The SIFF program describes this as “Yojimbo meets Tampopo“, which definitely has an “I can only think of two Japanese movies” vibe, in that it isn’t really like either of those movies except its main character is a man who slices up people for hire and also sometimes makes noodles. It’s more akin to Johnnie To’s Where a Good Man Goes, but I’m probably only saying that because I’m the kind of person who compares everything to a Johnnie To movie.
Chang Chen’s a hitman in Kaohsiang who gets sent to Japan to kill someone. The job gets botched and he barely escapes. Recovering in a dilapidated slum, he’s befriended by a young boy (whose mom is a junkie) and eventually a whole community of locals, who figure out that he’s an excellent cook and, in like two days, build him an apartment and a noodle cart, while at the same time he helps the mom kick her heroin habit. It’s a story of rebirth fostered by community, and its portrait of the unity of people living on the margins recalls the spirit of no less than Sadao Yamanaka’s Humanity and Paper Balloons. The fairy tale approach is leavened by a harder edge, but director Sabu (last seen here as Samurai #1 in Scorsese’s Silence) keeps things brisk and light, with long wordless stretches scored jauntily by Junichi Matsumoto. Chang’s deadpan performance is a delight, even as his hair comes perilously close to “Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element”. Befuddled as to why the locals seem to like him, the kid explains “it’s because you keep cool and don’t say anything”. Taiwanese actress Yao Yiti is unconvincing as a junkie (she cleans up into super-adorable way too quickly), but shines in her extended flashback, providing the unlikely link between her and Chang. That that link should go undiscovered by the characters involved is one of the many small idiosyncrasies of Sabu’s storytelling, one which defies both Hollywood notions of causality and Hong Kong traditions of cosmic coincidence.
An Aaron Kwok movie is opening on Seattle Screens for the second time in three weeks, as the now venerable pop star/actor follows up his taciturn performance as the cooly rational police bureaucrat in Cold War 2 with a turn as a compulsive gambler with unresolved family issues in Matt Wu’s One Night Only. It’s the Taiwanese Wu’s directorial debut and also stars his wife, Yang Zishan, who starred in Three actress Zhao Wei’s directorial debut So Young a few years ago, an unrelated sequel to which called Never Gone opened last week at the Pacific Place. Like a lot of debut films, One Night Only is positively bursting with ideas and influences, its a work of exuberant cinephilia, pulling together elements of films as disparate as Nights of Cabiria, Rebel Without a Cause, 2046, One Night in Mongkok, the Fast and the Furious series and what I imagine Nicholas Sparks films are like into a movie that resolutely refuses to simply be one thing, but rather changes shape every reel or so in a way that never quite holds together, but is nonetheless fascinating in its audacity. It recalls last year’s under-the-radar gem of diasporic Chinese cinema, Go Away Mr. Tumor, a film that juggled the demands of the cute CGI rom-com and the cancer melodrama far more successfully than it had any right to. One Night Only doesn’t hang together quite as well, or at all even, but it’s got more energy than almost any movie you’re likely to see at the multiplex this summer.
Proving once again that no film festival should ever last longer than an Olympic Games, the 2016 SIFF limped to its conclusion this weekend after a soul-crushing 25 days. While the festival had run impressively well over its first two weeks, organized and on time and with nothing in particular for a picky festival-goer like me to complain about, the last week saw an inexplicable series of outrages.
This began on Sunday night, when the programmer tasked with introducing the Johnnie To-produced film Trivisa managed to be both disrespectful, mildly offense and factually inaccurate when he claimed To was the “Roger Corman of Hong Kong”, a producer who would make any movie you had in mind as long as it had “guns or titties”. That same presenter ran the Q&A with actor/producer Chapman To the next night, which was largely unobjectionable (To was the one who mentioned “titties” at least), but the programmer did at one point refer to Mr. To as “Chapman Ho” and later, “Herman”.
The Seattle International Film Festival races into it’s third week (has it really only been fifteen days? With only a mere ten to go?) and here we have some titles you won’t want to miss. We’ll link to our reviews of the titles listed here as we write them, as we’ve been doing with our Week One and Week Two Previews. We previewed the festival back on Frances Farmer Show #6 and discussed it at its midway point on Frances Farmer #7. We’ll have a complete wrap-up of the SIFF just as soon as it ends.
With Mike on vacation this week Sean is joined by Seattle Screen Scene writer Melissa Tamminga to discuss Edward Yang’s long sought after 1990 epic A Brighter Summer Day, which has just recently been released by the Criterion Collection, and Soi Cheang’s action film SPL 2: A Time for Consequences, starring Tony Jaa and Wu Jing, which will be released here in the US as Kill Zone 2 in a couple of weeks. They also pick their essential Violent Youth films, take a look ahead to what’s coming soon to Seattle (and Bellingham) Screens and talk about Prince’s classic 1984 film Purple Rain.
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Adrian Martin on Purple Rain
Seattle’s Hou Hsiao-hsien Retrospective kicked off last night with his fourth feature and self-proclaimed “first real film”. It followed a trio of totally pleasant romantic comedies starring Hong Kong pop star Kenny Bee, who was then trying to make it as an actor in Taiwan. Already in those films Hou was demonstrating some of the tropes that would recur in his later work, most especially an emphasis on space and the placing of characters within their environments, explicitly the theme of two of those films, Cute Girl and The Green, Green Grass of Home, with their contrasts of rural and urban life. But after a pair of fortuitous and near-simultaneous meetings (with author Chu Tien-wen and the young directors that would make up the New Taiwanese Cinema) that would turn into career-long collaborations, Hou began a sharp move away from the generic and formal strictures of mainstream cinema toward a more personal and idiosyncratic vision.
My pick as one of the Top Three Greatest Living Motion Picture Directors, Hou Hsiao-hsien, gets the retrospective treatment over the next ten days at a trio of terrific venues across Seattle. It’s a truncated version of the complete retrospective organized by Richard I. Suchenski (Director, Center for Moving Image Arts at Bard College), in collaboration with the Taipei Cultural Center, the Taiwan Film Institute, and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of China (Taiwan), that has been traveling the world for the past six months. The Grand Illusion and the Northwest Film Forum have joined forces to present five of Hou’s very best films on 35mm (each movie plays one night at each theatre), while Scarecrow Video supplements the series with five additional movies, presented on video free of charge in its Screening Lounge. I’ll even be there introducing movies at each venue, covering six movies in total over the next nine days.