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Two tricks, three treats from the San Diego Asian Film Festival

The Medium, The Old Ways, Introduction, Time, Wheel of Fortune

The Medium provides XXL shocks.
The Medium provides XXL shocks.

This year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival continues to dazzle. The three films up for discussion will screen at UtlraStar Cinemas in Mission Valley. Next week’s lead review is Drive My Car, the festival’s closing night presentation, screening at the Angelika Film Center. Order your tickets now lest there be a “Sold Out” sign posted in the box office to greet you. For more information, visit: https://sdaff.org/2021/ But first, two frighteners to celebrate the holiday.

The Medium

When was the last time a movie scared the bejeezus out of me? About 10 minutes ago. This Halloween, the shocks come XXXL in The Medium, Banjong Pisanthanakun’s supernatural blend of Thai-Korean horror. A documentary crew is sent to Thailand in 2018 to study the lives of the shamans. (Pisanthanakun’s mimicry is such that it took a good 10 minutes before the realization set in that it was a work of fiction.) Long before organized religion became their way of life, the people of Isan were exercising their right to believe in evil spirits. Lest we forget: these are the same people whose prime source of meat is Rover. When asked how a dog owner could possibly dine on a four-legged friend, Noi (Sirani Yankittikan) counters that people own goldfish and they eat fish. (A plot thread such as this in a movie of this nature can only end in the unthinkable.) One witch doctor stands out from the pack: Noi’s sister Nim (Sawanee Utoomma) hails from a long line of shaman — or in this case shawoman — who specialize in black magic, not medical science. (Though when contacted by the family member of a terminal cancer patient, she’ll issue a death sentence like any other doctor on the planet.) Her next case is Wiroj, the late husband of her elder sister. All of the men in his family die under tragic circumstances. Once the family’s resident shawoman, Noi tricked Nim into housing the evil spirit of Ba Yan. Nim returns the favor by passing the demons to her niece and Noi’s daughter Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech). The demon inside Mink digs the accommodations, so much so that it’s afraid of being evicted. The documentary realism begins to fade when camera people film the gruesome death of their colleagues, but not before Pisanthanakun gives his audience an unhealthy dose of night vision night terrors. And with only one jump-scare! Two shots, both of which are remarkably unsettling, will remain forever etched into my eyeballs. Pleasant dreams. Now streaming on Shudder.

The Old Ways

In flashback, young Christina looks on at an exorcism being performed on her mother. Years later, American citizen Christina’s (Brigitte Kali Canales) career as a crusading newshawk lands her in Veracruz to investigate numerous reports of hocus-pocus-dominocus. It’s here in her hometown that she is kidnapped and held hostage by a group of locals who see in her the devil incarnate. A burlap sack is used to conceal the identities of her captors; her only visitor is a comic relief-adding rooster. She pounces on the chance to place a call to friend Miranda (Andrea Cortés) that lasts just long enough to trace its source. Miranda begins to smell of double-agent, able to promise her bestie’s release if and when an exorcism is performed. Her phone wasn’t the only item Christina swiped from her purse; stashed beneath her mattress was a heroin kit. The introduction of Christina’s addiction was, at first glance, a novel twist. The excitement lasted until the question arose: why she would inject the drug rather than use it to subdue her jailers? It ends well, but not before dragging us through a number of addiction tropes. Did we really need the slow-motion “Just say No!” shot, taken from Christina’s point-of-view, of the drugs dropping from her hand and into the garbage can? Captor and victim team up to provide a most satisfactory climax. Streaming on Netflix or own it on Blu-ray.

Now Playing at the San Diego Film Festival.

Introduction

Melodrama combines with a scarcely populated subgenre of my own creation — narratives that don’t get around to flipping their hold cards until minutes before the house lights rise — to fashion a 66-minute masterwork that, in its own subtle fashion, ponders the emboldenment of humanity. The audience is hit with an abundance of characters all at once, but kept in the dark as to whose story it is that we’re about to follow. There’s the doctor (Kim Young-ho), seated before a computer, his hands clasped in prayer as he barters with his creator. There’s the woman waiting to see the acupuncturist, and the famous stage actor (Ki Joo-Bong) grabbing a smoke before keeping an appointment known only to him. His unannounced arrival bumps the prompt Young-ho (Shin Seok-ho), on deck to function as both grounds for his estranged father’s prayers and protagonist. The receptionist acts particularly folksy around the lad, when out of nowhere, he awkwardly wraps his arms around her. My ability to sniff out foreshadowing as a pig does truffles found me stuffy nosed when it came to this robotic embrace and the profound impact one hug has on the film’s outcome. Chances are, were it not for SDAFF, writer-director and practitioner of artistic minimalism Hong Sang-soo (Right Then, Wrong Now, Claire’s Camera, The Woman Who Ran) might never have crossed my radar. His naturalistic approach to writing dialogue could earn him a degree in otolaryngology. How is location defined? In response to her frustrated daughter’s inability to unlatch a door, mom replies, “It’s German.” Later, the drunken thespians’s justifiable rage over failed actor Young-ho’s inability to fake a hug cheered the heart. Not to be missed, the latest from the austere South Korean filmmaker awaits your introduction on October 29 at 8:30 pm and October 31 at 5:20 pm.

Time

The story about to be spun by director Tsz Pun “Ricky” Ko opens on a burst of inspired brilliance: Chau (Yin Tse) a retired, craggy-faced assassin fired from his current minimum wage job making noodles, reunites with his old gang — Mrs. Fung (Bo-Bo Fung), a senescent saloon singer once associated with a pair of leather punting boots as tall as her leather skirt was short; and chockablock getaway driver/whoremonger Chung (Suet Lam) — to perform mercy hits on the terminally ill. One could just as easily have spent 99 minutes in the service of Jack Kevorkian reimagined as a serial-killing psychopath, but the filmmakers had different plans. His first victim is a wealthy widower abandoned by his family and living alone. Like a hunter shooting deer in his living room, Chau finds no satisfaction in the ease associated with assisted suicide. Fung reminds him that contract killers his age aren’t exactly in demand, but he stands firm. In his mind, death is preferable to being in debt. Then there’s Tze Ying (Suet-Ying Chung) a teenager who would never have entered his life were it not for Chung’s decline. In his prime, an assassin of Chau’s caliber would never have stumbled into the wrong home, let alone been made by a young girl who soon takes up residence with the guardian angel of the elderly. Not to worry: the May/December romance that Chung elbows Chau into pondering never leaves the talking stage. What follows is a flurry of action, all flying blades and noodles, until Tze reveals she’s carrying the son of her philandering ex. Chau intervenes, and the pursuant screwball fight scene in an abortion clinic lacks the power esstential to prodding shock and/or queasy snickers. We close in Jackie Chan style with a reel of bloopers. The showtimes for Time are ​​October 30 at 1:10 pm and October 31 at 3:10 pm.

Wheel of Fortune

Filmmaker Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s (Drive My Car) romantic triptych follows three unrelated tales of love and faithlessness. On the way home from a modeling shoot, Meiko (Furukawa Kotone) listens as her best friend Tsugumi (Hyunri) describes a rapturous 15-hour romance she’s recently experienced. Meiko’s gut tells her the man Tsugumi describes is the same one who, two years ago, ended a relationship on the grounds of cheating. This is followed by another romantic triangle of sorts: looking to enact revenge against the college teacher ​​Segawa (Shibukawa Kiyohiko), whom Sasaki (Kai Shouma) credits with ruining his life, he convinces his older girlfriend Nao (Mori Katsuki) to participate in a “moneytrap” — a chance to seduce the respected professor, record the romance, and sell the tape to the media. Lastly, there’s Moka (Urabe Fusako) who attends her 20-year class reunion with the explicit intention of catching up with Nana (Kawai Aoba), the woman she spots going down on the opposite escalator. The individual threads all bear similarities — dialogue scenes on various forms of transportation (limo, bus, foot) filmed in long, unbroken takes, characters on opposing sides gradually drawn together in the frame, and participants guilty of living out their own projections. If it all sounds a bit heavy, relax. The curtain rings down on a note of romantic assurance the likes of which has long been absent from American films. Screens on November 1 at 8:15 pm and November 2 at 5:20 pm.

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The border re-opening seemed to help both sides
The Medium provides XXL shocks.
The Medium provides XXL shocks.

This year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival continues to dazzle. The three films up for discussion will screen at UtlraStar Cinemas in Mission Valley. Next week’s lead review is Drive My Car, the festival’s closing night presentation, screening at the Angelika Film Center. Order your tickets now lest there be a “Sold Out” sign posted in the box office to greet you. For more information, visit: https://sdaff.org/2021/ But first, two frighteners to celebrate the holiday.

The Medium

When was the last time a movie scared the bejeezus out of me? About 10 minutes ago. This Halloween, the shocks come XXXL in The Medium, Banjong Pisanthanakun’s supernatural blend of Thai-Korean horror. A documentary crew is sent to Thailand in 2018 to study the lives of the shamans. (Pisanthanakun’s mimicry is such that it took a good 10 minutes before the realization set in that it was a work of fiction.) Long before organized religion became their way of life, the people of Isan were exercising their right to believe in evil spirits. Lest we forget: these are the same people whose prime source of meat is Rover. When asked how a dog owner could possibly dine on a four-legged friend, Noi (Sirani Yankittikan) counters that people own goldfish and they eat fish. (A plot thread such as this in a movie of this nature can only end in the unthinkable.) One witch doctor stands out from the pack: Noi’s sister Nim (Sawanee Utoomma) hails from a long line of shaman — or in this case shawoman — who specialize in black magic, not medical science. (Though when contacted by the family member of a terminal cancer patient, she’ll issue a death sentence like any other doctor on the planet.) Her next case is Wiroj, the late husband of her elder sister. All of the men in his family die under tragic circumstances. Once the family’s resident shawoman, Noi tricked Nim into housing the evil spirit of Ba Yan. Nim returns the favor by passing the demons to her niece and Noi’s daughter Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech). The demon inside Mink digs the accommodations, so much so that it’s afraid of being evicted. The documentary realism begins to fade when camera people film the gruesome death of their colleagues, but not before Pisanthanakun gives his audience an unhealthy dose of night vision night terrors. And with only one jump-scare! Two shots, both of which are remarkably unsettling, will remain forever etched into my eyeballs. Pleasant dreams. Now streaming on Shudder.

The Old Ways

In flashback, young Christina looks on at an exorcism being performed on her mother. Years later, American citizen Christina’s (Brigitte Kali Canales) career as a crusading newshawk lands her in Veracruz to investigate numerous reports of hocus-pocus-dominocus. It’s here in her hometown that she is kidnapped and held hostage by a group of locals who see in her the devil incarnate. A burlap sack is used to conceal the identities of her captors; her only visitor is a comic relief-adding rooster. She pounces on the chance to place a call to friend Miranda (Andrea Cortés) that lasts just long enough to trace its source. Miranda begins to smell of double-agent, able to promise her bestie’s release if and when an exorcism is performed. Her phone wasn’t the only item Christina swiped from her purse; stashed beneath her mattress was a heroin kit. The introduction of Christina’s addiction was, at first glance, a novel twist. The excitement lasted until the question arose: why she would inject the drug rather than use it to subdue her jailers? It ends well, but not before dragging us through a number of addiction tropes. Did we really need the slow-motion “Just say No!” shot, taken from Christina’s point-of-view, of the drugs dropping from her hand and into the garbage can? Captor and victim team up to provide a most satisfactory climax. Streaming on Netflix or own it on Blu-ray.

Now Playing at the San Diego Film Festival.

Introduction

Melodrama combines with a scarcely populated subgenre of my own creation — narratives that don’t get around to flipping their hold cards until minutes before the house lights rise — to fashion a 66-minute masterwork that, in its own subtle fashion, ponders the emboldenment of humanity. The audience is hit with an abundance of characters all at once, but kept in the dark as to whose story it is that we’re about to follow. There’s the doctor (Kim Young-ho), seated before a computer, his hands clasped in prayer as he barters with his creator. There’s the woman waiting to see the acupuncturist, and the famous stage actor (Ki Joo-Bong) grabbing a smoke before keeping an appointment known only to him. His unannounced arrival bumps the prompt Young-ho (Shin Seok-ho), on deck to function as both grounds for his estranged father’s prayers and protagonist. The receptionist acts particularly folksy around the lad, when out of nowhere, he awkwardly wraps his arms around her. My ability to sniff out foreshadowing as a pig does truffles found me stuffy nosed when it came to this robotic embrace and the profound impact one hug has on the film’s outcome. Chances are, were it not for SDAFF, writer-director and practitioner of artistic minimalism Hong Sang-soo (Right Then, Wrong Now, Claire’s Camera, The Woman Who Ran) might never have crossed my radar. His naturalistic approach to writing dialogue could earn him a degree in otolaryngology. How is location defined? In response to her frustrated daughter’s inability to unlatch a door, mom replies, “It’s German.” Later, the drunken thespians’s justifiable rage over failed actor Young-ho’s inability to fake a hug cheered the heart. Not to be missed, the latest from the austere South Korean filmmaker awaits your introduction on October 29 at 8:30 pm and October 31 at 5:20 pm.

Time

The story about to be spun by director Tsz Pun “Ricky” Ko opens on a burst of inspired brilliance: Chau (Yin Tse) a retired, craggy-faced assassin fired from his current minimum wage job making noodles, reunites with his old gang — Mrs. Fung (Bo-Bo Fung), a senescent saloon singer once associated with a pair of leather punting boots as tall as her leather skirt was short; and chockablock getaway driver/whoremonger Chung (Suet Lam) — to perform mercy hits on the terminally ill. One could just as easily have spent 99 minutes in the service of Jack Kevorkian reimagined as a serial-killing psychopath, but the filmmakers had different plans. His first victim is a wealthy widower abandoned by his family and living alone. Like a hunter shooting deer in his living room, Chau finds no satisfaction in the ease associated with assisted suicide. Fung reminds him that contract killers his age aren’t exactly in demand, but he stands firm. In his mind, death is preferable to being in debt. Then there’s Tze Ying (Suet-Ying Chung) a teenager who would never have entered his life were it not for Chung’s decline. In his prime, an assassin of Chau’s caliber would never have stumbled into the wrong home, let alone been made by a young girl who soon takes up residence with the guardian angel of the elderly. Not to worry: the May/December romance that Chung elbows Chau into pondering never leaves the talking stage. What follows is a flurry of action, all flying blades and noodles, until Tze reveals she’s carrying the son of her philandering ex. Chau intervenes, and the pursuant screwball fight scene in an abortion clinic lacks the power esstential to prodding shock and/or queasy snickers. We close in Jackie Chan style with a reel of bloopers. The showtimes for Time are ​​October 30 at 1:10 pm and October 31 at 3:10 pm.

Wheel of Fortune

Filmmaker Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s (Drive My Car) romantic triptych follows three unrelated tales of love and faithlessness. On the way home from a modeling shoot, Meiko (Furukawa Kotone) listens as her best friend Tsugumi (Hyunri) describes a rapturous 15-hour romance she’s recently experienced. Meiko’s gut tells her the man Tsugumi describes is the same one who, two years ago, ended a relationship on the grounds of cheating. This is followed by another romantic triangle of sorts: looking to enact revenge against the college teacher ​​Segawa (Shibukawa Kiyohiko), whom Sasaki (Kai Shouma) credits with ruining his life, he convinces his older girlfriend Nao (Mori Katsuki) to participate in a “moneytrap” — a chance to seduce the respected professor, record the romance, and sell the tape to the media. Lastly, there’s Moka (Urabe Fusako) who attends her 20-year class reunion with the explicit intention of catching up with Nana (Kawai Aoba), the woman she spots going down on the opposite escalator. The individual threads all bear similarities — dialogue scenes on various forms of transportation (limo, bus, foot) filmed in long, unbroken takes, characters on opposing sides gradually drawn together in the frame, and participants guilty of living out their own projections. If it all sounds a bit heavy, relax. The curtain rings down on a note of romantic assurance the likes of which has long been absent from American films. Screens on November 1 at 8:15 pm and November 2 at 5:20 pm.

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