4/17/05:

This was my most intense day of film viewing for the entire festival: four movies in one day.

Films I saw today: Too Beautiful to Lie, Evilenko, Soundless, Karaoke Terror



Too Beautiful to Lie

Too Beautiful to Lie is another fantastic Korean romantic comedy along the lines of Please Teach Me English, which I saw at last year's festival. This film is as close to 100% pure fun as you will get. It's not what I'd call deep or intelligent, but it is funny and cute and moving and if you don't enjoy it, then you should seriously go to a doctor and have he or she make sure your heart is still beating.

The story is quite silly, of course. Our main character, Young-ju, is a con artist extraordinaire. Her natural gift is her ability to lie amazingly well. She even cons the hardcases on the parole board into letting her out of prison. But of course, this lying criminal has a heart of gold. When Hee-chul, a naive young man riding the bus with her, gets a ring stolen (it's the engagement ring he plans to give his girlfriend that night when he proposes to her), she steals it back for him. But, of course, the story can't be as simple as that, so thanks to a series of misunderstandings and coincidences, she ends up in his hometown with the ring and gets mistaken for his fiance. She wants to avoid problems, and she wants to teach Hee-chul a lesson, so she latches onto the mistake and rides it for all its worth, quickly and easily turning Hee-chul's whole family against him and getting them on her side.

So at first Hee-chul and Young-ju are understandably at odds, but as time goes on, and they get to know each other better, love starts to blossom. Unfortunately, it's just about then that Young-ju's less scrupulous pals from prison show up, along with Hee-chul's actual girlfriend, and all of this during the local yearly pepper festival and talent contest, which Hee-chul is roped into competing in. Needless to say, wackiness ensues.

Admittedly, Too Beautiful to Lie sticks pretty close to the relatively predictable conventions of the screwball romantic comedy, but it does so with flair, talent, and its own distinctive flavor. It's very possibly the most enjoyable film I saw at this year's festival, and I wish I'd seen more like it.

My Poll Rating: Excellent

Intermission

I stayed in the same theater for my next movie, but travelled far in terms of genre and quality; I went from a wonderfully silly, funny, upbeat, and excellent film to a dark, violent, depressing, and deeply disappointing film.

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Evilenko

Evilenko is officially an Italian film, but it is set in Russia, it is inspired by the true story of a Russian serial killer (Andrei Romanovich Chikatilo), it has a score by talented American composer Angelo Badalamenti, all the dialogue is in English, and the two main stars - Malcolm McDowell as the killer Andrej Romanovic Evilenko and Marton Csokas as Vadim Timurovic Lesiev, the cop hunting Evilenko - are from England and New Zealand respectively. Unfortunately, this strange mix of international elements does not gel into a satisfying whole. In fact, Evilenko, plagued by clumsy and questionable metaphors, unbelievable characters and events, and ridiculously over-the-top acting, turns out to be a disappointing mess of a film.

Our story begins in 1984. Our title character is a teacher and a devout member of the Communist party. He is also a creepy old pervert. When he keeps a young girl after class and tries to molest her, she laughs at him and runs away, ultimately getting him fired. He lies about what happened to his wife, creating an elaborate anti-Communist conspiracy theory to explain his sudden unemployment. Soon enough, we've jumped forward a number of years, to after the fall of Communism. At this point, Evilenko has already killed over 20 young people, and the government is starting to notice. They decide to bring in special investigator Lesiev (who is, of course, a father himself, adding to the tension and drama) to help them find the killer. We follow the parallel stories of these two characters as Evilenko keeps killing and Lesiev tries desperately to find him before it's too late. In the course of his investigation, Lesiev enlists the help of a psychoanalyst, who helps him to understand Evilenko's mind, and also makes clear the movie's strange central metaphor - that Evilenko and his bestial, cannibalistic rapes and murders are somehow a symbol for the state of party members in Russia after the collapse of Communism. (Yeah, I don't really get it either.)

You wouldn't think a film about a man who molested, tortured, killed, and partially ate over 50 young boys and girls could possibly make you laugh, but this one does through its sheer incompetence. I was able to mostly overlook the really poor Russian accents put on by McDowell, Csokas, and the other actors speaking English, but the extremely bad English-language dubbing of the Russian-speaking actors was so glaringly awful that it was impossible to ignore. Not only was the sound poorly synched, the voice actors reading the lines were terrible (if you've ever played the video game House of the Dead 2 - which is kind of my touchstone for bad voice acting - they were nearly that bad).

And the bad acting didn't end there. Csokas is generally wooden throughout, and even the usually reliable McDowell is guilty of some serious over-acting in this film, especially during the final shot, which is so ridiculous that I really could hardly believe what I was seeing. As text appears on the screen explaining what happened to all the characters after the events of the film (the traditional ending for a film of this sort), we are treated to a medium shot of McDowell waving his arms around and making faces at the camera. I guess this is supposed to be menacing in some way, but it's just pathetic and laughable.

Also laughable and ridiculous are some of the things the movie asks us to believe about the characters - the way they act, the things they do. Worst of all in this regard are the almost magical powers of hypnotism that Evilenko is supposed to possess, and the odd ease with which people like the psychoanalyst and the cop are nevertheless able to trick him.

A film connecting this infamous serial killer to the chaos and loss of purpose experienced by people in Russia after the fall of Communism could be interesting. But Evilenko goes about the task of being such a film so clumsily and fails so utterly that it's almost insulting. Definitely give this one a miss.

My Poll Rating: Poor

Intermission

The director of Evilenko, David Grieco, was at the screening, and I briefly considered hanging around afterwards to ask him just what he was thinking, especially with that final shot, but I had to get to another theater pretty quickly so I decided to just run away instead.

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Soundless

The story - cold, emotionless hitman falls for a target and finds his own humanity - is kind of tired, the execution is a bit clumsy and ridiculous, and the ending a bit pat, but I still couldn't resist Soundless. It's silly and hard to believe, but it's also fun and satisfying.

Soundless is a German film produced by Tom Tykwer (who directed the stunning and stylish Run Lola Run). It begins with our main character Viktor performing the first in a series of impressive, circus stunt-style killings. But this time he leaves behind a survivor - a woman named Nina, who was in bed with his victim, though she'd only known him for a few hours. She's a broken person, desperate for human contact, meaning, and purpose. Viktor is fascinated by her, and they begin a strange, clumsy romance (neither of them are very good at interacting with other people). Unfortunately, soon enough both criminals and cops are on Viktor's tail, and he and Nina find it necessary to disappear forever.

As I mentioned, the film is loaded with spectacular killings (some of which strain credibility), as well as plenty of action and cat-and-mouse suspense sequences, but it also has some nice, quiet, dramatic, character-building scenes. The main problem with the film, besides a tendency to go in generally predictable directions, is, as I've already mentioned, its habit of asking us to believe ridiculously unlikely things. Most of the worst of this kind of thing is centered on the head detective in charge of capturing Viktor. Normally in a film like this you'd expect complaints about the depiction of the cop as stupid and bumbling, but in this case the cop is actually too smart. Well, maybe "smart" isn't the right word; "lucky" or "superhuman" would probably be more appropriate. I mean, this guy is able to do things like gather usable evidence from a decades old crime scene, or make wildly unlikely guesses based on almost no evidence that always turn out to be right. It just gets frustrating after a while.

Still, like I said, I couldn't resist Soundless. It's an exciting and enjoyable film, and sometimes it's nice to see a movie that ends up right where you expect and hope it will.

My Poll Rating: Very Good

Intermission

I'd met up with a few friends for the previous movie, and they joined me as I headed the few block back to the Ritz East for my next screening.

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Karaoke Terror

Karaoke Terror is...well, it's very strange. I'm not sure how to begin talking about it, exactly. It's based on a novel by Ryu Murakami, the same guy who wrote the novel that Takashi Miike's sickeningly horrifying (and, of course, horrifyingly sickening) Audition is based on. The film's original title is The Complete Japanese Showa Songbook (which means exactly nothing to American audiences, so the change to Karaoke Terror was probably a good idea; the film is certainly full of both karaoke and terror), and each of its sections is named after the particular classic Japanese pop song that appears in that section.

But what is it about? Well, it's about a small group of teenaged boys getting into a drawn-out, slowly escalating, ultimately nearly apocalyptic war with a small group of middle-aged women. It is a bloody and violent film, sad and serious and slow (it drags, especially near the end, and goes on far too long), and yet also hilarious, goofy, and surreal. Even though the violence is often so extreme and odd as to be cartoonish and funny, we are never allowed to forget the real consequences and damage that would result.

So what is it really about? I think Karaoke Terror is about the very large and very real distances and gaps of knowledge and experience that exist between people in society - people in different age groups and classes, but also people who think they are actually friends with each other - and how those distances can lead to misunderstandings and violence. And it's ultimately about how those distances are sad and meaningless, and that people, across all the rungs of society, are really very similar to each other, and have a lot of the same dreams and desires and fears. And it's about how if we don't recognize this, we can, apparently, end up blowing each other up with home-made A-bombs.

The conflict in this movie starts when one of the young men (Sugioka) hits on one of the middle-aged women (Midori; in fact, they're all named Midori - they met when a newspaper did an article on women named Midori). She rebuffs him, he gets weird and harasses her, then suddenly he pulls out his knife and she's dead. Woah. The Midoris refuse to take this lying down, and start doing some amateur police work. They track the kid down, follow him around, and plan their revenge, which involves a bicycle, jousting, and a knife. Unfortunately for them, a strange girl witnesses the murder, and ends up telling the other boys all about it. They decide they have to do something...

And so forth and so on. As things go on and get increasingly violent, the Midori girls discover that they never really knew each other very well, but in the process of fighting and dying together, they learn a lot about each other, and also themselves. And meanwhile, everybody does a lot of singing.

Karaoke Terror is undeniably a very strange and disturbing film, and it left me feeling kind of sick and tired - although that could have had something to do with the fact that I saw it late at night after watching three other movies. But it's also very clever and funny and interesting, and I rather enjoyed it.

My Poll Rating: Very Good

Epilogue

My toughest and longest day was a bit of a mixed bag, and I kind of wish I'd seen the first movie last, for a bit of a pick-me-up at the end of the night. But overall it was fun, with more good films than bad, and I'm looking forward to the joy and sadness and rest that will come tomorrow with my last day at the festival.

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Jim Genzano





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