Sunday, December 6, 2015

13th WFFBKK capsule reviews: Ruined Heart, Underground Fragrance, About a Woman, Arabian Nights

Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore – Remember that weird and wonderful time in the early 2000s when Pen-ek Ratanaruang made a couple of movies with Japanese cult-film actor Tadanobu Asano and Wong Kar-wai's cinematographer Christopher Doyle? That was fun, right? Well, Filipino indie filmmaker/punk rocker Khavn de la Cruz thought so, and he got Asano and Doyle back together for Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore. Set in the tin-shack slums of the Philippines, it is the punk-rock opera adaptation of Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover that I never thought I needed, nor really deserved. But I got it anyway. Without much in the way of dialogue, owing I suppose to language differences, Ruined Heart has Asano as an enforcer for a mobster who falls disastrously in love with the mobster's special lady friend. Bathed in a dreamy blue haze by Doyle's lighting and set to an original rock 'n' roll soundtrack, Ruined Heart is an oddball music-video appendix that would play comfortably alongside screenings of Pen-ek's Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves. (4/5)

About a Woman – Each year at the film festivals, there are Southeast Asian movies about maids, and I for some reason always end up seeing at least one. This year's entry into the canon was Indonesian director Teddy Soeriaatmadja's latest, About a Woman. It has a well-to-do widow whose maid up and quits, leaving her to figure out how to cook dinner, put the heavy water bottle up on the dispenser and shut off the lights at the end of the day. Set in a fancy house with a dark, polished wood interior, it's a quiet, slow-moving drama that took me awhile to get into. But the turning point was when the widow's daughter shows up to look in on her mother, and they have a conversation. No biggie, just one of those moments of truth in cinema with a mother and daughter are having a heart-to-heart, and the daughter is just sitting there, looking like dynamite in her Muslim hijab, smoking a cigarette. The mother, a bit jealous, admits she could never quite pull that look off. Anyway, that's the first of many little moments. Another is when the sketchy son-in-law drops by with some of the honey he's hawking, and amid sweet talk he determines that what his mother-in-law needs is a young man around the house. So a jeans-clad, emo-haircut-sporting nephew shows up. And sparks almost instantly fly between the young man and the lonely, somehow eerily attractive widow. She's played by Tutie Kirana, a veteran Indonesian actress with credits that stretch back to the 1970s. From then, I was like Peter Stormare in Fargo, holed up in a cabin, engrossed in a soap opera on a snow-covered TV set, just engrossed to the point where I audibly gasped at a scene I'd already seen in the trailer. I know I annoyed the heck out of the serious Thai cinephiles seated around me. Sorry guys, I just got swept up. (4/5)

Those are the Southeast Asian films I got to see at the 13th World Film Festival of Bangkok last month. Other films I quite liked included the well-made Chinese indie Underground Fragrance and the Russian teen drama 14+.

I also saw all three volumes of Miguel Gomes' Arabian Nights and I am glad I did. I'm not sure I can put into words my feelings about the films. However, I did try, but only because I was assigned to by The Nation.

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