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TORONTO 2000: Asian Action! Kitano, Miike, Hark, and Koreans Kick Ass in Canada

TORONTO 2000: Asian Action! Kitano, Miike, Hark, and Koreans Kick Ass in Canada

TORONTO 2000: Asian Action! Kitano,
Miike, Hark, and Koreans Kick Ass in Canada

by Jason Anderson

(indieWIRE/ 9.15.00) — For all that is offered by Cannes favorites like
Wong Kar-wai‘s “In the Mood for Love” and Edward Yang‘s
Yi Yi (A One and a Two)” — both of which had their North American
debuts this week in Toronto — some look to Asian cinema for less cerebral
pleasures: namely, guns and gore.

Both were in ample supply in the North American debut of Takeshi
‘s “Brother,” the first film by the director of “Sonatine” and
Hana-bi (Fireworks)” to be shot in the U.S. It was selected for the
festival’s Masters program, which proves that the director’s cachet
among programmers has risen greatly since the days of “Violent Cop.” In
the new film, Kitano plays a typically stoic yakuza gangster who is
exiled to Los Angeles. There, he quickly takes over his little brother’s
multi-racial gang of small-time drug dealers — including the yakuza’s
new African-American buddy, played by Omar Epps — and turns them into a
crime family fearsome enough to (briefly) take on the Mafia. Scenes of
brutal gunplay are again juxtaposed with the sort of broad comedy and
light-hearted sentimentality that mystified many viewers of Kitano’s
last film, “Kikujiro.”

The hammy acting by much of the American cast and the sense that Kitano
is struggling to rework a story that was tired even back when Brian De
(never mind Howard Hawks) made “Scarface” means that
Brother” is far from his best work, despite its many virtues.

Another eagerly awaited Asian action entry was the latest by Japanese
director Takashi Miike, “The City of Lost Souls.” Finished just in time
for the festival, it had its world premiere in Toronto and was a
highlight in the Midnight Madness cult-film series, which is dominated
by Asian movies — seven out of this year’s 10 selections are from Hong
Kong, South Korea, Japan and Thailand. “The City of Lost Souls” is the
story of, as one character says, “a lunatic Brazilian and a gorgeous
Chinese girl” who leave many bullet-strewn bodies in their wake.
Best-known in Toronto for his 1997 Midnight Madness hit “Fudoh: The New
,” Miike is quickly becoming the most acclaimed new Asian
filmmaker. Though “The City of Lost Souls” is slightly more subdued than
his recent festival hits “Audition” and “Dead or Alive,” it’s still
wildly kinetic and imaginative with some brilliant setpieces, including
a cockfight in which CGI chickens face off in the acrobatic style of
The Matrix.”

Another Midnight Madness world premiere was “Time and Tide” by the
veteran Hong Kong director Tsui Hark. In the ’80s and ’90s, the films of
Hark, John Woo and Ringo Lam gave the Hong Kong industry its
reputation for action movie mayhem. And like Woo and Lam, Hark’s career was
derailed by a Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle (the execrable “Double
“). But “Time and Tide” is a thrilling return to form, even though
the characterizations and plot are not strong enough for the film to
merit its two-hour running time. In “Time and Tide,” a handsome but
fumbling bodyguard (played by Nicholas Tse) gets between warring crime
families but ends up on the same side as a noble mercenary (Wu Bai).
While Hark constantly manages to outdo himself for visual impact in the
long chase scenes and balletic gun battles, the story and pacing become
major casualties. That said, the subplot involving the heavily pregnant
love interests of both men culminates in the finest use of a newborn
baby as a gun-battle prop since Woo’s “Hard-Boiled.”

The other major Hong Kong entry was “The Mission,” the latest by the
prolific Johnnie To Kei-Fung. The director does a good job of utilizing
some of Hong Kong’s best character actors — including Francis Ng and
“Time and Tide”‘s Anthony Wong — as a team of criminals assigned to
protect an aging crime boss. And whereas Tsui Hark ever more elaborately
orchestrated scenes come at the expense of story and character, To
creates an uncharacteristically languid mood to accompany his
very elegant gunplay. In a Hong Kong action movie, a little restraint
can seem like a terrific innovation.

But the two biggest surprises at Midnight Madness this year were two
South Korean hits. “Tell Me Something,” which its creators have tagged
as a “hard-gore thriller,” out-grossing “Star Wars Episode 1: The
Phantom Menace
” in South Korea, while “The Foul King” is set to become
the year’s highest grossing film there. With a serial killer on the
loose on the rainy streets of Seoul, the former opens in the mode of
countless knockoffs of “Seven.” Detective Cho (Han Sukgyu) is
investigating a series of murders — the first twist is that the corpses
are found with mismatched body parts, and the second is that they’re all
the ex-lovers of the same woman. Director Chang Younhyun combines
stylish visuals, copious amounts of gore and an increasingly loony
plotline, making for a highly enjoyable movie.

Banchik Wang‘s “The Foul King” stars Song Kangho as an
oafish bank clerk who dreams of becoming a masked wrestler. Wang and his actors
display a great knack for physical comedy in and outside of the ring, and the
fights themselves (Korean wrestling turns out to be a photogenic blend
of Mexican and WWF-style theatrics) are so hilarious that there were big
laughs even in the industry screening. “The Foul King” has the makings
for a crossover hit — should there exist a North American distributor
brave enough to take on a wrestling picture with subtitles.

The Thai entry, “6ixtynin9,” is a slow but sly black comedy in which a
young woman starts a series of bloody calamities when a box of money is
mistakenly delivered to her apartment — it plays out like an Elmore
story, except more stoned. Far more exciting is “Wild Zero,”
which closes the Midnight Madness series on Sept. 16. Directed by Tokyo
music video director Tetsuro Takeuchi and starring the impossibly cool
rock band Guitar Wolf, “Wild Zero” is a mix of energetic rock ‘n’ roll
B-movie and zombie gore fest. Silly and very funny, “Wild Zero” proves
that the legacy of American International, Roger Corman and Herschell
Gordon Lewis
lives on in the Far East.

[Jason Anderson writes about movies for eye Weekly in Toronto and Shift

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