SIFF 2017: God of War (Gordon Chan, 2017)

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Note: as this film is under embargo until its release in the Seattle area, here are exactly 75 words.

It’s the King Hu film I can never quite remember, The Valiant Ones, remade as PRC propaganda, all national, class and gender unity in the face of foreign aggressors (in this case: samurai masquerading as pirates in Ming China). The action is mostly very good, but there isn’t nearly enough Sammo Hung and Vincent Zhao (The Blade) weirdly looks like Jimmy Fallon now. Veteran kung fu/ninja star Yasuaki Kurata is exceptional as the samurai leader.

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The Age of Shadows (Kim Jee-woon, 2016)

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Hot off its premiere at the Venice Film Festival and the announcement of its being chosen as South Korea’s submission for the Foreign Language Academy Award, the latest film from director Kim Jee-woon (The Good, The Bad, The WeirdI Saw the Devil) opened this past Friday. But not in Seattle: it’s only playing at the Alderwood Mall AMC in Lynnwood and the Cinemark theatre in Federal Way, another example of the mixed-blessing that is the state of Asian film distribution in the United States. On the one hand, were this exact same film French or German, you could expect it to be picked up by one of the major art house distributors and get a nationwide roll-out, eventually playing somewhere like SIFF or a Landmark theatre. Along with that would go critical attention and a much wider audience. Instead, as Korean, Chinese, Filipino and Indian films are increasingly only released in the US in small runs targeted at diasporic and immigrant communities, with no advance publicity and little advertising to the public at large, it’s likely that if The Age of Shadows does develop an American following, it will come only once the movie is widely available to stream on the internet. But on the plus side, for those of us that happen to live near a major urban center, we get to see some of the best movies in the world in a theatrical setting, with no waiting.

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13 Hours (Michael Bay, 2016)

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The prospect of a Michael Bay movie about Benghazi is contemporary American absurdity at its finest. The maker of hugely successful disasters, overblown, crude, racist, misogynistic, incomprehensible, telling the story of one of the most ridiculous issues of our time, a tragedy crudely trumped up into an inane scandal by the basest elements of our political culture. After the jingoistic marketing around Clint Eastwood’s hit American Sniper a year ago (which I believe completely misrepresented that film), how could 13 Hours, in the hands of a far less sophisticated and nuanced filmmaker, hope to be anything but a wildly offensive distortion of history at best, and a piece of vile propaganda at worst? Well, I’m somewhat happy to say that 13 Hours is not nearly as racist as you’d expect it to be. It is crude, it is overblown, it does completely lack subtlety, but Bay, true to his only real belief as a filmmaker (that his movies should amass a fortune), has attempted to make a film that will appeal to all audiences, it sidesteps the kind of cartoonish racism one would expect in a war film set in North Africa and instead appeals to much deeper, much broader base instincts in the American audience: our love of firepower, our distrust of government, our isolationism.

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