Sunday, May 23, 2004

Cannes heat: Asians bubbling under Fahrenheit 9/11

American director Michael Moore's politically charged documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 took the top prize at the 57th Cannes Film Festival, beating out the favorite, 2046 by Wong Kar-Wai, but Asian talent took other prizes.

Thailand's Apichatpong Weersathakul, whose slow-placed jungle drama Tropical Malady elicited boos at a press screening, won the festival's third-place jury prize.

The grand prize, the festival's second-place honor, went to Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook's Old Boy, a blood-soaked thriller about a man out for revenge after years of inexplicable imprisonment - not a surprising choice, considering Quentin Tarantino was president of the jury.

But it was a young boy, 14-year-old Yagura Yuuyi, who received the best actor award. He starred in Nobody Knows, about four children abandoned by their mother in Tokyo to fend for themselves.

Not only was the favored 2046 frozen out of the awards, actress Maggie Cheung was nearly edited out of that film, a followup to the smash In the Mood for Love, in which she starred. But Maggie also starred as a rock star's widow trying to kick a drug habit in Clean, by French director Olivier Assayas (who also happens to be Cheung's ex-husband). She won the best actress award for that role.

For Thailand's Apichatpong, this is his second appearance at Cannes. His first feature, Blissfully Yours, was presented at Cannes in 2002, when it won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard category. Behind Wisit Sasanatieng, whose Tears of the Black Tiger was presented out of competition in 2001, Apichatpong, is only the second director from Thailand to represent the Kingdom at this prestigious film festival.

But he has gained plenty of attention. Writes AO Scott in the New York Times:

It is hard to imagine a filmmaker more idiosyncratic than Apichatpong Weerasethakul ... whose Tropical Malady is the great curiosity of this festival. It is the kind of movie that reveals a great deal about the taste of its viewers. For every person you meet who fell into deep slumber before the end of the first hour, you find another who was utterly hypnotized by its languid rhythms and its haunting lyricism.

For its first half, Tropical Malady has the moody eroticism of a Wong Kar-Wai movie, as a soldier stationed at the edge of the jungle and a young ice-truck driver from the city pursue an apparently chaste but nonetheless passionate love affair. Midway through, this story is abruptly replaced by an animist folk tale in which a different soldier pursues the ghost of a tiger, who assumes the shape of a naked, heavily tattooed man, through the jungle. An allegorical relationship between the two halves is hinted at, but this is the kind of movie that frustrates all analysis. After a while, you give up on trying to understand it and surrender either to fatigue or to its teasing, dreamy ambiance.

(Photo: Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, left, and actor Sakda Kaewbuadee accept the jury prize for Tropical Malady during the awards ceremony at the 57th Cannes Film Festival.)

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