Wednesday 6 May 2020

Plague Times Diary (26) - Ben Cho heads down mostly little-trod paths to find Miike, Guerin, Woo, Del Toro and Jia.

First Love (Miike Takashi, Japan, 2015)
I don’t know anyone that has been able to keep up with catching all of Miike’s films over the past ten years; it’s not that difficult to see English-subbed Blade of the Immortal, Yakuza Apocalypse or Shield of Strawbut who is watching Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio or The Lion Standing in the Wind with English subs? So I can’t give an accurate assessment of where First Lovefits in the overall scheme of 2010s Miike but it’s rollicking fun and its pulpy Yakuza premise is far more engaging than Yakuza Apocalypse. You’ve got the fallen boxer, shady cop, double-crossing drug dealer, Chinese mafia, prostitute on the run … how it all comes bloodily together on the streets is frequently violent but nothing approaching Ichi The Killer levels of gore. At some point in the film’s climax the cartoonish violence literally transforms into cartoon … a smart budgetary strategy, an aesthetic decision, or both? 

Guest (Jose Luis Guerin, Spain, 2010) 
Considering our passports are about as useful as a porcupine in a condom factory, the chance to see foreign lands is restricted to watching movies or television. I put on Guest mainly for this reason and for over two hours I visited Italy, Peru, Macau, Cuba and elsewhere, connecting not with the usual tourist hotspots and picturesque landscapes but those countries’ downtrodden people and their stories of struggle. You can’t help but walk away from the film thinking that the world of film festivals is so unimportant in the large scheme of life; interviews with Jonas Mekas and Chantal Akerman are nowhere near the level of fascination or intrigue as a tour of a ramshackle Cuban community where HIV-infected gays sing the praises of the Cuban healthcare system. Whether intended or not, what you’re left with is a lingering sense that the privileged world of film festivals and arthouse cinema (which, let’s be frank, has often championed the downtrodden and the destitute) is a bubble of champagne and Marxist posturing that can afford to bicker on the questions of fiction versus reality when others are suffering the hopeless realities of grinding economic marginalisation. 

Manhunt (John Woo, China, 2017)
How bad is Manhunt? Surely it must rank amongst the very worst of John Woo’s films, going head-to-head with Paycheckfor the worst-of-the-worst badge. It was a slight red flag when the opening credits listed over five people responsible for the screenplay (based on a Nishimura Juko novel, already adapted for the screen in the mid-seventies). The Woo-isms are presented here in such a ridiculous manner (a fight amongst doves for example) that it is clear this is all meant to be a bit of an over-the-top corny thriller. But even if we’re meant to be in on the joke and having a good time, the mediocre artistry of the fight scenes, the gunplay and the plotting is nowhere near bad enough to be “so bad it’s good” or nowhere near good enough to distract from the clunky dialogue deliveries of Asian actors speaking English. I guess it’s fun to a certain extent but when it comes to exciting action sequences of recent memory do Manhunt’scompare with something like The Raid or The Yellow Sea? Even that old Woo film Hard Target? Now that was junky fun with so-so performances but its action sequences were a cut above anything presented in this pan-Asian “thriller”. 

Mimic (Guillermo del Toro, USA, 1997)
“Evolution has a way of keeping things alive … the world’s a much bigger lab,” says one scientist to another in del Toro’s terrific horror thriller about a bunch of mutated bugs wreaking havoc in the shadows of New York city. Opening on a mysterious virus transmitted by cockroaches which is killing the city’s young people, a gifted entomologist has the smart idea to use a genetically engineered insect to wipe out the disease-ridden cockies killing all the youth. What could go wrong, right? Fast forward a few years and the virus is no longer a threat but there’s something in the subways and sewers lurking around the city preying on unsuspecting humans. The effects may have dated a little bit when we finally see the mutant bug in all its glory, but for a great deal of the build up it’s all menacing shadows and spooky tunnels that supplies the dread. If someone suggests we create some super mutant animal to absorb all the Covid-19 in the air or something like this, show them this film. 

Visit (Jia Zhang-ke, Greece, 2020)
Jia Zhang-ke (l)
Thessaloniki Film Festival asked a variety of filmmakers (including Albert Serra, Denis Coté and Radu Jude) to make a short film at home inspired by Georges Perec’s Species of Spaces. Jia’s contribution, apparently shot on a cellphone, shows what the business of film production meetings look and sound like in the age of Covid: masks, temperature checks, distancing, soap and sanitiser. 

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