FESTIVALS: Watching in LA; AFI Highlights New Asian Classics, Few Others
by Scott Foundas
(indieWIRE/ 11.20.01) -- Unspooling again in the vintage movie palaces (some refurbished, some the worse for wear) along Hollywood Boulevard, in the midst of the fracas surrounding the grand opening of Trizec Hahn's $650 million Hollywood & Highland retail complex, the just-concluded AFI Fest 2001 (Nov. 1-11) was particularly notable for its outstanding sidebar of films from Asia. Subtitled Asian New Classics and assembled by festival programmer Paul Yi, the series, which included films from India, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Iran, ranks among the strongest such lineups the AFI has featured. Almost strong enough, in fact, to make you forget the key programming oversights, poor promotion, spotty attendance and multiple projection problems that have continued to plague this reincarnation of the long-gone Filmex event. Among the highlights:
Given the enormous worldwide popularity of "The Sixth Sense," "The Blair Witch Project" and, currently, "The Others," it's hardly surprising that the Asian horror vanguard would emerge with its own hybrid variant. But it's a bit of shock that the film, "Visible Secret," comes from Hong Kong's Ann Hui (director of the arthouse friendly "Ordinary Heroes" and "Summer Snow") and not, say, Japan's Kiyoshi Kurosawa or Takashi Miike. Hui hasn't directed a down-and-dirty exploitation picture in nearly a decade, but her vaudevillian charisma is in full evidence in this utterly loopy ghost story, replete with multiple cases of possession and a nifty headless corpse on the loose. It's an ultra-stylish affair even when it doesn't make a great deal of sense. The cinematographer, Arthur Wong, sets the action amidst a murky, pea-green haze, but the real pleasure in the film comes from Hui's greater interest in the personality quirks of her lovelorn protagonists (played by Shu Qi and Eason Chan). This is a frightfest in which the frights are incidental, and all the harder to anticipate as a result.
Not to be outdone, Kiyoshi Kurosawa (whose possession noir "Cure" was released earlier this year) was present with "Pulse," in which the Internet comes to act as a portal into a lonely, torturous afterlife. The spirit world is full, it seems, and the dead are therefore spilling over into the real world. Roughly, that's the plot, but Kurosawa doesn't dwell on the details. (His film is, in nearly every respect, more cursory than Hui's.) He's more interested in the notion that ghosts might go unnoticed, and the line between the living and the dead, in our cold, chaotic times, might be imperceptible -- that the dead, in fact, might be more alive than the living. Kurosawa's characters go mad with the realization that they are fundamentally alone in life and, perhaps, in death too. And Kurosawa goes giddy, in his most visually arresting film yet, cooking up images of a seismically inverted Tokyo that rival the tableaus of Roy Andersson's "Songs From the Second Floor" for palpable end-time madness.
It's the same kind of desperate vision that informed Shinji Aoyama's "Eureka" -- an unveiling of isolation and disconnect beneath Japan's genial fa