recruiting center and school for the women, who are trained for the rigors of the work, typically involving contracts of seven-day-a-week employment in households in places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Middle East. Most of the women interviewed are the breadwinners for their families. They leave their children in order to work overseas and make good money. It's the only chance they see to afford to give their kids a good education and to save money for retirement. One woman's husband blows all the cash, but she stays with him. A voiceover reads letters from a maid who worked in the Middle East, and tells horror stories. Docs like these should be required viewing for anyone who wants to work as a maid or hire a maid. Woman I had projection problems, I think. It was all white and washed out. Doubt that was intentional, but it gave this oddly structured short by Nuntanat Duangtisarn an ethereal effect. It starts with the end credits, and the early parts take place in a bright office where everyone is wearing white. Actor Noppand Boonyai plays a director, and he's surrounded by four fantastic women he's casting in a movie. Among them is Jenjira Pongpas, a regular in Apichatpong Weerasethakul's films who also works as a casting director. She actually plays a casting director. Others are Sasithorn Panichnok, Ornanong Thaisriwong and Sumontha Suanpholrat. Eventually the ladies all put on black blouses and the technical problem was lessened. Hope to give Woman I another look with the proper brightness and contrast settings. (4/5)

Grandmother/A Suspended Moment – Here's a pairing of a short- and medium-length film that makes a pretty strong feature that ruminates on death, mourning and possible resurrection. Grandmother by Japanese director Yuki Kawamura captures the last days of his comatose 83-year-old grandmother, her passing and funeral services. The images of juxatposed with scenes of everyday life in the farming and fishing community. A Suspended Moment also takes place in Japan, but it's directed by Thai filmmaker Puttipong Aroonpheng. This highly experimental 58-minute work has several fragmented story threads. One involves a naked man in the forest, who's found by an elderly filmmaker and a little girl. Another thread has a Japanese-American father and son hiring a boat for a journey in which one will not be returning. If you're confused by it all, it helps to know that Suspended Moment is Puttipong's tribute to the passing of his own father, as well as to David Lynch's Eraserhead and Shuji Terayama's Pastoral: To Die in the Country. A mysterious Bigfoot-like figure emerges from the surf of grainy 8mm footage and suddenly, things make total sense. (4/5)

Guts Short Programme 2 – Taiki Sakpisit's I Did Not Dream Last Night/Looking in God's Eyes is a haunting look at laborers at a building site and then a portrait of a Buddhist monk putting on his robes. A at certain point in each segment of this film, the subjects will look straight into the camera, and it totally creeped me out. I felt like I was intruding. That was followed immediately by Chaisri Jiwarangsan's Four Seasons, which has the camera following a woman as she relaxes in a red dress in a woodland stream. Nice colors. Taiki's short was a collaboration with Koichi Shimizu, the composer and sound designer whose ambient soundtracks are an increasing part of Thai films, such as Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Nymph and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Other shorts in this program had a similar hypnotic effect. (4/5)

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