Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Kinatay (The Execution of P)
Directed by Brillante Ma. Mendoza
Written by Armando Lao

The heart of darkness Kinatay plumbs is a black hole we know, but couch in the cozy swaddle of urban legend, of things that happen to other people. Because confronting them without that measure of remove, without that deniability at arms' length, puts us too far out in harm’s way for comfort,makes us fair game.

But nearly everybody has a third person rogue cop story, or knows somebody who knows somebody who does, of men with guns and abductions in the night, of death squads and body parts in sackcloth, of devilish deeds done dirt cheap. I tend to cold sweat on impulse at the sight of checkpoints myself. I'm overreacting,sure, but none of that anxiety is mere caprice. Kinatay has night-thoughts to rummage through,alright. Enough verite to tap. Buttons to push.

But not agendas. Kinatay spews from firsthand moral outrage - - -Mendoza's, Lao's - - -but doesn't politicize nor exoticize nor even outrightly address it. It's apolitical. And amoral. And in a way that does little but thicken its soup of dread 'til we're choking on it, gasping for air. It's a closed-in half-lit morally blank world Coco Martin's rookie cop - - -and us along with him - - -is marooned in without coordinates, a world of permanent midnight and spatial displacement where malevolence is the hunch of a lieutenant's back and Hell, a nondescript spare room turned makeshift abbatoir.

And it's tone is of a chilling passivity that neither gets as nosy nor as horny as tortureporn ,which it sort of is, albeit wth the volume turned way way down, a real time abstraction if you will, a horror movie bereft not only of gory sensation - - -the controversial raping and torturing and beating and slaying and dismembering is a dimly-lit battery of master shots verging on unseeable- - - but also of ways out - - -an almost unbearable sequence during a detour to buy balut on a beer run and an even more unbearable one near the end when a cab gets a flat and the bravura van ride that knots coils in my gut still and that last shot and the harrowing pointlessness of it all. It's deadened and deadening.

The word "salvage" may have re-entered the vernacular freighted with an alarming new meaning but it's also freighted with an alarming currency that wears off the scald over time. Salvage victims are mostly nobodies anyway,other people. And who cares what perversities are visited on a haggard old whore ,moreso one who's dim enough to think she can dupe rogue cops of their drug loot? Repulsed. Desensitized. These are the emotional polarities of salvage. And these,too,are the emotional polarities of Kinatay. It can either burrow under your skin and breed cultures of unease. Or it can numb you into feeling nothing. Both, of course, is the desired effect. * * * *

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Now Showing

Now Showing
Directed and Written by Raya Martin

"(Nostalgia) is delicate but potent. . . in Greek, it literally means the pain from an old wound.It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone." - Don Draper, Mad Men

Lovely Rita, the girl who leaps through time here, had a movie star for a grandmother who wore a dress spun from gold, that now hangs from a nail on the door, a yellowing ghost leeched of its exuberance much like Rita herself, making the rent as a teenager from the hawking of bootleg DVDs

Coming of age stories, the sugar pill of arthouse, tend to heighten the mythic in the banal. Raya Martin’s Now Showing, ostensibly a coming of age story, taps into these banalities, rather, for the despair and beauty of impermanence. The past is a forever fragmenting thing, forever slippery, forever changing shape, making every memory implicitly flawed and implicitly precious. Retro is what nostalgia is often mistaken for. But retro's passive - - -the weak shit of the time-locked. Nostalgia has a lot more at stake - --a rescue mission but always with casualties.

Of a throb with avant-garde diary films like Khavn’s Memory of Forgetting and Jonas Mekas’ Lost Lost Lost in the way it parses for mesh in disjuncture, teasing membranes of story from random found life vignettes, it's not as if Raya is splicing together his own found life - - -he's merely co-opting the syntax. Now Showing is a triptych bookended by the two halves of Rita - - -the prepubescent trembling with wonderment and the post-teen lost in space. But it is the middle third, a re-purposing of the weathered but resplendent remains of Octavio Silos’ lost film Tunay Na Ina into what seems at first mere connective tissue, that somehow bears the ore of the whole piece - - -that is, the corrosive vagaries of time. And like his Indio Nacional and Autohystoria, this is an historical autopsy, too, notwithstanding the shift in temperature, and as bothered by the futilities of retrieving the past without having to make up the parts mislaid to the blind spots of memory.

Chris Marker, in Sans Soleil, said “Remembering is not the opposite of forgetting but rather its inner lining.We don’t so much remember as we rewrite memory.” I'm with Chris and so's Raya.Now Showing is all remembering and re-enactment, if these are his memories or if these are even memories at all , but conceived with a naturalism so immersive, the seams melt. A fake passing itself off as real passing itself off as fake until you can't tell which is which anymore. With thickly familiar pangs of mood evoking a sense of deja vu that can't be right but never leaves you anyway.

Each of the three parts it divides itself into is queasy with a specific veneer of decay - - -imperfect failing memory and the imperfect failing platforms that foolishly try to capture and preserve them - - -but the first third, a love letter to childhood that's flush and agog with tiny incident and shot as if on a lo-res camcorder, is queasiest, opaque to the point of creamy, with that vague sense of torpor that someone else's home movies have in the way the interstitial shots linger- - -on a birthday party, on kids playing patintero at night, on a young girl singing mutely to the roar of the crowd in her head, on nothing much - - -past ambient and into tedium. But not without that murmur of peril, as if some fugitive magic will be forever lost if the pause button is pressed too soon. That's the lethal poignancy of nostalgia. And it leaks like blood into what these interstices connect, throwing shadows on everything. And a swatch of hope. There is nothing mythic to heighten in the lives we live. There is only the warmth and burnish of remembering , the flames that gnaw at the edges and the things we save from the fire. * * * * *

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Pen-Ek. Nymph. Trailer.

Nothing more needs to be said - - -but I just did.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Long Goodbye (For Alexis & Nika)

I didn’t know Alexis enough to say we were close but knew him enough to feel kindred with him. And maybe that was all it took - - -the too few run-ins, the too few conversations, the too few emails, the too few fond anecdotes. Why else would there be this much shock and fear and regret and grief? Why else would all the cinema in the world suddenly feel so outmoded and impotent in the face of what happened? But let’s not put cinema down, as it was, after all, the magnet that drew us to each other - - -this mad fervid love for it that many thought almost freaky. Having declared my unwavering fealty to it even before I was in high school and knew better, I always thought my love bottomless and indomitable but the depth Alexis’ feelings ran - - -and the things it made him do - - -makes mine look like a petty crush . It put me to shame. But also had me keyed up. If there was one thing Alexis left with me, it’s knowing that there was still, and will always be, much more cinema to fall in love with.

Much as I'd like to say I was writing this as a friend, and much as I know Alexis wouldn’t mind if I did that or called him one, I feel it’s not entirely my place to do so. I’m writing this instead as a fellow lover of cinema and a fellow writer, a fellow film critic if you will. This blog was my secluded little pocket of the internet to write about something I loved. I never factored in that there would be traffic- - -the spotlight and me never really did see eye to eye, always had a touch of the hermetic, camera shyness. But the very first thing Alexis said to me when I was introduced to him was ”Hi. I like your blog”. It was immensely flattering. And it would later fuel me to not just write, but write faster, write truer, write more - - -my sloth may be my downfall but I’m getting there. But it was also immensely daunting knowing there was someone reading, let alone someone like Alexis. It was the second most frightening thing he ever said to me,really.

The most frightening thing was when he asked much later on if I really was shooting my first film. I told him sheepishly that I had shot one scene. Who knows what he would have thought of it had he lived to see it finished? Not that it would’ve mattered, I figured, long as I make it with generosity and conviction and love. That's how Alexis did his work. And that's how everyone in this ragtag so-called scene of ours sets out to do theirs, too. That's how he would've prefered it, I think - - -I don't know, I won't know. But it's all about love,in the end. The last few days I've been swimming in this warm and fraternal and almost familial inundation of community, this coming together in consensual sorrow,bonded by this shared and senseless loss and by this shared love for both cinema and for two people who gave so much for it. Too much.

Love is,as Alexis once said, the first impulse of critics. It is also the first impulse of friends.

Peace for the last time, Alexis and Nika. I hardly knew you but I'm glad I did.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Disco Mon Amour

Sifting through the Criterion website, nursing half-baked plans to bucke down and at last get one of these.

Two things caught my eye that made me wet myself.

August will be orgasmic.

Monday, May 18, 2009

20-Seiki Shônen Chapter 1 (20th Century Boys Chapter 1)

20-Seiki Shônen Chapter 1 (20th Century Boys Chapter 1)
Directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi (Crying Out Love in the Center of the World)
Starring Toshiaki Karasawa (Casshern),Etsusi Toyokawa (Hula Girls)

I've destroyed the world many times before - - - and so have you. With crayon drawings on torn notebook paper. This is what us boys would do to give vent to the berserker rages of all our boyish imaginations. Gleefully, dementedly laying waste to civilizations, perhaps in secret hope of remaking the world from the rubble but this time to our prepubescent whims. Or maybe it was merely out of how diabolically fun blowing up imaginary cities can be. Not to mention drawing all the flamboyant, impossible monsters that blew them up.

Back in the 20th century, flying a 747 into a skyscraper as a terrorist plot rang with similarly feverish delirium- - - crayon drawings on torn notebook paper. That was just nine years ago. Not that you need to be told but this is the world we woke up to after the millennium changed hands- - - boyhood annihilation fantasies as real world genocide scenarios with wackos for architects bent on remaking the world to their whims. Fucked up doesn't quite cover it. And taken one way, Naoki Urusawa's immense manga 20th Century Boys , filtrated as it is through this grand pop sieve of weird viruses and giant robots and shadowy cults, is all about what life is like in this new world we live in, which is what life was like in the old world we lived in except it's more fitful and more rickety and more prone to toxic absurdities.

Taken another way, it's about the vagaries of obsolesence , the way those of us whose destinies have passed us by flail for some kind of bearing in a world that doesn't give a shit like it used to, if it did at all. And the possible devastations getting stuck in the past can wreak on the future. That T. Rex song - - - "I'm your toy, your 20th century boy" - - - has a riff so mighty you can believe how the kids here fell under it like a banner to signal changes. Fed by Marc Bolan's futuresexy androgyny, it was a song on the cusp of a world to come. The irony, of course, and the subtext Naoki is aiming for, is that today nothing sums someone up more as a relic of his time than calling him a 20th century boy.

Taken the same way and minus the millennial divide, this is what Stephen King's It was about, too - - - waking up in a present you didn't expect to wake up in that's agitated by a past that has come to collect. It's not as if it would take a genius to run them - - - the parallels between the two do glare and vibrate. There's the relentless toggling between two timelines. There's the childhood friends - - -boy dominant with a token girl - - - sputtering invisibly through a bland middle age. There's the banding together to thwart an enemy they may have unwittingly loosed. There's the epic sprawl - - -it starts in the '70s and ends in 2015. There's the turned-up volume to everything. Except it's not supernatural bunk Naoki cranks up.

He hews closer to the sort of boy detective sci-fic pop the younger Ray Bradbury and the younger Steven Spielberg proliferated but without lapsing into the dewy cloy they both tended to stoop to back then. And he's as fiendish as King is with story. It , of course, was massive, but also unwieldy and turgid and not the work you uphold to champion King - - - ominipotent turtles and gangbangs, WTF? 20th Century Boys is even more vast but manga always gives itself the room to stretch and breathe and not hurry that Americans seem chronically allergic to, and over its 24 volumes, it moves at a clip but paces its convolutions so it never really disintegrates into the gooey mess we're left with at the end of It.

Given how Tsutsumi's spacing out all 24 volumes across three features - - - and this is merely the first - - - it's a little disingenuous to raise him up for the structural liberties he takes that makes this spry or put him down not only for how the nuances he forsakes activates a little supercompression vertigo but also for how he exaggerates the cataclysm near the cliffhanging end. He does soothe my doubts about the next two to come when he tempers all the heightened arcana that comes with being a kid with all the simmering melancholia that comes with being an adult. 20th Century Boys is all about how hope and ruin, potential and failure, wonderment and exhaustion intersect. And how, to paraphrase another glam rock icon, we can all be heroes in the overlap. Trite, sure - - - but lay in a mighty guitar riff on top of it and it's a banner to fall under.* * *

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Friday, May 08, 2009

Ang Lee Takes Woodstock

Cameron Crowe, sure. Richard Linklater, possibly. But Ang Lee? The family dynamic fits him,give him that - - - but why gripe when it's the imperfect fit of this that has me piqued anyway.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


Pen Ek. Nymph. Poster.

Nothing else needs to be said - - - but I just did.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

SHORTS: Mobile Men by Apichatpong Weerasethakul


Joe Weerasethakul's Mobile Men is a part of the 22-segment Stories on Human Rights.

Visit Wise Kwai's site for the breakdown.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Independencia At Cannes

Raya Martin's Independencia picked for Cannes' Un Certain Regard together with Pen-Ek's Nymph, Bong Joon- Hoo's Mother and a new one by Cristian Mungiu.

And it has a trailer.

Beautiful stuff. And that song is a chill up the spine.

Vengeance At Cannes

Johnnie To's Cannes-bound with his new Vengeance. In competition, at that.

And there's a second trailer.

Wet your shorts.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Departures おくりびと

Okuribito (Departures)

Directed by Yojiro Takita

Starring Masahiro Motoki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ryoko Hirosue

We talk to our dead during a wake. We converse with them as if the dearly departed could reply back. Oftentimes, we answer for them.

Oftentimes, we like to pretend that the dead are only asleep and it's crucial that they look that way.

The Japanese encoffinment ritual that is the heart of Departures is the most affectionate gesture I have ever seen on screen. It is graceful yet precise; concealing the difficult task of cleaning and disrobing the dead with a hypnotic, almost celebratory dance, knees firmly tucked under, arms rising and falling and fingers fluttering. Fussing like a mother; rigid like a father. Playful like a child. The bereaved family watches closely and become part of the corpse's transformation, from a cold, empty shell to a familiar face that they've woken up to or watched fall asleep in the years that have passed.

As a child, I used to watch my mother suit up for work and I've only remembered recently how I have memorized her morning routine: the perfume behind the ears before anything else, the skirt that she carefully smooths out, the watch, her only jewelry, that she gingerly clicks into place. Watching the encoffinment ceremony feels like watching someone go through his daily ritual one last time.

In refined, thoughtful strokes, Departures paints different scenarios of last goodbyes with such unpredictability in the details that it feels painfully real. The ceremonies do tend to end in tears (quiet, howling) but it's the subtle change in atmosphere---the slightest tics of recognition and submission to fate on the faces of husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters and lovers, and the wistful look of committing to memory the contours and the imperfection that once loved them back---that director Yojiro Takita carefully captures with polite elegance.

Much like us unfamiliar with the Japanese cermony, Daigo is the outsider, the watchful eye that is slowly drawn into a career of encoffinment. Played brilliantly by Masahari Motoki, who first thought of filming Departures ten years ago after reading the memoir of an enconffinment master, Daigo is an awkward mess of insecurity and unfulfilled dreams. Recognizing his own limitation in playing the cello, he and his wife Mika (the luminous Ryoko Hirosue) move back to Yamagata to look for a new job. He stumbles upon an ad on "Assisting Departures" and thinking that it was a travel agency opening, applies for it.

His introduction to corpses is a gag but as he is drawn deeper into the refined precision of the ritual, almost similar to the fret play on the cello, Daigo unravels into his own person and confronts memories he has been running away from all his life.

I'm forgiving the movie for its singular, obviously-staged montage (Who plays cello in a rice field? Even the kurosagi seem to be bothered by it.) because as a joyfully heartbreaking whole, Departures is one of those rare movies that transforms into a shared experience. The movie poses through images difficult questions about life and death, contemplates the answers, and leaves it to us mull over. It's loose structure gives the string of encounters breathing space, making room for Daigo's own personal battles, his struggle to remember his estranged father's face, the quiet brevity it requires. And what I love most, for all its thematic weight, is the movie's light footed humor, most of the time rolling with the funny down its melancholic twists. Unpretentious, the humble film that could, Departures wistfully offers us the gift of how to say goodbye.

(And yes, it is better than any of the 5 nominees for Best Picture in this year's Oscar race.)


Thursday, April 16, 2009

20th Century Boys Chapter 3

If you haven't read the manga, this will mean nothing to you. If you've read it up until the part where the first movie ended, the second to the last shot will either be a massive spoiler or will make you wet your panties. I almost did when I was reading the manga. And I almost did when I saw this.

Yes, sometimes I get embarassingly excitable.

Just go clicky clicky, alright?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Voices, Tilted Screens and Extended Scenes of Loneliness: Filipinos in High Definition

Voices, Tilted Screens and Extended Scenes of Loneliness: Filipinos in High Definition
Directed and Written by John Torres (Todo Todo Teros, Years When I Was A Child Outside)

Voices is a failure. A love letter to, in the shape of. A film about making a film that never gets made, about the plan coming undone, the dream revoked. John Torres digs the annihilating of form but digs the annihilated form even more. The pseudo-espionage of his Todo Todo Teros had the layered mien of collage, effervescing as it did on the sampler's gambit of making cohere the often opponent fragments he curates- - - scraps of poetry, found footage and that haunting recurring shot of a wife watching the filmed proof of her husband's infidelity- - - with the connective tissue of a new form. It's spypunk, a miasmic voodoo of surveillance paranoia and emotional terrorism - - - love in the time of Al Qaeda.

Neither as dense nor as frantic, most of Voices are talking heads, all exiles for being adrift someplace they never expected to be at this point in their lives and almost confessing to the camera with a candor both icky and poignant- - - the homesick revolutionary lamenting his receding hair and singing guerilla songs , the son disgruntled at finding out he has a half-brother, the OFW remembering the voice tapes she used to send her boyfriends back home, the girl playacting a pretend love story who breaks down between takes to go emo about her own romantic troubles. Strung together one after the other and marooned from an overriding design, each vignette making a go at that unmakable movie but eventually folding in on itself and giving up, you're meant to parse the fragmentary quality this time. Voices is teasing frissons from the disconnect. In flux is it's mien.

Everything begins at a house pelted by rainfall, much smaller than what the people living in it thought they would move into, in a bedroom piled high with the junk they can't throw away,where a kid plays videogames between the oaken limbs of his sleeping grandparents, lost,as they are, in a vacuum of calm. You know this house - - - you've been to one, you know someone who lives in one, you probably live in one. And you know the feeling. Failure is a universal language. And everyone's a disappointment artist, adrift. The lullabylike rain fades as soon as we leave the house but its sombre, aching, serene and tender soothe pitterpatters on in my head, like some phantom serenade to that exile in all of us. * * * * *


Directed by Rico Maria Ilarde (Sa Ilalim Ng Cogon, Aquarium)
Starring Zanjoe Marudo (You Got Me!), Dimples Romana
(Huling Pasada)

What the creatures that gnash and tumble through Rico Ilarde's features do is take irony into the woods and slits its throat. They’re tactile presences, these mud women and genetic fuckups and fish demons. They're context. They’re not meant to multitask as semiotic bullshit and be anything other than what they are upfront. In a more snide universe, calling them pulpy schlock amounts to a dis but in a universe that knows better they are pulpy schlock but they’re also what gives the work its frisson, its dissonance. B movies, say the scornful lazy. Fair enough. Unlike the kind Uwe Boll or Brett Ratner or Michael Bay shit through their noses, though, and more like what Monte Hellman or Francis Coppolla used to make for Roger Corman, this is genre, hundred proof, but with a bit more on its mind, more room to maneuver without wandering off into the kind of disdainful postmodern appropriation that is so chickenshit and dull. The interstitial complexities of his work are possessed by nothing short of true love for the genre, for its tropes. And the beauty of Sa Ilalim Ng Cogon, despite having me more - - -and having more, really - - - in the poignant taboo of its love story than the black science gone fuckup it converged with - - -and once converged became something else- - -was that, ultimately,it was a tricked-up Dr.Moreau riff and wore it proudly.

Altar is Rico's first haunted house, and a far grimmer, far grimier affair than the lush, pungent gumbo of Cogon, but still within his esthetic. There's repeating yourself and there's making the same movie over and over, like an exorcism rite, a honing and a purging both. The difference is the difference between formula and theme, between hack and auteur. Push Rico for the latter- - - because he is. And the movie he keeps making over and over is about the Everyman who flees the world that owes him by crossing over the weird precipice of another. Here, it's a prizefighter with no fight left in him, fallen from grace, sick with remorse, shrunk to drudge, soul in tatters. Too bad having read the virtually unchanged treatment a year back has dampened all the creepy goings-on for me. It's the boxer's pathos I chew on for resonance - - -the soul of Rico's movies has always been in the things he lets simmer under the genre tropes. And it's a chill up my spine when he tells the girl he loves his fate's not so much out of trespasses he's atoning for, more the butt of a mean joke the universe played. Flies to wanton gods. In a universe painted this black,any ghost that attic holds almost counts as relief. * * *


Directed and Written by Raya Martin (Now Showing, Next Attraction)

Projector issues
- - -that's likely. But there is the way the image in that opening long walk home seems to corrode before your eyes, the way the noise picks out shapes of things that aren't even there, the way it feels less like postwork - - -that is, premeditated but artificial- - -and more the risk you put yourself through shooting on analog then blowing it up to see what happens- - -that is, premeditated but organic. And the way what does happen counts as foreshadowing. For how it similarly obsesses on the active degrading of our collective memory, on history as something mutable and suspect, but not with the same elegaic prettiness as Indio Nacional tapping into silent cinema's textures of otherness to find eerie new con/subtexts - - - 1896's hard-won independence as a kind of cultural neutering, for one- - - in our beloved revolutionary saga.

That one opens, too, with a man walking, not home but down a cave. A returning to the womb, perhaps, also a descent into mystery. The mystery of our birth as a nation reflexively full-circling to our dying as a cultural entity and retold as ghost stories at bedtime so it gets feverish and hysteric with swaths of unease and swaths of whimsy and swaths of surreal imagery - - -the blessed virgin dogging a katipunero down a field , the sun rising from between a man's legs then giving him a wink, a plaster saint flirting with two women in church - - - where Autohystoria gets feverish and hysteric but only with unease and in more than mere swaths, it's nervy with it.

The death it gets under the skin of, after all, isn’t as abstract, as metaphoric, as philosophical. And is,in fact, bloody and viscous. Is, in fact, a murder- - -Andres and brother Procopio Bonifacio’s execution at the hands of Emilio Aguinaldo’s cohorts and the conspiracy to whitewash it, retold with microscopic agony and brutal immediacy as presentday salvage in real-time. Noble aims superseded by gleeful artifice means the pleasures of Indio are purer as mere cinephilic fetishism, nothing wrong with that. More nihilistic, more wounded, Autohystoria triumphs as surface, too, only with more seepage and tackle. Its subtext - - - that political homicide is in our blood - - - runs hardwired with marrow chill and black voltage, but its visceral jolt is the volatile that stays with you.
* * * * *

Paalam Aking Bulalakaw (Goodbye My Shooting

Paalam Aking Bulalakaw (Goodbye My Shooting Star)
Directed and Written by Khavn De La Cruz (Squatterpunk, Hindi Kita Kilala)
Starring Meryll Soriano

Who knows what came to pass between K and Ana before today? K is, of course, director Khavn himself sort of, the man with the movie camera whom we never see, and Ana is Meryll Soriano, his obscure object of desire whom we can't take our eyes off. They talk and it's not as if it gets so obtuse as to resist parsing. Just weightless and hesitant and stumblebum . There are no codes in the conversation to decipher. What we talk about when we talk about love are the things that go unsaid anyway. The inarticulate speech of the heart. So maybe we should just take Khavn's word for it that K loves Ana and that's as far as it got. Which then makes this. . . what? Chance? Or design? Date? Or destiny? Unrequited? Reunited?

The Linklater parallels you invoke only to cut a long story short and to peg what can be a bitch to peg, what is better off seeing for yourself- - - Before Sunrise at 30 f.p.s. on a shoestring. The parallelism does take, somewhat- - - the walking around, the talking around, the going everywhere, the going nowhere. But there's no arc in this first person love story, no fate playing matchmaker, no intrusions from the universe. Only the brutal symmetry - - - the solipsistic economy and delicate equilibrium and minimalist stasis- - - of its POV.

It's the longest goodbye in the universe when your shooting star burns out, shooting star here's used loosely, figuratively. It rings more poetically in the vernacular - - -bulalakaw. You call them that because they burn so bright, because you wistfully look to the sky for their trajectories to cross your radar again even after their orbits have passed most likely forever, because you wish on them. But you knew that and maybe you knew that out of having had this extraterrestrial hurt too, out of having the unforgettable face of that lapsed darling afterimaging in your head long after her radio silence, her invisibility, her supernova before your eyes. And all of this is in K's head. Like the lovesongs falling on deaf ears, like the poetry in the details, like the words that fail, like the wishfully-thinking extraterrestrial hurt it hooks me with.* * * *

Saturday, April 11, 2009


New Johnnie To. Written by Wai Kai Fai. Starring Johnny Hallyday.

If you need any more words to pique your curiosity, let me extend my condolences for living all this time on a planet of no joy.

This had me at "New Johnnie To".

Clicky clicky. Preview is available.

The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela

Limited run of Olaf Johannesson's The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela starts April 11 at Robinson's Galleria. Click to embiggen. Then go see.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Meat Grinder

Meat Grinder
Directed by Tiwa Moeithaisong
Starring Mai Charoenpura (Suriyothai), Rattanaballang Tohsawat (Bangkok Love Story)

A movie about slicing and dicing is sliced and diced by the Thai censors, how's that for parallelism?

Whether Tiwa Moeithaisong intended it to be or not, Meat Grinder has become a crash test dummy for the new Thailand motion picture ratings and can't be helped but seen as an allegory to the viewing experience: As the landlord and his thugs slurp down Bus' noodles and devour the bits and pieces of human meatballs, I am also served a severely and clumsily hacked movie, which refrained me from digesting the narrative as a coherent whole. (I was also out of my comfort zone, watching a movie for the first time in Bangkok in the plush Siam Paragon multiplex on a chair that stubbornly pulled back at what should be a relaxing angle but only made me feel like I was about to fall backwards every time my cringe reflexes were, err, cringing away.)

Meat Grinder is about a lot of things---violence begets violence, the tumultous Thai communist uprisings which I hoped the movie pursued more to add more dimension to the period's climate, violence as escape (and lucrative business) for the women in this movie---but these all feel incidental to the main attraction, the deliciously graphic hunting and gathering of human meat and the calculated food preparation.

Mai Charoenpura as Bus goes about her killing spree with stoic determination that it becomes more chilling. And cool. She even out-classes Uma Thurman's The Bride (Kill Bill) when Bus kitchen kung-fus her three abusers with knives and cleavers or whatever she could grab in her dank kitchen, whacking heads like they were yielding watermelons, driving hooks through screaming mouths, slicing arms casually as if she were about to serve Christmas ham. Admittedly, even for someone like me who has a taste for gore fests, I had to look away when she drove a nail down in all ten fingertips of one of her victims. Shot up close, the rusty nail pierced and cracked the quivering fingernail painfully slow, which is reminiscent of Choi Min-Sik's dentistry work with a hammer in Park Chan Wook's Old Boy and the gradual torture in Takashi Miike's Ôdishon.

Unfortunately, Meat Grinder's narrative is as choppy as its violence. The Thai censors is partially to blame but Moeithaisong is also at fault, resorting occasionally to execution over substance. There are just too many styles employed---from scratchy old-film wash-out colors to black and white to quick cut-to-cuts---resulting to a disjointed storytelling and a tone that is impossible to define, which is my biggest issue with the movie.

Outside the political context of censorship, Meat Grinder, as a movie, is without depth. There are signs that the director struggled to inject it with meaning but the cycle of violence as an emotional center or theme is a beaten-up, predictable purpose. Soylent Green existed in an apocalyptic what-if context; The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and Titus made cannibalism the ultimate penance. In Meat Grinder, we never feel the weight of commiting the act. Was Bus supposed to be excused because she was mad? Was Bus' lover not even mortified or even the slightest bit morally shaken after seeing the slaughterhouse?

In this respect, Meat Grinder is torture porn. Frustratingly so because it could have been so much more. There's not much to chew on really.


Further Reading:


Directed by Topel Lee
Starring Robin Padilla, Rhian Ramos, Sunshine Dizon

You can feel the cold creeping in and squeezing your windpipes. You are Louella (Sunshine Dizon) getting soaked in the rain, shoes sticky with mud, as you watch your father's skeleton stumble out of its coffin clumsily dropped by cemetery caretakers. You are Baguio, sprawling, eternally cold and gray like a blanket hiding a corpse.

Director Topel Lee and cinematographer J. A. Tadena transform the usually cheery Baguio into a brooding, opaque hell where houses seem to shiver in the cold. Bathed in muted palettes of browns and steel, the fluorescent light seems alien, a fragile glow that the dark is hungry to devour, while the ghosts, ang mga sundo, lurk in the mist-like shadows.

The noun "sundo" has no direct English translation: it is a person---a close relative, a sweetheart---who picks you up from school or work with the specific purpose of making sure you get home safely, ie. My sundo (boyfriend or parent) has arrived. As a verb, sundo means to pick someone up (from school or work). In the movie, Romano (Robin Padilla) sees dead people, but these are ghosts with a mission, to be the sundo, the guide of the dying from this life to the after life. In effect, every appearance of a ghost is an omen of death.

Romano and childhood friend Louella drive down to the city with his sister, the blind Isabel (Rhian Ramos), to find a cure for her ailment, along with a few companions. Romano dreams about an accident that kills them all but wakes up in time to prevent it from happening. He suddenly hears a baby crying and as he steps out of the vehicle, he realizes that they are surrounded by ghosts. They were meant to die and now their sundo have arrived.

Sundo is a movie severely split in two. The first half is moody, atmospheric, and genuinely dead cold; its claustrophobic static can be felt at the back of the neck. The second half, which begins right after the should-have-been accident, is commercial Hollywood that is too reminscent of Final Destination.

What a damn shame.

There could be higher forces at work here and Lee does his best to keep the brooding tone, but the gimicky accidents (being blinded by flying embers from your favorite isaw stand) are laughably scripted and clumsily executed with not enough B-movie gusto that they turn out flat. And boring.

There's a twist in the movie's last few minutes that almost saves the movie from predictability but it is carried out in exactly the same way that Ouija (Topel's previous horror genre effort) ended, with someone being pulled into the darkness.

Is it just me or was that last echoing scream a cry of frustration?


Best in Time (Kwaam Jam San..Dtae Rak Chan Yaao)

Best in Time (Kwaam Jam San..Dtae Rak Chan Yaao)
Directed by
Youngyooth Thongkonthun (Iron Ladies)
Arak Amornsupasiri (Body sob 19), Yarinda Bunnag

Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it. ~Michel de Montaigne

Memory is a whimsical beast. It surfaces without warning, submerges without a sound as if it never made ripples. Memories being unique to a person, we can assume that we own them, that we can subject them to bend to our will, chronologically sorted and easily pulled out as needed.

Keng (Arak Amornsupasiri) is a snobbish, awkward veterinarian who never got over his first love, Fai (Yarinda Bunnag), who married and later got divorced to his best friend. Keng pretends that he doesn't remember her when she stumbles into his clinic carrying an injured dog.

Kind and eternally compassionate Fai can't forget her ex-husband and secretly wishes that they would get back together soon. But she also remembers Keng, the once shy, admonishing high school kid who had recorded a love mix for her, and is now showing her the kind of affection and attention that her ex-husband couldn't give.

Sompit and Jamrat met at a computer club for the elderly. Eventhough her family doesn't agree with her blossoming relationship with Jamrat, Sampit flees to Chumporn to be with the man she loves; she insists on staying with Jamrat even if her family is relocating to the U.S. But Jamrat, due to an illness, is slowly losing his memory. He will soon forget every memory he holds dear. Pretty soon, he wouldn't even recognize Sampit.

Best in Time is a thoughtful, lighthearted examination of memory and its ironies. Director Amornsupasiri is in no rush to tell a story and there is a languid, relaxed flow to the mistakes and realizations that the characters make along the way. Beyond a logical progression from point A to point B, Best in Time is fattened with moments that make each character more endearing----Fai rushing off to a bookstore to buy her ex-husband's missing DragonBallZ vol. 18 manga but ends up getting the entire set because the books weren't sold individually; Keng pretending to be asleep and secretly smiling when droplets of water from Fai's newly washed hair trickle down his cheeks---moments not exactly integral to moving the story forward but in themselves are memories waiting to be kept.

The movie also keeps it real as much as possible and veers from romantic-comedy predictability right from the outset. Fai and Keng make an odd couple; they never really become comfortable with each other's company with Fai still attempting, maybe even faking, to move on from her divorce. And I like it that the movie leaves it at that, with one still unable to forget and the other quite willing to never forget and continue waiting.

If there is a weakness to the movie, it is the contrived metaphors (the tree, the goldfish) that weigh down Sampit and Jamrat's story, the almost too obvious emotional anchors that cue the melodrama (of which I am not immune to because I admittedly had to pretend to clean my glasses when I was really quickly wiping off tears).

The existence of forgetting has never been proved: We only know that some things don't come to mind when we want them. ~Friedrich Nietzsche

I liked Best in Time more than I should. Memory is triggered randomly and the DragonBallZ manga bit hit too close to home. Out of nowhere, with one hand freezing from holding a soda and the other half-buried in a popcorn bucket, there it was, this thing I thought I had forgotten.

If there's one thing that the movie is successful at it is making us remember that the past is as fluid as the future and that all we can do when it does rear its head---nostlagic, regretful, or whimsical---is sit back and enjoy the view.


Official website: www.kwamjumsan.com

The Unseeable เปนชู้กับผี

Pen Choo Kub Pee (The Unseeable)

Directed by Wisit Sasanatieng

Starring Suporntip Chuangrangsri, Tassawan Seneewongse, Siraphan Wattanajinda

"All seeable things are alike; each unseeable thing is unseeable in its own way." - Leo Tolstoy

Old-fashioned fear is organic in the hands of flashy Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng. Organic like reflex memory, the groaning shadows and fleeting shapes of things that go bump in the dark that make your heart skip a beat. Organic like cautionary tales, cob-webbed ghouls and pale, clawed hands that pull you into the darkness when you've been disobedient. Organic like love, the heart of darkness that pushes us to do foolish things that later come back. Oh, and do they come back.

The Unseeable is thick with ghosts, so thick it's impossible not to beathe in the dusty, musty smells of locked closets and abandoned rooms heavy with beauty. And of course, secrets. The attention to detail poured over to recreate the romantic 1930s is obssesive compulsive accurate. The looming high roofs, the ornate doors and tapestry, the grandly spacious rooms that echo the glory of Hollywood, a nostalgic lushness that at first seduces a young pregnant woman, Nualjin (Siraphun Wattanajinda), who is in search of temporary lodging while she looks for her missing husband. Madame Somchit, played with Gothic glee by Tassawan Seneewongse, is the grim caretaker who sternly forbids any trips to the main house where the mysterious widow, Runjuan (Supornthip Choungrangsee) lives.

The labyrinthine gardens and hallways beckon Nualjin out of her room and into the maddeningly crowded night. With only a low-burning oil lamp throwing, stretching, and distorting shadows, the unseeable surfaces.

There is macabre magic at work in Wisit Sasanatieng's frames. The ghosts are barely visible; glimpses above Nualjin's shoulder, a pale hand reaching out for moldy offerings from the mouth of a jar or a thorny shrub, a half naked man sitting on the roof, crawling down the walls---blink and you miss it. But if you do see it---them---the shivers go down the spine like mad.

Scripted by Kongkiat Khomsiri who also wrote Art of the Devil II, The Unseeable reveals itself like a mystery-thriller with bits and pieces of flashback that get less and less scary as it reaches the end, a twist that is not much of a surprise but still deftly, err, executed. What the script lacks in sophistication Sasanatieng makes up for with dazzlingly claustrophobic camera pans and a precise eye for capturing the slightest ghostly gesture, which has made the unseeable desperation and montrosity of a past that haunts deliriously cinematic.

Old-fashioned fear is organic, the haunted houses of our youth that we occassionaly visit in our nightmares. Organic like the quickening of the pulse when the street lights go out and we are walking alone in the dark. Organic like a lamp burning out. Organic like not turning off the lights after watching The Unseeable.


  • Stumbled upon Leo Tolstoy quote here, SEED Magazine article on Dark matter.
  • More photos and a review here, Coffee Coffee and More Coffee.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

20世紀少年 (20th Century Boys)

20世紀少年 (20th Century Boys)
Directed by YukihikoTsutsumi
Starring Toshiaki Karasawa, Etsushi Toyokawa, Takako Tokiwa

20th Century Boys, created by Naoki Urasawa, is a science fiction mystery manga that cleverly combines the careless innocence of youth with the harsher reality of growing up in a world scarred by failure and terrorism.

Fresh from the reeling disappointment of Watchmen (I've seen it twice, am now tempted to lower my initial rating but will let it stay there for the meantime), I was a bit cautious to watch another ambitious adaptation. Still, I thought, not Hollywood.

To put it succinctly, the first installment of the 20th Century Boys trilogy is tha bomb. *Scrambles off for actual words*

Folksies, this is how a comic book adaptation should be made. As a visual medium, the panels should not be the shoot list. A faithful tribute is just an excuse for being lazy. Details, no matter how meticulously brought to life, do not make a movie. Besides, where's the fun in that, eh? Director Yukihiko Tsutsumi is clever enough to filter and borrow only the iconic images of the manga and frames the rest with his own point of view.

Covering the first five volumes of the sprawling, kaleidoscopic epic, the movie moves at a brisk pace, which is very necessary since this is first and foremost a mystery story that goes back and forth the past and the present. 20th Century Boys hits the ground running with an ominous conversation between two prisoners locked up in separate cells hinting at a darkness that blankets the country before transitioning to 1973 (the actual opening of the manga), where a boy named Kenji plays along to the opening riffs of T. Rex's "20th Century Boy" on a broom as the crunchy guitars ROAR its way through sleepy classrooms. Later on we see Kenji (Karasawa) in 1987, drained and tired and forced to smile as he tries to balance running a grocery store with taking care of a baby his sister has mysteriously left behind.

When one of his regular patrons disappears, Kenji decides to take chance at visiting the client's home to check if the family left behind any form of payment and discovers instead a symbol on a wall that is connected to his childhood.

In another area in the city, the police find a body that is drained of blood, possibly connected to a virus that has been killing hundreds in Africa. Has it reached Japan?

And some place else, a cult is born, worshiping a messianic masked man simply called "Friend," the symbol that Kenji saw printed across the cult leader's mask.

It is the same symbol that one of Kenji's childhood friends writes a letter to him about before dying a few days later.

The key to solving the mystery is in Kenji's childhood and in his circle of friends. And this is where the 20th Century Boys truly shines. The flashbacks are infused with such relaxed nostalgia where the kicked-up dirt mixes with sweat and snot, and bullies are rampaging giants who can break your bone at a whim. The warmly-hued scenes of playing in the fields also serve as a grating and ultimately heartbreaking contrast to the complex lives the grown-ups are leading. Evil is no longer getting your ass whupped or imagined villains straight from the pages of comic books. Evil is failure, the postponed dreams that grow more distant as the years pass, but also as palpable as murder, terrorist bombings, and betrayal.

The screenplay wisely omits a few scenes from the manga, with a couple of rewrites (the back story of Donkey comes to mind) for the sake of pacing, but I don't mind at all because the soul of the movie is intact and not drowned out by the nifty special effects or a stoic reverence to the source material.

Much like Stephen King's novel "It," 20th Century Boys follows the lives of childhood friends who have grown apart but are reunited by a pact they made decades ago. And Tsutsumi never loses sight of the movie's center: That it is possible to confront the monsters and giants we have always feared because true friends will always have your back.

In the movie's climactic showdown on the eve of the new millennium, even if I knew what was about to happen, I continued to cheer on for Kenji and his friends, secretly hoping for a different ending. Tsutsumi has made me care for these characters all over again, and differently from when I was reading the manga. It's a different experience altogether.

Now, that's how you do it Mr. Snyder.


See prang (4BIA)

สี่แพร่ง or See prang (4bia)
Written and directed by
Youngyouth Thongkunthon (The Iron Ladies) / Banjong Pisanthanakun (Shutter) /
Parkpoom Wongpoom (Shutter) /
Paween Purikitpanya (Body #19)

Filipinos love ghost stories. We love it so much that sharing a ghost story has become a staple in any type of gathering: birthdays, weddings, funerals, all it takes is for someone to mention a little strange episode---a flickering light bulb in a bathroom, a distant melodic humming, a passing shadow---and the stories start pouring in and almost everyone has something to share. There is a personal connection to the story and it runs deeper than urban legends.

Most of the time, it's in the blood.

Just the other night I heard something. My neighbor's son saw this. My sister's husband's nephew had a run in with. Sometimes it seems as if we live with ghosts. When one is moving to a new house or a new office, we often ask, "May multo ba dito?" (Is this place haunted?) while negotiating for lower rent. It is the natural aspect of the supernatural in our lives that make watching Asian horror movies more of an experiential trip down a dark memory lane.

Hollywood rarely frightens us. A university professor who had seen "The Exorcist," touted then as the scariest movie of all time, overheard an audience in the movie house casually say, "Nangyari yan sa pinsan ko eh, hindi naman to nakakatakot." (My cousin went through the same thing. This is not scary at all.) Serial killers, demonic haunting, that's not quite horror for us.

Ghosts, yes. Ghosts of friends and ex-lovers, jealous wives and cheating husbands, vengeful children and ignored admirers, yes, yes!

It's karma. It's that dark secret you've buried. It's your aunt's cousin's crazy son left in the mental institution that's tapping on your window 23 floors high.

And 4bia, uneven as it may be, is all this.

Happiness (Youngyooth Thongkonthun): 4bia doesn't get any scarier than its first installment. Feeding on our longing to make a connection, it tells the story of a young woman who is stuck in her room because of a broken leg and not surprisingly, she turns to her cellphone for a little company, having regular exchanges with a friend through text messages until she receives a mysterious SMS from a stranger, a lonely young man. They become "text mates" of course. When she sends him a picture of herself and he replies with the image that she has just sent, the fright that has slowly been creeping in abruptly grabs us by the throat and doesn't let go until a window shatters. The end is too neatly tied up but at this point, my racing heart didn't care. Maneerat Kamuan is nominated for Best Actress in Bangkok Critics Assembly Award . Wise Kwai has the details. 5/5

Tit for Tat (Paween Purikitpanya): Voodoo, using the term loosely, is a familiar form of revenge and Purikitpanya's frenetic and flashy direction tries its best to give it a sharper, bloodier edge but only succeeds in keeping my interest on the first half of the movie. A young, darker-skinned boy is relentlessly bullied and beaten up by a cool, fashionably hip group of friends. He conjures and cast curses through a book of witchcraft to inflict painful deaths without realizing the fatal ricochet of black magic. Glossy at best, the "Final Destination" body count frenzy doesn't allow for fear to settle in and results in a mechanical display of violence. One down, four to go. Yawn. The CGI ghouls/ghosts in the end only added to the too calculated orchestration of horror. 1/5

In The Middle (Banjong Pisanthanakun): Four buddies on a camping trip share ghost stories until one becomes too scared to sleep near the tent's entrance. The guy on the other end of the tent replies that if he were to die and become a ghost, he would haunt whoever is sleeping in the middle for a change. Of course, fate was listening too closely. "In the Middle" is refreshingly funny and geeky; the self-aware nods to other movies of the same genre (Shutter, The Others) lends it a tongue-in-cheek tone making one jump when the scares do shake the tent. Not exactly original but it is undeniably likable, like those stories you hear over beer. 3/5

The Last Flight (Parkpoom Wongpoon): The only a passenger, a corpse. That image alone, menacingly quiet in the dark rows of empty seats, is the movie itself. Everything else that surrounds it is familiar: the lurking jump-out-of-the-shadow scare, the lurking jump-out-of-the-shadow sound effects. As a study of atmosphere thick with anxiety, "The Last Flight" works quite well. Wongpoon composes images that linger, haunt even, but that's all they are, images too evocative to terrify. 2/5

The connection between the four segments is subtle and one that I admittedly had to look up. The chronology of the events (edited for spoilers) are:

Story 3 ("In the Middle"). One of the teenagers' name is Ter. Story 4 ("Last Flight"). Ter is mentioned as the brother of Pim's colleague and fellow stewardess, Tui (not seen in movie) who could not accompany the flight because something has happened to her brother. Story 1 ("Happiness"). The girl with the broken leg is seen reading the online news about a character's death. Story 2 ("Tit for Tat"). The image we see of the curse is the image of the girl with the broken leg.

4BIA Film Posters here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Syndromes and a Century (Sang Sattawat)

Meshes of the afternoon

Syndromes and a Century(Sang Sattawat)

Conceived by Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul
Starring Akanae Cherkam, Jaruchai Iarmaram, Sakda Kaewbuadee

*Syndromes and a Century is one of seven films commissioned for the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth.

Amadeus is in the details here* so it isn't a diptych but variations on a theme, two views of a memory- - -they're movements. But whether across time or geography is what Joe Weerasethakul isn't making apparent - - - that's always been part of his elliptical charm and past/present and rural/urban overlap as dichotomies anyway so it's not as if knowing which is which is crucial to getting anything. And neither is getting anything per se. Knowing a bit about its Mozart connections sort of is, though, because as used as we may be to the way his work splits in half, the one thing we do get is how melodic the whole piece feels. How benign with happiness, too. Joe's remembering something he has no memory of- - -how his doctor parents met - - - so it's hazy, so it's fond, so idyll drapes it. From the first half's country hospital - - -where a young doctor is torn between her forthright suitor and the elusive orchid farmer she's starting to fall for and a dentist who wants to be a pop star strikes an odd friendship with a monk who wants to be a DJ- - -to the secret wing of the city hospital in the second half - - - where mysterious diseases with no names are treated and brandy is stashed in the hollows of prosthetic limbs for the staff to sneak a nip in. And all over, between bisected halves, murmurs and ricochets and rhymes and refrains and shapeshifts : an outdoor concert becomes an outdoor aerobics session, a pop CD given to the monk becomes a remote-controlled UFO two other monks play with, a solar eclipse becomes an ominous air duct, and one deceptively passive woman with one leg shorter than the other crosses over both segments unchanged by the transition the way other reappearing characters are. All exuding, even at its most obtuse, this persuasive calm that makes you fear decoding them will upset its delicate, contained loveliness. So you don't. There's bliss enough in just humming along to those magic changes, those melodies - - - prettified with mystery, soaked in bearable lightness, invincible to regret. * * * * *

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wonderful Town (2008)

Let's do, err, laundry.

Wonderful Town
Written and directed by Aditya Assarat

Supphasit Kansen, Anchalee Saisoontorn, Dul Yaambunying

The world was still heady with holiday hangovers when the news of a great disaster of mythological proportion filled our screens and stunned us immobile by its enveloping devastation.

"Wonderful Town" takes us back to the beaches of Phuket, Thailand where a tsunami claimed hundreds of thousands of lives four years ago. The rushing and crashing of waves fill the screen, a hypnotic lullaby that sings of loss, strangely graceful and sinister at the same time. We get flooded in by foreboding before we get a first glimpse of a town framed by ragged mountains with patches of jungle, idyllic and murmuring with impressionist pastoral warmth. Wonderful, from a distance.

And it is this calm glamour that
Ton (Supphasit Kansen), an architect from Bangkok, falls under. He checks in an old hotel and later, while on a site visit to oversee the rebuilding of a hotel along the coast of Phuket, reveals to his foreman that he volunteered for this assignment, preferring the solitude and quiet over the busy city, preferring to stay in an almost empty hotel in a town muted by predictability.

At the hotel,
Na (Anchalee Saisoontorn) peacefully goes about performing her chores, changing sheets, folding towels, carefully but vacantly. But when she enters Ton's room, for the first time we see a hint of a sparkle in her eyes, a little tension in the arches of her shoulders. Later that evening, after searingly casual introductions, Na presses her ear against Ton's door, listening to him sing under the shower. The darkness rolls away from the shore as the second half of the movie delicately follows the relaxed conversations and uninhibited sweetness of falling in love that is reminiscent of Il Gon-Song's 2004 movie, Git or Feathers in the Wind. Na spends her afternoons sleeping in Ton's unmade bed, carefully following the creases with her fingers. Ton steals glances and kisses as the wind stirs up a line of drying towels.

Aditya Assarat's eye allows us to soak in the details until every curve of a landscape, every thoughtful brushing of skin against shadow against skin, every hissing summer blade, becomes imprinted in memory and are dialogues in themselves. This hypnotic spell, this immersion of gestures, motives and scenery in a single breath is much like Apichatpong Weerasethakul's atmosphere of strange calm where the mundane is amplified by steady camera pans until it reaches delirious surrealism. But where most of Weerasethakul's movies take a detour to the fantastic, Assarat's abruptly changes in tone as we hear the sea once again while the lovers make love in the darkness, the thief that steals, the waves that are hungry.

Na's brother, Wit (Dul Yaambunying), disapproves of his sister's illicit affair, which has stirred the town to life with gossip, and decides, along with his gang of thugs, to do something about it.

The abandoned haunted house, the crazy local boy, and the gurgling sea---like a forgotten memory from the beginning of the film---rear their ugly prophecies and suddenly fall into place. In an ending that is evocative of Weerasethakul's "Blissfully Yours," drowned ghosts not different from a town left hollow by tragedy, remain ghosts that pull others down to its murky, secretive depths.

"Wonderful Town" is adjective and irony, a heavy current with invisible waves. Assarat's first full-length feature is deceptively haunting, but its message does not lie in an aimlessly drifting bottle in the ocean. It's the in-between, the love (even) among the ruined, that can sweep us away like nothing else can.



Wonderful Town Wins 5 Subanahongsa Awards (Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal)
Aditya Assarat's Wikipedia Page

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Shi gan (Time)

Days of open hands.

It's a strange feeling, getting old. I feel the same, sleep the same, I even sound the same. But the mirror in the bathroom disagrees. I have gotten heavier around the middle. My eyes a little darker; my hair a little lighter with gray. My teeth stained from the hundreds of cigarettes and a thousand cups of coffee that I have and will consume.

Time has made me wiser. But also older. And let's face it: More and more less of what I was.

I see this sometimes reflected on my partner's eyes. And it's a painful thing to see.

Kim Ki-Duk takes this pain and creates an admonishing parable in his 13th movie, "Time."

Shi gan (Time)
Written and Directed by Kim Ki-Duk
Starring: Sung Hyun-Ah (Woman is the Future of Man), Ha Jung-Woo(The Unforgiven)

Familiarity breeds monotony, and in the two-year relationship of Seh-hee and Ji-Woo (Ha Jung-Woo) it has resulted in obligatory sex and predictable dates in a cafe. In trademark Kim Ki-Duk fashion, Seh-Hee asks Ji-Woo to think of someone else while they fuck. The sex is hotter. Seh-hee is destroyed. The following day, Seh-Hee disappears and without telling Ji-Woo, undergoes cosmetic surgery to change her face beyond recognition. Six months later, Ji-Woo meets See-hee (Sung Hyun-Ah) in the cafe he frequents and dangerous sparks fly out of the blue and into the black. See-hee is Seh-hee and demands the clueless Ji-Woo to choose between them.

This is definitely Kim Ki-Duk's most obvious work as he (angrily) slaps on the movie his disdain for Korea's, and everyone else's, obsession with physical beauty. After Ji-Woo realizes that See-hee and Seh-hee are the same woman, he also gets his face altered leaving Seh-hee desperately looking for him; the feel of his hands in hers her only anchor. If the hands fit, so to speak. And this is a Kim Ki-Duk movie where the laws of reality are ignored and the fantastic and the surreal exist as truths. In the end, "Time" admonishes too much to be really provoking. The vicious cycle ending comes across as preachy, and not the ambigous catharsis that we've come to expect from the director.

It is withot doubt though that "Time" is visually magnificent. The statue park of Baegumi on the island of Mo which breathtakingly displays the sculptures of Lee Il-ho becomes the only constant in the passage of time and tide. The iron hands that sometimes rise from the depths and oftentimes cradle the lovers is the heart that remains a child. Tarnished, yes, but unchanging.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Sud sanaeha (Blissfully Yours)

Welcome to the jungle.

Sud Sanaeha (Blissfully Yours)
Written and Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Starring Kanokporn Tongaram, Min Oo, Jenjira Jansuda

Ever had that indecipherable feeling of dreamy watchfulness? You become a vigilant critic, every crease, every scent is memorized as if it were your last day on earth. You become a watchful romantic, haunted by disbelief at the clarity of someone's skin. You become heady with desire; the alliance of hormones and heart rush to the head, an assault of contentment.


In Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Blissfully Yours," bliss begins with escape. The movie starts all too suddenly, in the middle of a scene. A man (Min Oo) afflicted by a mysterious skin decease is being treated by a doctor. He is accompanied by Roong (Tongaram) and an elderly woman, Orn, played by Jansuda with a consistent undercurrent of slyness. We discover the relationships much later in the film. The man, Min, turns out to be an illegal immigrant that Roong, a young factory worker, pines for. Orn helps the lovers navigate through life in Thailand in exchange of cash, and in the afternoon of their visit to the clinic, she helps Roong out of work so Roong can spend time with Min. Orn lends them her car and the two drive out into the dusty open road.

45 minutes into the movie, as the road trip begins and the scenery changes from dry to lush, the movie credits roll out. Roong turns on the radio and a Thai version of Summer Samba (So Nice) plays. Roong puts lotion on her and Min's hands. Fingers become flirty and playful. Colors deepen, yellow to golden, green to deeper green. They step out of the car and walk into a forest.

Bliss begins. Bliss takes over.

The next hour of the film is a celebration of naked intimacy, of moments of abandon at once introspective and instant. Weerasethakul's steady shots frame Min and Roong's childlike euphoria with journalistic clarity yet even the simplest gestures---picking wild berries, Roong resting on Min's lap---are soaked in a languid dream-like state. A waking dream impossibly captured and almost impossible to fully grasp.

In the meantime, Orn is also in the forest frolicking with her lover when her husband's motorcycle gets stolen. Tom, a factory worker, chases after the thief, and Orn wanders into the forest. Where Weerasethakul's "Tropical Malady" took a surreal turn in its second act (a parable that admonishes desire?), "Blissfully Yours" flourishes with calm bewilderment.

Orn stumbles into Min and Roong by a stream; Orn says that somehow the trail disappeared and her wandering led her to them. The stream, clear and reflective, becomes release and salvation for the three characters. Again, Weerasethakul elevates the ordinary to wonder lust. I was specifically transfixed when Orn began to intensely watch her hands under the running stream, palms up then down, weaving, worm-like shadows running across them. And then a kind of miracle. A delicate distortion, the healing cold.

"Blissfully Yours" is a state of being on film that's nearing abstract. But once you pull away, once you let the scenery sing and watch the lovers fall asleep, the bafflement becomes an expanding sun in your stomach. Lightheaded, you desire, too, to lie on the bank and listen to the stream whisper:

Follow your bliss.