Tuesday, June 16, 2009

World Comedy Film Festival: Capsule reviews

The World Comedy Film Festival wraps up today (June 16) with the Hong Kong romantic comedy Look for a Star with Shu Qui and Andy Lau. However, because of scheduling conflicts -- a full-time job-type job -- I won't be attending any further screenings. Here's a look at what I did see.

Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly

Having paid millions of rupiah for the rights to the Stevie Wonder song "I Just Called to Say I Love You", it seems only fitting that director Edwin -- who like many Indonesians has only one name -- would use the tune as much as he could. It's first sung by a blind dentist, and then warbled through six more times over the course of this absurdist look at Chinese culture in Indonesia. And by the way, Edwin, present for a helpful question-and-answer session after this bizarre film, says he hadn't seen Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century, which also has a singing dentist. Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly shares many of the non-sequitur traits and meditative pacing of Apichatpong's films, evidencing the rise of another independent film voice out of Southeast Asia. In addition to the blind singing dentist, Blind Pig is full of abstract characters, like Linda, the girl who eats firecrackers (Ladya Cheryll), and a fragile badminton player who watches a television evangelist but is spurned by the singing dentist because he wants to convert to Islam. The dentist enters into a deal with an influential pair of heavies (one played by filmmaker Joko Anwar) to ensure his new girlfriend (Indonesian Playboy Playmate Andhara Early) wins a spot on the Planet Idol reality talent series. This involves a much-talked-about scene in the dentist office that was the reason the film was pulled from public screening at the Singapore International Film Festival because of censorship concerns. Appropriately for the World Comedy Film Festival, the scene had the audience laughing -- albeit uncomfortably. The dentist does not squeal like a pig, but he does grunt like one. And just to prove it, there actually is a pig. (4/5)

Dachimawa Lee

This South Korean spy spoof is so overstuffed with gags, it made me numb. I wasn't laughing so much because I was left catatonic by the onslaught of slapstick and action. Subtitle problems meant I missed a great deal of what was being said. Basically, it involves a jowly secret agent, who reminded me a bit of the swordsman in Lone Wolf and Cub, traveling around the world in a quest to retrieve a stolen Buddha statue and find a mole in his agency. In each place he lands, he's confronted by the enemy, and I guess their dialogue went something like, "Oh ho, so we meet again, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!" Etcetera. Furiously fast martial-arts battles became a blur. The sumptuous costuming, period setting and intentionally exaggerated melodramatic acting made me think Dachimawa Lee would be the next Tears of the Black Tiger. But it didn't knock my socks off like Tears did. So I'm still looking. (3/5)

James Band 007 (เจมส์แบน 007)

A fitting bookend to Dachimawa Lee, here's proof that even in 1980, Thai comedies took brilliant concepts and ran them into the ground. Directed by Chai Nimitrchotinai, James Band 007 is a fish-out-water spoof about a Pattaya bicycle rickshaw driver who takes over a mission for a secret agent. Even the real secret agent was low rent. Sent to Pattaya to stop an evil plot of some sort, the tuxedoed hero takes the bus! No Aston Martin or Q Branch for this Bond. And then, apparently because of agency policy, the real Bond hires the samlor driver named Band (Tep Thienchai) to take him up the hill to the Hyatt Pattaya Palace (now Royal Cliff). The rest of the film only exists to string together a collection of gags and confusing situations that put the grinning, toothless Band in touch with as many skinny, skantily-clad women as possible. I'm trying to make this movie sound bad, and it is. But it's no more ridiculous than Roger Moore in say, The Man With the Golden Gun. I think I might prefer James Band 007 to that. The real reason to watch James Band 007 is legendary comedian Lor Tok taking on the role of the mastermind villain with gusto. But even he's a thankless afterthought behind a couple of robots in the villain's hideout, named A and B, who are obviously patterned after C-3PO and R2-D2 in Star Wars. And then there's the score, which liberally borrows cues from the James Bond theme, as well as John Williams (the Superman love theme "Can You Read My Mind" and "Cantina Band" from Star Wars), Isaac Hayes ("Theme from Shaft") and Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). Update: Here's a review of the VCD at TarsTarkas.net. (3/5)

Singh is Kinng

Here's another broadly illustrated fish-out-of-water scenario -- a village idiot from rural Punjab becomes a crime boss in Australia. Akshay Kumar is Happy Singh, an “illiterate fool" who is packed off on a trip to Australia to fetch Lucky Singh and bring him home to his ailing parents. At least that's what Happy is led to believe. Actually, the villagers just want him gone, because he's a walking disaster area. For no reason other than staging a few song-and-dance sequences among the pyramids, the hero first lands by mistake in Egypt, where he meets the heroine Sonia (Katrina Kaif). Then, as quick as you can say, "Okay, let's go to Australia", the action shifts to Gold Coast, Queensland, where Lucky Singh (Sonu Sood) is the much-feared boss of the underworld. Through Happy's usual bumbling, Lucky is not so lucky and he's put in a wheelchair. The good-hearted Happy is placed in charge of the gang. More hijinks ensue when the turbaned Sikh gangsters all pose as servants for the benefit making Sonia and her fiance think her impoverished mother is wealthy. More songs and dancing, shootouts and action sequences ensue. Finally, after 2.5 hours, the end credits roll and we can hear rapper Snoop Dogg offer his take on the Bollywood phenomenon. (3/5)


Here's a more commercial example of Indonesian cinema than Blind Pig. In Cinlok or Love on Location, tattooed leading man Tora Sudiro (Quickie Express, The Rainbow Troops, Arisan!) stars as a fast-talking, slacker van driver named Cundra who strikes up a romance with Naila, a young woman he spots in the train station. Neither want to reveal they are single, so they both make up stories about their significant others, leading to the classic misunderstandings and humorous situations as can be expected from a romantic comedy. Naila's "boyfriend" Tio is a wealthy oilman and shipping magnate but is actually an eccentric farmer from her home village. She also fibs about her job, which leads to another humorous situation. Cundra's "girlfriend" Tika is an older woman, a fashion designer, but she's actually a village woman who's come to Jakarta to get a job as a maid with an employment agency. There's an inside joke when Tika and the other maids run away from the agency when they find out they are to be sold as prostitutes. Cundra is hired to find them. He describes Tika as looking like actress Ria Irawan. Well, she is veteran actress Ria Irawan. While not a ground-breaking film, Cinlok mainly works because of its easy-going pace, a talented, good-looking cast and competent production helmed by Guntur Soeharjanto, who somehow makes filming in the Jakarta railway station and other areas of the bustling Indonesian capital look painless. It was refreshing to watch this relaxed romance after the other comedies I'd viewed were trying too hard to make me laugh. (3/5)

Partly Cloudy/Up

Thanks to showtimes that stretched into the late night, well past when anything for the film festival was showing, I was able to go off the reservation and catch the latest animated feature from Disney-Pixar. It's telling that the one digital 3-D screening of Up I attended probably had a bigger audience than the entire run of the World Comedy Film Festival. Up has a bigger marketing budget -- there was a magician and other performers promoting the film in the cinema lobby -- while most of the money spent on the World Comedy Film Festival has been used to bring in a few celebrities in an effort to shore up Thailand's flagging tourism industry. So hardly anybody is actually watching the films. Even more telling is that I laughed harder and more loudly at the Pixar animated short Partly Cloudy than I'd laughed at anything I'd seen in the comedy fest. Up had laugh-out-loud moments too -- mainly having to do with the talking dogs. But maybe I'm too much of a grumpy old man, because I found Up overwhelmingly schmaltzy and the characters awkwardly drawn. I was still thrilled by the action sequences toward the end, but I wasn't as wowed by this effort as I have been on other Pixar films, like The Incredibles, Toy Story or Wall-E. (4/5)

Update: Asian Cinema - While on the Road has a couple of reviews.

Update 2: Celine Julie saw 14 films at the World Comedy Film Festival!


  1. "Job-type job" - is that Reservoir Dogs?


  2. Yeah, Reservoir Dogs. Now there's a funny movie. Tarantino-speak has crept into my vocabulary.


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