IT’S ME, IT’S ME (2013) – directed by Satoshi Miki
This film was selected to be the opening picture of the “Camera Lucida” spotlight at the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival and they couldn’t have made a better choice.
Embodying everything that is “Camera Lucida,” which is to say quirky, eccentric, intellectually stimulating and in some cases truly revolutionary cinema, IT’S ME, IT’S ME can best be described as a Lynchian mind-fuck crossbred with the most absurd Monty Python sketch imaginable as directed by Spike Jonze (circa BEING JOHN MALKOVICH). And while Miki’s film is all of this and much more, please don’t let these comparisons fool you into thinking this is simply a cinematic cornucopia of those styles and not an original motion picture in its own right. Miki brings a sincere Japanese sensibility to the piece vis a vis the illustration of a country struggling to reconcile its adherence to Eastern traditions vs. assimilation into the impending takeover of Western values.
In the hands of a “bullshit shock director,” IT’S ME, IT’S ME might have just simply been an absurd piece for the sake of being absurd, but Miki infuses this story with a certain kind of logic grounded in reality as evident by the ending that neatly ties everything together.
A must-see and my pick for best of fest so far.
LESSON OF THE EVIL (2012) – directed by Takashi Miike
I’m not entirely sure what to make of this film. On one hand, it certainly rivals ICHI THE KILLER as being Miike’s most daring and provocative film to date. However, unlike ICHI which was a brilliant deconstruction of BDSM and what it means to be a “switch” in this lifestyle, LESSON OF THE EVIL simply seems to be an exercise in excessive vulgarity and relishes in it without trying to offer any kind of social commentary.
The film starts off promisingly enough with an almost NEEDFUL THINGS-style plot where Hasumi (the titular teacher offering lessons in evil) manipulates his students and members of the faculty into playing pranks on one another, resulting in total chaos and in many cases murder. However, the film quickly descends into another boring shoot ’em up where Hasumi apparently abandons his schemes in favor of simply taking matters into his own hands and murdering everyone en masse. Aside from the unfortunate direction Miike (who co-wrote the piece) chose to make here, we simply don’t care about anyone except for Hasumi as virtually none of the characters are developed in way, shape or form. I defy anyone coming out of this film to give me the name of any other character except for Hasumi. Therefore, if Miike wanted us to feel sympathy for any of the students being slaughtered, he failed miserably.
LESSON OF THE EVIL is a missed opportunity as somewhere in the overly long 125-minute length of the film is a story that in the hands of a better filmmaker would have made for a more daring and emotionally satisfying experience. But unfortunately, you’re not going to get that in the hands of Takashi Miike.
THE GRAND HEIST (2012) – directed by Joo-ho Kim
Joo-ho Kim’s THE GRAND HEIST was a real surprise as I wasn’t planning to see this film at all. But on the urging of my wife, we decided to take this one in and we enjoyed it immensely.
The film basically plays like a Korean period-piece take on OCEAN’S ELEVEN with a “Rat Pack” gang of lovable misfits planning a big heist. From start to finish, I had a big smile on my face as the writing is very sharp and funny, the actors all pull off wonderfully comedic performances and the overall tone of the film had a quirky Shaw Bros.-esque tone to it with the slickness of a contemporary Hollywood production.
I can easily see something like this being remade for American audiences, so if you get a chance, catch the real thing at a festival near you.
IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT (2013) – directed by Herman Yau
Quentin Tarantino has often said that his least favorite genre of film is the bio-pic. He explains that bio-pics often sacrifice a natural narrative flow in favor of linear storytelling that often becomes tedious as filmmakers strive to portray every single moment in the subject matter’s life on screen. I like to think that there are exceptions to the rule, but after watching IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT, I’m starting to think Tarantino may be right.
IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT is an exercise in sheer boredom if I’ve ever seen one before, right down to the narrator literally saying, “In 1961 we did this… then in 1962 we did that…” Any semblance of the epic and dignified approach to telling Ip Man’s lifestory in the first film is long gone in Herman Yau’s take on the material. Between the lackluster acting, made-for-TV-film cinematography and the overall “running on empty” feeling that a franchise that really peaked after the first film has, IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT is a film that will hopefully be forgotten in lieu of the fond memories of the immortal Donnie Yen original.
Having said this, the film isn’t entirely without merit. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film was the scene in which Bruce Lee comes back to Hong Kong to meet his former Master and how there seems to be a lot of tension and perhaps even resentment on Ip Man’s part towards his former pupil. When I was watching these moments, I was reminded of another thing Tarantino said about bio-pics. He felt that the only way a bio-pic could conceivably be interesting is if the filmmaker chose to tell a story on a single event in that person’s life that could translate into a three-act narrative that would be dramatically interesting for audiences.
If there was ever another IP MAN film worth making, it’s the conflict between Master Ip and Bruce Lee. When I was watching these scenes, I wished that this was the film Herman Yau chose to make.