Sunday, August 7, 2022
Bodies Bodies Bodies
If you are interested in watching a silly and bloody chicken fight among a group of generation-Z party goers soaked in drugs and alcohol, then the Dutch director Halina Reijn's body-slasher movie "Bodies Bodies Bodies" (USA 2022 | 95 min.) fits that appetite perfectly. This film offers little else, and you probably won't even remember any of these characters' names because they are pretty interchangeable without much individuality.
Right before a forecasted hurricane, that party takes place at the remote family mansion of David (Pete Davidson), whose black eyes from a fight with a friend make him look like a panda. Freshly returning from rehab, David's best friend Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) brings her new shy girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) to the party, but immediately they feel they are not welcomed by the rest of the gang that are already at the party drinking and snorting. These friends include David's insecure actress girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), the aggressive Jordan (Myha'la Herrold) holding both a type-A personality and Sophie's secret, the air-headed podcast host Alice (Rachel Sennott) and Alice's 40-year-old boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace) whom she met on Tinder.
When the hurricane storm begins to roll in, the group leaves the swimming pool and gets inside the house. They decide to play a game called Bodies Bodies Bodies, a variation of a popular party game called Mafia. In this game, an assigned victim is supposed to be murdered by a killer in the dim light. When the lights are back on, the group debate to identify the killer.
Quickly, the debate becomes a nasty reality talk show where the group of friends is backstabbing each other and all hell breaks loose. However, that is just the beginning of how the party goes wrong. When people begin to actually die, the horror turns real and the hurricane becomes a second thought for everyone.
Despite the few funny moments, the movie mostly gears at building up the tension and making it a body slasher horror flick. It is often set in the dark, except for cellphone flashlights. The screaming and yelling among these freaked out rich brats get tiring quickly. The movie just keeps us informed about how dysfunctional these people are, as if we don't already know and as if we care. None of these characters seem to deserve our attention or sympathy.
Even though the performance from the cast is strong, it doesn't make the film any better or more meaningful. These characters are not much different from those in a silly reality television program. You view them like a freak show, and you are allowed to laugh at their stupidity and misery.
Wednesday, August 3, 2022
It is a real pleasant experience to ride a high speed train in Japan or China. They are clean, fast, reliable, and comfortable. However, it is quite a different train ride in the director David Leitch's over-the-top action comedy "Bullet Train" (弾丸列車 | Japan/USA 2022 | in English/Japanese | 126 min.). The trip in the movie has plenty of violence and blood that are fueled by the desire of revenge. But it is also full of razor-sharp witty humor and laugh out loud surprises that keep you entertained. This is a perfect summer night out movie to forget about the inflation, the pandemic, the politics, and the wars in the world.
The journey starts in Tokyo, where an assassin named Ladybug (Brad Pitt) boards the Shinkansen (新幹線 Bullet Train) heading to Kyoto. He already had quite a few unlucky incidents that happened to him recently, so he wants to take it easy and finish a seemingly simple pick-up job—to pick up a suitcase full of money from the train and get off at the next stop.
Well, of course it won't be that simple. He is going to cross paths with many assassins who are all interconnected and have many reasons to kill one another on this fast moving train. Before Ladybug gets on the train, he bumped into Kimura (Andrew Koji), a distraught Yakuza whose son is in critical condition in the hospital after being pushed off from the roof of a building. To seek vengeance, Kimura follows a note to get on this train's first class to meet the person who pushed his son—Prince (Joey King).
Prince is the abandoned daughter of a Russian kingpin named White Death (Michael Shannon) and she hates him because of the abandonment. White Death is also an enemy of Kimura's father, Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada), because White Death destroyed Elder's home and killed his wife 26 years ago. Now both Prince and Elder want White Death dead.
The suitcase that Ladybug snatches is escorted by the "twins" assassins Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) who grew up together in the UK. They are supposed to deliver the suitcase to White Death, along with White Death's son (Logan Lerman). Obviously, it means a huge problem for them when it's taken by Ladybug.
Just when Ladybug is about to leave the train with the suitcase, he is stopped by Wolf (Bad Bunny) at the door and they start a fierce fight. It turns out that the reason for Wolf to board this train is to kill Ladybug, because Wolf believes Ladybug is responsible for the tragedy at his wedding, without knowing the true killer is Hornet (Zazie Beetz), who is actually also on this train.
Meanwhile, White Death is waiting at the end of the line to take his revenge for his wife's death. During this eventful journey, the fights break out faster than the speed of this bullet train. Somebody is going to get hurt.
It is super fun to watch this loud, fast, and sometimes hilarious film. The director David Leitch entertains us with exhilarating actions, tongue in cheek humors, and comical violence. The style and the violence might remind you of Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" (2003) and "Kill Bill: Vol. 2," even though this film is much lighter with more punchlines. The film makes you feel like an outsider watching a spectacle of never ending bloody feuds, without having to spare any emotional investment for any one of these characters. It's a perfect film to have a good time during a summer night out.
There are many logistic details which the film fails to explain, such as where the crew of the train went. The safety features of such a sophisticated train could have stopped the train a long time ago, but that would also stop the fighting among these hit-men and the fun of this movie. There are a million other places for these killers' revenge, why do all of them come to this train at the same time? The answer is to provide a couple of hours of entertainment for us to escape reality. It worked.
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
A deeply divided political climate between blue states and blue states, an ostentatious culture war between the city elites and the less-educated rural population, a devastating opioid crisis, a phenomenally social-media addicted new generation—those are just some of the issues in the United States that are unexpectedly covered in B.J. Novak's impressive feature film directorial debut "Vengeance" (USA 2022 | 94 min.). With plenty of humor (like in his TV sitcoms) and several arresting characters, B.J. Novak, who also wrote the screenplay, produced the film and acted as the protagonist, crafted an engaging commentary on the current state of America. Like a popcorn machine, the film keeps delivering brainy and insightful lines from start to finish.
Living in New York City, between his dating scenes, Ben Manalowitz (B.J. Novak) is a writer for the New Yorker and the creator of a podcast about American life. One morning, he is woken up by a phone call from Texas informing him about the death of Abilene Shaw (Lio Tipton), a woman whom Ben hooked up with in the past and now can barely remember. The caller is a sobbing Ty (Boyd Holbrook), one of the brothers of Abilene, who believes Abilene did not die from an opioid overdose, but was murdered by drug dealers. Ty and his family believe Ben is Abilene's boyfriend and ask Ben to come to her funeral.
To get materials for his next podcast episode, Ben takes the trip to Texas and meets Abilene's interesting surviving family, who puts a photo of Ben and Abilene next to her casket during her funeral. They warmly welcome Ben and take him in as a family member. Agreeing with Ty to search for Abilene's killer but refusing to seek vengeance, Ben starts to look into Abilene's past, including interviewing Abilene's insightful music producer Quentin Sellers (Ashton Kutcher). The process of searching for the truth turns into a self-discovery experience for Ben with numerous amusing and thought-provoking moments of culture clash.
The director B.J. Novak never stops surprising us with these captivating characters. It's quite easy to go down the path of stereotyping them one way or the other, but he manages to avoid any of that and presents us with a few genuinely honest characters across the culture spectrum. He lets his characters break the barrier of prejudice and perception by being themselves and showing what's in their hearts. That's no small achievement.
As a terrific writer, B.J. Novak provides many great dialogues that are provocative, amusing, and catchy, and the terrific ensemble cast deliver them beautifully. Even though B.J. Novak has already directed a few TV episodes in the past, it's a big surprise that this is only his first film project. But what a solid and confident piece of work he delivered! Maybe he should be writing the State of the Union address next time because he can see America clearly through his characters' visions.
Thursday, July 21, 2022
The writer-director Jordan Peele's hilarious and creepy feature directorial debut "Get Out" (2017) was a big hit, and his eerie sophomore feature "Us" (2019) was even more entertaining. With that tremendous success, his third feature "Nope" (USA 2022 | 120 min.) has become one of the most anticipated films this year and built up a very high expectation. Unfortunately, his latest film not only less scary than the director's previous two films, but it is also subdued in his comical style. To accomplish its goal of delivering horror, the film relies on the sound effect a little bit too much, while nothing else makes the film scary.
The film's opening scene is actually quite shocking, showing the bloody aftermath of a TV production set in the '90s when a chimpanzee killed actors and crews on the set. Later we learn that the weak link between this incident and the film's story is Ricky 'Jupe' Park (Steven Yeun), who was a child actor hiding under a table at the set of the tragedy. Now, Ricky is a host at an amusement park. He is about to purchase a beautiful horse, named Lucky, from OJ (Daniel Kaluuya), who runs a ranch in California that provides horses for film and TV productions. After OJ's dad was killed in a bizarre incident, OJ and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) plan to sell the ranch and cash in. Selling Lucky to Ricky is OJ's first step.
But strange things start to happen around the ranch: the power goes off randomly; windstorms like tornadoes come and go; horses run off suddenly; strange lights beam on and off; and unknown objects fly around in the sky like UFOs. OJ and Emerald decide to get surveillance cameras installed at the ranch to capture the mysterious objects. The friendly hardware store clerk Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and a legendary film cameraman Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) later join the quest of filming the objects.
If they capture anything on film, and what they are going to capture in the sky, seem to become more important than their survival.
Even though the director Jordan Peele has only made two features before this one, he has already created a unique signature in filmmaking and established his own style for his films to be both scary and funny. It is quite disappointing when this film is neither scary nor funny enough. The only moment that makes you chuckle is when OJ says "Nope!" when he senses the danger and decides not to get out of his truck.
When mysterious objects remain unseen, they can be extremely frightening, like in "A Quiet Place" (2018). In this film, it does give us some goose bumps at first, but then the film gives in and reveals everything to you, and spoils the tension. The only scary element in the film is its sound effect, which overpowers other elements.
While Daniel Kaluuya continues to deliver his mesmerizing stares in this film, Steven Yeun is given little to play. You might scratch your head wondering why the chimpanzee matters in this movie at all when it has nothing to do with filming the mysterious objects in the sky. Maybe the chimpanzee should be the protagonist of Jordan Peele's next movie.
Tuesday, July 12, 2022
Where the Crawdads Sing
Can you imagine what it's like when everyone whom you care about leaves you one by one? That's precisely what happened to Kya, a young girl in the marsh of North Carolina, back in the '50s to '60s. Yet, she overcame the emotional toll of all the abandonment and taught herself to become an author of reference books about seashells and seabirds. The director Olivia Newman tells Kya's remarkable story in "Where the Crawdads Sing" (USA 2022 | 125 min.), an adaptation of Delia Owens's best-selling novel with the same title.
As if the abandonment aspect is not harsh enough, the film opens with a trial in which Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is accused of the murder of her ex-boyfriend Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson). A local lawyer, Tom Milton (David Strathairn), volunteers to be her defense attorney. Upon Tom's persuasion, Kya starts to open up and reveal her poignant past.
As a child, Kya never attends school while living with her abusive father in an isolated house in the middle of a marshland. Her mother leaves home first to escape her father, followed by her sisters, and then her brother, and then finally her father. Living alone in the wild, she becomes an outsider to the community and is called the "Marsh Girl." But she finds solitude and comfort in the natural world and pursues her fascination about seashells and seabirds.
But not everyone is shunning Kya. The owners of perhaps the only convenient store around, Jumpin' (Sterling Macer Jr.) and Mabel (Michael Hyatt), have been offering some help since Kya was little. Another person who adores Kya is Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) who truly shares the spirit with Kya, teaches her how to read and write, and falls in love with her. Before Tate leaves for Chapel Hill for college, he promises to return to Kya upon graduation.
As predictable as the plot can be, Tate, the only person Kya keeps her hope up with, ends up not returning. Devastated by yet another abandonment, Kya gives in to a local playboy, Chase Andrews, only to end the relationship badly.
Yet, despite all these misfortunes, Kya still manages to teach herself to draw pictures of seashells and seabirds she observes in the wild, and publishes a few books with her work.
Even though Kya's story is extraordinary by all accounts, the film seems to narrowly focus on her being a victim more than being in control of her life. There should be more stories to tell about her that are left out in the film. Instead, the stories of her being abandoned are presented again and again from childhood to adulthood.
The film never shows how Kya is able to discover her artistic talent to draw vivid figures of what she observes. Where does she get her stationery supplies for her publishing work? It seems all she can get locally from Jumpin' and Mable's store are some very basic items such as grits and gas.
At the end of the film, it needlessly adds a scene of the funeral of Jumpin' to finish off her streak of abandonment—there, one more person in Kya's life departs. Such a life!
Thursday, July 7, 2022
Thor: Love and Thunder
Summer used to be the season when blockbusters, especially the Marvel superhero movies, come out in droves. But now, these Marvel flicks come out in almost every season, like they are constantly dripping from a meat grinding machine and they all look pretty much the same. It's a meaningless exercise if you try to figure out which character is which and from where, because time and again, the characters are simply ground into a sausage through the gigantic production line involving all major studios.
But the latest addition to this sausage production line does have some interesting flavor in it. The New Zealand director Taika Waititi adds tongue-in-cheek style humor to "Thor: Love and Thunder" (USA 2022 | 125 min.) and makes you laugh while tasting the Marvel brand sausage.
In the story's universe, there are many Gods. Gorr, the God Butcher (Christian Bale), is the first God to show up in the film, with his dying daughter in his arms. He turns his loss into rage and vows to kill all Gods.
When Gorr's army terrifies a fishing village in Asgard, the muscled hunk Thor, the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth), comes to the rescue with his trademark hammer. During the battle, he reunites with the Mighty Thor (Natalie Portman), aka Jane Foster in human life who battles stage four cancer.
In order to get to Thor, Gorr kidnaps a group of young children and put them into a cage, because Gorr knows Thor will come to save them. Sure enough, teaming up with King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Kong (Taika Waititi), they board a boat pulled on a rainbow path by two goats who won't stop screaming hilariously. Before they can save the children, they stop at a glorious Golden Temple of the Gods asking for more help from Zeus (Russell Crowe). Instead of Thor getting some help, we get plenty of laughter.
Of course, everyone can predict that they will bring the children home and you can wait for the next Marvel meat grinder to deliver another pack of sausages.
Obviously, the director Taika Waititi had as much fun making the film as we did watching it. He doesn't seem to take these Marvel characters seriously, and why should he? He made them mocking themselves and delivered pure comedy. He doesn't care if you get the story about which God kills which, but he wants to make sure you have a good time laughing during the movie.
The two goats pulling the boat steal the scene every time when they make a sound. Their amusingly raucous screams deserve an Academy Award in sound effect. And the funniest performance should be awarded to Russell Crowe in a stylish skirt for playing the God Zeus who is obsessed with orgy. Other Taika Waititi style tongue-in-cheek jokes are all over the place in the film. I applaud Matt Damon's bravery for wearing a mesmerizing wig with a straight face, and I am still wondering with a smile about why King Valkyrie wears a shirt bought in a gift shop of the musical Phantom of the Opera.
Even though Marvel's sausage making might not be a brain health food, at least this batch is tasty.
Thursday, June 23, 2022
The Black Phone
The situation of being kidnapped by a clown wearing a scary mask and then being locked into a dungeon in the basement is scary enough itself. But "The Black Phone" (USA 2021 | 102 min.) adds more jump scares to it, even though it's unnecessary. However, that doesn't really dampen the creepiness of the film, and the director Scott Derrickson nicely crafted a horror film with an impressive color and look of the '70s.
Set in 1978's Denver, the 13-year-old Finn (Mason Thames) is a typical boy who plays baseball, loves to launch toy rockets, watches horror films on TV, and deals with an abusive father at home. He is also horrified like everyone else when teenage boys go missing one after another in the neighborhood, including Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora), who protects Finn from bullies at school.
Finn's sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) appears to have the psychic power that lets her visualize the kidnapping of these boys in her dreams. She tells the police that she saw a clown (Ethan Hawke) driving a van with black balloons grabbing these boys, and they call him the Grabber.
As predictable as the plot goes, Finn becomes the next victim of the Grabber. When Finn wakes up, he finds himself in a soundproof basement equipped only with a dirty mattress, a filthy toilet, and a disconnected black phone on the wall. The Grabber comes down occasionally to deliver some scrambled eggs and a bottle of soda, and often leaves the door unlocked on purpose. As if that's not terrifying enough, the black phone starts to ring. When Finn answers, he starts to talk to some strange voices that give him courage to fight off the Grabber in order to escape.
The director Scott Derrickson superbly creates a hideous and desperate scenario on screen. From color to clothing, the film's images often look like faded Polaroid photos, which effectively bring you back to the '70s. The grim look reminds us of other thrillers such as "Se7en" (1995) and "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991).
The film devotes the story to the hero of the film, the courageous and resourceful young Finn who fights for his survival, but it keeps his villain as mysterious as possible. Not only do we not know the Grabber's motive, but we also have no clue as to what his next move is going to be, which makes the story more tense and scary, and he always appears behind a nasty mask.
The movie would have been more thrilling if it had not added so many supernatural moments to it. They dilute the credibility of the story. Perhaps those phone calls and anything happening in the basement cell are not supernatural but are all illusions from Finn's imaginations. However, no matter what they really are, they distract us from the urgency in reality. The jump scares are also unnecessarily added for some cheap thrills. Without them, the film is already extremely creepy and terrifying.
Wednesday, June 22, 2022
Labeled as the King of Rock'n Roll, Elvis Presley is one of the most iconic figures in American music history. Even impersonating him has become a profession. His life story and his music continue to be a popular subject in the entertainment world. The latest entry is Baz Luhrmann's dizzy biopic "Elvis" (Australia/USA 2022 | 159 min.), in which Austin Butler gave an impressive performance as an Elvis Impersonator, but not quite as the King himself. However, that's not the actor's fault. The entire movie lacks character building, and everyone seems to be impersonating somebody else. Even Tom Hanks is put into a giant fat suit to be Elvis's villainous manager, Colonel Tom Parker. More than two and half hours later, this movie still doesn't tell you much about Elvis as a person, nor about his music.
Like a blown-up Powerpoint presentation, the film shuffles slides, comic drawings, video clips, text blocks, and other objects as fast and as much as possible bombarding you, while the ailing Colonel Tom Parker's voice (Tom Hanks) narrates the life of Elvis (Austin Butler), in chronological order.
As a young boy, Elvis frequents the local black churches that are filled with Gospel music and dances. Later, he hangs out in Jazz clubs that also has an influence on his music style. When Tom Parker spots Elvis's performance, he slyly squeezes himself into the game and becomes Elvis's manager. With a charming personality, flamboyant costumes, electrifying dance moves, and alluring music, the very good-looking Elvis becomes sensational to his audience and often provokes young women to scream at his concert, among other things.
After Elvis married Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge), they have a daughter. But Elvis is never able to enjoy his family life. His fame and performance consume him and he begins to take prescription drugs to keep himself functional. His life gradually slips into misery as Tom literally grounds him in a suite in a Las Vegas hotel until his death.
Despite the exciting impersonation by Austin Butler, the film tells us little about who Elvis really is and how his music and his performance rose to iconic status. The director Baz Luhrmann packs so much into this film yet without much substance. On the contrary, in less than two hours, the documentary "The King" (2017) offers many more insights about Elvis's rise and fall, as well as how the black culture influenced his music and performance.
What's more disappointing is the forgettable usage of Elvis's music. The film almost never plays any Elvis song in its entirety to convey the magnitude of its power that captured the hearts of so many of his fans. If you are not already familiar with Elvis's music, you would be wondering what the fuss is about him after viewing this film.
Tom Hanks, America's nicest guy, is cast to play an overweight Tom Parker who you probably want to hate here. Tom Parker made a fortune out of Elvis and was clearly responsible for Elvis's downfall as shown in the film. In the first half of the movie, Elvis's performances on stage were full of energy and he enjoyed the fame and attention. It's quite a contrast when he performed in order to pay for the bill later in the film. It's extremely sad to see how Tom Parker sucks the happiness out of Elvis's performance in his career.
This instance of Elvis impersonation should not have lasted for this long without creating in-depth characters or compelling music.
Tuesday, June 7, 2022
Finally, the world's oldest and largest LGBTQ+ film festival, Frameline, returns to in-person screenings June 16–26, 2022 for its 46th edition after being disrupted for two years by the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to the in-person screenings at theaters in San Francisco and Oakland, the festival will also include a nationwide streaming encore June 24–30, 2022.
This year's Frameline46 will present 132 films, including 46 feature narratives, 32 feature documentaries, 3 episodic programs, and 61 short films. These films represent 36 countries and regions around the world. As always, the festival's diverse selections contain films of all genres and touch on issues related to every letter in the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
The following are a few samplers in this year's selection. (You may click on each still image or poster for the corresponding screening or event's show time and ticket information.)
- Let Me Hear It Barefoot (裸足で鳴らしてみせろ | Japan 2021 | in Japanese | 128 min.)
Even though the writer-director Riho Kudo's sensitive and enjoyable drama "Let Me Hear It Barefoot" opens with a beautiful barefoot shot of one of its two protagonists, the film isn't about being barefoot. It explores the subtle and ambiguous relationship between two boys, and it unfolds the ups and downs of their endeavors.
Naomi (Shion Sasaki) drives a truck to pick up recycled household items including electronic devices. He is not getting along well with his debt-ridden father, so he often retreats to his own little space filled with small things he salvaged from his recycling truck.
After he meets the sunny Maki (Tamari Suwa), they bond quickly and Naomi's dull daily routines become much more colorful. Maki lives with his blind grandma Midori (Jun Fubuki), who adopted Maki a long time ago.
After Midori becomes ill and stays in a hospital, she gives her savings to Maki and asks him to travel the world for her and tells her about his trips. Unable to actually take any trip overseas, the two boys quickly come up with a scheme to comfort the ailing lady. Using a cassette voice recorder from Naomi's collections and a travel encyclopedia, the two begin to record daily travelogues on cassettes to tell the imaginary trips Maki is taking around the world.
Like two true sound effect artists in filmmaking, the two boys ingeniously create magical sounds with the items around them. In one scene, Maki asks Naomi to walk on rice barefoot to get the desired sound effect, which becomes the film's title. In between their recording work, the two boys intimately wrestle and hang out like two best friends, while restraining the undercurrent desire for each other.
The director Riho Kudo's sensitive portrait of the two boys is mesmerizing and sometimes heartbreaking. She is as constrained as her characters in her attempt to avoid falling into the cliché for her plot. Even though the ending might not be what you would like it to be, the two arresting characters will stay with you long after the credits roll.
- Coming to You (너에게 가는 길 | South Korea 2021 | in Korean | 93 min. | Documentary)
South Korea is one of the most culturally conservative Asian countries when it comes to embracing and accepting LGBTQ+ people. The struggles of queer people and their families can be very challenging and frustrating. With that social climate as the backdrop, the director Byun Gyu-ri's "Coming to You" tells the stories about two loving moms of LGBTQ+ children, Nabi and Vivian. It documents how they cope with their children's realization of being in the sexual minority, how they actively get involved in Korea's PFLAG organization, and how they offer their unconditional love and support to their children.
A firefighter for 34 years, Nabi is a single mom for her teenage child, Hankyeol. Hankyeol identifies themselves as non-binary and asexual and undergoes breasts removal procedure. Nabi and Hankyeol also fight to legally change Hankyeol's gender from female to male in a queer unfriendly South Korea legal system. While grasping with the new reality herself as Hankyeol comes out to her, Nabi is on Hankyeol's side every step along the way, provides her heartwarming support, and shares her experience with other struggling parents in PFLAG meetings.
The other protagonist of the film is also an ordinary working mom. A flight attendant for 27 years, Vivian is the mom of her gay son, Yejoon. At first, Yejoon finds comfort in Toronto, escaping from his home country's hostile environment toward gay people. However, after he meets his boyfriend, he moves back to Korea to be with him. Vivian not only learns how to embrace her son's sexuality, but she also becomes a fierce advocate for LGBTQ+ right and shares her unconditional love with other families with queer children.
With close access to these people's lives, the film intertwines the stories of these two families and offers us a snapshot of the struggles for queer people in South Korea. Even though the film shows the long road ahead for the LGBTQ+ acceptance and doesn't gloss over the harsh reality in South Korea, it offers plenty of hopeful and inspiring moments, as well as many sweet and hilarious scenes.
- Moneyboys (金錢男孩 | Austria/France/Taiwan/Belgium 2021 | in Mandarin | 120 min.)
More than two decades ago, Stanley Kwan's groundbreaking "Lan Yu" (China 2001) told a Chinese hustler's love story for the first time. Despite the hard line censorship on LGBTQ+ media in recent years, in an era of gay dating apps that are readily available at one's fingertips, male prostitution has been flourishing in China. Yet, there is almost nothing about them portrayed on the big screen, until now. The China-born and Austria-based writer-director C.B. Yi's striking feature directorial debut "Moneyboys" unfolds a melancholic story of moneyboys in China. It features one of the most popular stars in Taiwan, Kai Ko (柯震東), and was premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
Perhaps only in China, moneyboy (not a legit English word) or shortened as MB, is a synonym for male prostitutes. Fei (Kai Ko) is one of them. Coming from a small village, Fei begins his new career as a moneyboy in the city, Yiwu, to support his family back in the countryside. He learns the ropes from Xiaolai (J.C. Lin) and they fall in love with each other. After Fei has a violent episode with a client, Xiaolai seeks revenge but only ends up being badly beaten up.
Five years later, Fei loses touch with Xiaolai and lives in another city, Shenzhen, but has become a pro as a moneyboy. After his childhood friend Long (Yufan Bai) comes to join Fei in the moneyboy business, they become boyfriends.
Despite Fei sending money back home to the village, his extended family members despise him for being gay, and even more so for being a moneyboy. During a visit back to the village, their hostile attitude toward Fei is on full display. When Xiaolai unexpectedly reappears, Fei's emotional compass falls into complete disarray.
This drama is the first installment of a trilogy planned by the writer-director C.B. Yi, a student of the renowned auteur Michael Haneke. Even though the film's story is about moneyboys, the underlying theme of sacrifices for the family is universal, especially in Chinese culture. It's very common for young people in China to leave their poor villages for better paying jobs in metropolises in order to support their families back home. In Fei's case, that job is being a hustler.
Appearing in almost every scene of the film, Kai Ko gives a superb performance as the emotionally torn Fei. It's a great comeback role for him after he was busted for using marijuana a few years back (yes, smoking marijuana is still illegal in most countries in the world!).
This film may become another milestone after "Lan Yu" that humanizes one of the most marginalized groups in China—male prostitution.
Frameline46 takes place June 16–26, 2022 in San Francisco at the Castro Theater in the Castro, the Roxie Theater in the Mission, AMC Kabuki 8 in Japantown, SFMOMA downtown, Proxy SF in Haight-Ashbury, as well as the New Parkway Theater in Oakland.
The festival will also include a nationwide streaming encore June 24–30, 2022.
Sunday, May 29, 2022
Crimes of the Future
If you are not a surgeon, you will probably see cutting someone open as gruesome or barbaric, unless you are one of those well-dressed cocktail-sipping patrons during a performance art show in the writer-director David Cronenberg's new film "Crimes of the Future" (Canada/France/Greece/UK 2022 | 107 min.). This is going to be quite a challenging film for many who don't have the stomach to keep their eyes on the screen. However, no matter how much you might be disturbed by the film's visuals, you can't help but admire the filmmaker's bold vision and creative mind on his artistic interpretation about human evolution.
The unsettling sensation is provoked from the very beginning of the film, when a mother kills her own innocent looking young son. But that's certainly not the end for this young boy, and he will be part of the show by a performance art duo, Saul (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Léa Seydoux) later.
In a dystopian future, humans have evolved biologically, although it's unclear exactly how. The environment they live in looks as filthy as an underground sewage tunnel, and the ruined buildings they are in are filled with graffiti and broken bricks and windows. But one thing that has not changed is the performance art world continues to thrive with modern technology and devices, and cocktails are still served in glasses during the performances.
Saul is fragile and has difficulty eating on a specially designed breakfast chair. He sleeps in an Orchard Bed, which has many tubes connecting to his internal organs. His partner Caprice monitors a new organ's growth inside of Saul and inks a tattoo on it inside his body. One of their shows is for Caprice to cut Saul open to harvest the tattooed organ by using a video game control, in front of a group of excited prestigious guests in evening dresses with cameras in hand.
Apparently, the government holds a tight control over the evolution of human bodies. Saul and Caprice must register the new organ with the National Organ Registry which has only two officials, Wippet (Don McKellar) and his assistant Timlin (Kristen Stewart), in a rundown office with piles of paper files that look like they are from the 1950s. The jittery Timlin seems to share a common fetish with the two performance artists—they get excited about cutting flesh open. Surgery is the new sex, as they claim.
It's evident that performance art has outlived humanity.
David Cronenberg, the creator of this eerie world, perhaps is trying to make a point about where the world we are living in is going. It definitely doesn't look good. But in making that point, he challenges every sense of ours, and profoundly shakes the buffer of our comfort zone. In a bizarre world he creates, a sadistic act becomes a tranquil and desirable body modification process. This is certainly not a movie for the faint-hearted.
The jab at modern art provides many moments of comic relief in the film, and gives us a little breathing room between the visuals that might leave us with nightmares. It's quite a contrast between the stylish dresses the guests are wearing and the grimy sites in which they are gathering.
The movie takes you on a trip from which you can't wait to get back home. It will be a daring experience to sit through the film.