Tuesday 26 December 2017

Defending Cinephilia (10) - Asian film aficionado and dedicated cinephile John Snadden sums up a year spent exploring the nether reaches

Late last month, Geoff Gardner from Film Alert 101 invited me to contribute a post to his end-of-year round-up, Defending Cinephilia. I was happy to do this and have distilled much of this year's viewing down to six titles which, individually or collectively, are great examples of how enjoyable cinema can still be with the right movies. I've also added some sundry comments / opinions on the films in general of 2017. 

I haven't included any Hollywood films in this selection, as I found the year's studio pics to be an underwhelming mix of empty superhero movies and pretentious horror flicks namely Get Out and It. Although, I have yet to see Wind River, Detroit and Blade Runner 2049, a situation which I hope to remedy in the coming weeks.

Max Riemelt, Teresa Palmer, Berlin Syndrome
(Dir: Cate Shortland)
Of the small number of art-house titles I watched this year, I found The Salesman and Denial to be vastly over-rated films. What did mightily impress me was Cate Shortland's Euro-produced, psychological thriller, Berlin Syndrome. I can't understand why she is such an under-rated film-maker.

It was heartening to note that three of the following films are from first time directors.

On location, Ben Young (l), Hounds of Love
Let's begin with an Aussie pic, Hounds of Love, the debut feature from Ben Young. Forget clowns in drains, this is the real deal where we watch in genuine horror as the mundane becomes the murderous in the sunny shadows of the burbs in Perth.

There were two films this year from Hong Kong which I thought were outstanding. Our Time Will Come from legendary director Ann Hui is about the occupation of Hong Kong by the Japanese during World War 2. 

Eddie Peng Our Time Will Come (Dir: Ann Hui)
A first rate movie on all levels, with surprisingly good performances from Mainland leads Eddy Peng and Zhou Xun. 

29+1 (Dir: Kearen Pang)
Another directing debut was Kearen Pang's  29+1, which is a delightful urban fantasy about two kindred spirits sharing a HK apartment. The film is highlighted by a stand-out performance from Joyce Cheng (daughter of the late Lydia Shum) as a music store worker with much on her mind.

22 (Dir: Guo Ke)

Two excellent titles from Mainland China which received commercial releases in Australia were 22 and Brotherhood of Blades 2. The former is a rewarding but very emotional journey as we follow the history of China's Comfort Women during World War 2. I'm hoping this documentary might score some major international film awards.

And Brotherhood of Blades 2 : The Infernal Battlefield  is a sequel which was better than the original and has given Taiwanese actor Chang Chen a real shot at world stardom, with his continuing role as a not completely by-the-book Ming Dynasty secret policeman. A perceptive viewer might see more than a few parallels subtlety drawn between a Dynasty in decline and China's current ruling class.

Chang Chen, Brotherhood of Blades 2: The Infernal Battlefield
(Dir: Yang Lu)

Ma Dong-seok, The Outlaws (Dir: Kang Yoo-sung)
I'm leaving the best until last, which is the South Korean gangster pic, The Outlaws.  Not for years have I felt such a frisson of excitement in a genre movie where I know what's going to happen and have totally enjoyed watching how it happens.  Popular character actor Ma Dong-seok (Train to Busan) is a Korean cop tackling triad criminals in Seoul's Chinatown district. The violence and misanthropy is leavened by some perfectly placed moments of black humour. A tremendous first film from writer turned director, Kang Yoo-sung. For me, an eagerly awaited Blu-ray release for 2018.

And a special mention for the final image of another South Korean movie, The Battleship Island, which I consider to be the most amazing and memorable screen moment I witnessed this year. It has survivors of this island prison being enveloped by an incandescent searing light where the horrors of the present are eclipsed by a glimpse of a most terrifying future.

Wolf Warrior 2 (Dir: Wu Jing)
Finally, a reminder about a second-rate Chinese action flick, Wolf Warrior 2, which grossed just under one billion dollars (USD) in two months at China's box-office. Where the Mainland film industry goes from here remains to be seen. But many who have been ignoring the rise of Chinese cinema – will not be able to ignore it any longer. We are now living in more than interesting times...

A belated Merry Christmas to Geoff and his numerous Film Alert devotees. And all the best, in movies and viewing, for 2018!   

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