Archive for the ‘Fantasia 2013’ Category

The 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival is in the books. Going into the 17th annual edition, I had an ambitious checklist of at least 60 feature films I had planned on seeing. However, between editing my new film EROTICIDE and looking for a job, I understandably had to prioritize. As such, my mighty 60-film marathon turned into a paltry 20-film one. Of course, there are those who would argue that watching 20 films over the course of 3 weeks is nothing short of insanity. But I digress.

When I first took a look at this year’s programming, I have to confess to being somewhat underwhelmed by the line-up. Aside from a few films by filmmakers whose works I was particularly looking forward to, there wasn’t really anything that immediately caught my interest. With Fantasia 2013 in the books, I come away from this year’s edition feeling more or less the same. There were several very good films, some of which may find their way on my “Top 10 Films of 2013” by the end of the year. But on the other hand, there were many more films that were simply just “there.” Nothing bold, nothing daring, nothing truly transgressive and certainly nothing that will remain in my subconscious for years to come like previous years (ICHI THE KILLER, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, PI, etc.). I attribute this to the fact that as much as people don’t seem to want to admit it, the Fantasia International Film Festival feels like a bloated event watered down by the need to fill up 3 weeks worth of programming.

Fantasia began at the cusp of the DVD revolution and as such there was a plethora of outstanding genre titles out there that had never been seen before in North America. As I peruse programs from the ’97 and ’98 editions, I was agog at how rich and diverse the films programmed in those years were. Furthermore, I could understand the need to facilitate all of these works over the course of a 3-4 week block. In addition, because many of these films had never been seen before in North America, or at the very least on the big screen in 35mm, Fantasia’s programming had a “must-see” vibe about it where a premiere truly lived up to the name and was made all the more special by the exclusive nature of it.

Nowadays with most genre films (from around the world) heading directly to VOD and/or home video, with the occasional theatrical release thrown in there, that “must-see” vibe about Fantasia has diminished tremendously. In the past, seeing Dario Argento’s DEEP RED was a huge event because you never knew if or when you’d ever see it again. In recent years, screenings at Fantasia basically serve as sneak previews organized by distributors or in some cases, DVD/Blu-Ray launches with ads for said home video releases placed right next to their listing in the physical program.  Of course, the counter-argument to this would be that there’s nothing like watching a film at Fantasia and to some extent, I would agree.

But that still doesn’t justify the need to continue programming 3 weeks of films when quite frankly, the depth of original quality titles isn’t what it once was. As much as Fantasia prides itself on being “North America’s largest and most important genre film festival,” I can’t help but feel that events like Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX and even the Midnight Madness line-up at the Toronto International Film Festival are still held in higher regard because as the motto of Fantastic Fest bluntly puts it, these are film festivals without the boring stuff. And as much as it pains me to say it, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that, yes, there is a lot of boring stuff at Fantasia. Moreover, by continuing to be a 3-week event, Fantasia burdens itself with the need to really stretch the definition of “genre film” in order to fill up 21 days of programming resulting in DVD supplemental fodder like REWIND THIS! or art films like NUMBER 10 BLUES/GOODBYE SAIGON that have, at best, a peripheral relation to genre cinema, getting shown.

What’s the solution to all of this? Well, they could start by cutting at least one week. By limiting themselves to a 14-day festival, Fantasia would be forced into making more discriminatory choices in what gets shown that year, which I can only assume (hope?) will result in stronger programming. Considering that Fantasia sponsors film screenings all year long, they could still conceivably show some of the films that would have otherwise made the cut. In Montreal we have something called the “Nuit Blanche” where the city is open all night long and there’s a wide array of fun activities for people to enjoy. Fantasia often has a special event that night which is usually a “greatest hits” of the previous year’s edition. Instead of a retread, how about holding a “Dusk till Dawn Movie Marathon” featuring films from the “Fantasia Vault” (i.e. films too “scary” or “shocking” to show at Fantasia). It would be a great way to promote the festival and in many ways, could serve as a mini-festival getting audiences excited about the big one in the summer. This could be an ongoing trend to coincide with events in the city. When the RIDM (Montreal International Documentary Film Festival) takes place, Fantasia could sponsor a screening of a doc or two that would otherwise look out of place in their own backyard. Same thing for FNC (the Festival du Nouveau Cinema). Fantasia could sponsor a screening of something more esoteric like the aforementioned NUMBER 10 BLUES/GOODBYE SAIGON.

I’ve been attending Fantasia since its inception, so I write all of this from the perspective of a fan who loves what the festival stands for at its core and would love to see it return to its roots by delivering a lean and mean extravaganza that will make you hate yourself forever if you miss a second of it.

Having said this, here is a list of my top 10 favorite films this year.

  1. HALLEY (2012) – directed by Sebastian Hofmann
  2. DOOMSDAYS (2013) – directed by Eddie Mullins
  3. BIG BAD WOLVES (2013) – directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
  4. THE MACHINE (2013) – directed by Caradog W. James
  5. 5/25/77 (2007) – directed by Patrick Read Johnson
  6. HK: FORBIDDEN SUPER HERO (2013) – directed by Yuichi Fukuda
  7. MACHI ACTION (2013) – directed by Jeff Chang
  8. IT’S ME, IT’S ME (2013) – directed by Satoshi Miki
  9. THE CONJURING (2013) – directed by James Wan
  10. THE GRAND HEIST (2012) – directed by Joo-ho Kim

And here’s a list of my 5 least favorite films.

  1. RAZE (2013) – directed by Josh C. Waller
  2. YOU’RE NEXT (2011) – directed by Adam Wingard
  3. 24 EXPOSURES (2013) – directed by Joe Swanberg
  4. DRUG WAR (2012) – directed by Johnnie To
  5. IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT (2013) – directed by Herman Yau



The HIstory of the Devil 3 Title 66 Productions

Photo by Julia Milz.

For my money, Clive Barker is up there with H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King as members of the “Unholy Trinity of Horror.” What strikes me about his work is how he’s able to conjure up unfathomable horrors (a la Lovecraft) but somehow ground them in a reality with three-dimensional characters we get emotionally involved with (a la King). In many respects, he’s the best of both worlds and as such has always been held in high regard by yours truly as both an excellent writer of fantastic fiction and an inspiration to me as an artist.

I was never familiar with his theatrical work so when I heard that the Fantasia International Film Festival was hosting a remounting of THE HISTORY OF THE DEVIL by the young Montreal theatrical troupe, Title 66 Productions, I was more than intrigued.

THE HISTORY OF THE DEVIL tells the satiric tale of the Devil’s trial at the hands of the human race, with which he’s shared the world for millennia. If he can prove that it is humanity that is indeed culpable for his alleged crimes, he may return to paradise forever. In a theatrical eruption of darkness, philosophy and humor, a seductively wide range of characters travel through time to tell the Devil’s story. Whether it is angels falling from heaven in a 1212 BC Russian winter, a decaying prison cell holding accused witches in Lucerne, or a boxing match in England with stakes high enough to make a man out of a machine, each testimony seamlessly transports the audience to that time period and reveals the Devil wearing a different skin, until, by the end, he sheds them all. THE HISTORY OF THE DEVIL exposes Lucifer as a fallen angel so like ourselves. Does the Devil deserve paradise? Do any of us?

I personally have a love/hate relationship with theater. As an actor, I can tell you firsthand that nothing compares to performing on stage in front of a live audience. To feed off the energy of the crowd is a drug that is simply incomparable. Plus, as a perfectionist, performing in a play for x amount of days allows me to continually tweak my performance without fear of never getting a second chance at trying something new. On the other hand, as someone coming from a background in filmmaking, and moreover, an advocate and admirer of the subtlety, realism and natural acting often found in film, watching any work of theater can be a very jarring experience given the rather flamboyant nature of these productions. There’s a self-consciousness about theater, be it the verbose texts or the larger than life performances that don’t really lend themselves to realism, that has always made it difficult for me to truly get into it as a spectator.

Having said that, I’m not immune to having my long-held beliefs shattered before me and after watching THE HISTORY OF THE DEVIL as directed by  Jeremy Michael Segal and performed by the cast of Title 66 Productions, I will have to make a point of giving theater another chance as this play was simply divine.

Like the best of Barker’s work, THE HISTORY OF THE DEVIL is a very cerebral and existential journey into the supernatural that despite its lofty pretensions is actually very accessible to audiences looking for a good yarn with rich dialogue, an intriguing scenario with a great payoff and characters you truly get to care about.

These characters are brought to life by one of the most outstanding casts I have ever seen be it in theater or film. Delphine DiTecco, James Harrington, Lily MacLean, Kyle McIlhone, Liana Montoro, Arielle Palik and Logan Williams play a wide (and I mean wide) range of characters, oftentimes changing costumes on stage while delivering lines of one character and then spouting lines as the next. Having written and performed in a play with a similar setup, I can tell you firsthand that this is a task that only the truly ambitious and diverse of actors can pull off as you almost have to have an acute case of schizophrenia to be able to jump from one persona to another.

And while the job these actors do is formidable beyond description, it is Lucas Chartier-Dessert, who plays the titular Devil, who absolutely steals the show. On stage for virtually all 160 minutes of the performance, we truly see the arc of this character from beginning to end and the emotional journey Lucifer goes on, starting off as a reputation whispered amongst the ignorant into the very same humanity he sought to enslave. Lucas Chartier-Dessert pulls this character off so well as his charisma, good lucks and profound acting chops just lend themselves to the kind of actor I would envision playing the Devil. Truth be told, if anyone was ever looking to adapt LUCIFER (the spinoff character from Neil Gaiman’s THE SANDMAN), I think this guy would be perfect.

Of course, behind every great cast is a great visionary director and in this case, that man is Jeremy Michael Segal. Segal did a tremendous job bringing this play to life but there were three things that really stood out for me.

One, was the rather Brecht approach to theatrical staging that really intrigued me. The play utilizes a very minimal set and relies heavily upon the imagination of the actors vis a vis their body movements to transport audiences to different time periods. In some cases, there’s also a very self-awareness of the fact that this is a play with characters sometimes remarking upon whether certain lines of dialogue are an appropriate way to end the production or sometimes characters even commenting on what’s happening on stage to the audience. And then of course, there’s the show-stopping finale where Lucifer climbs the ladder to Heaven only to have the complete backdrop collapse revealing the backstage area as a way to symbolize that Heaven has been deserted and that the Devil has been duped. Very interesting stuff indeed.

Two, was the ingenious way of transitioning between sets and characters. Nothing kills the momentum of a play than having your audience sit in the dark while you scramble around on stage rearranging furniture for the next scene. Segal had his actors work in these transitions while still performing in character. Furthermore, he often had his actors changing costumes for the next character they were going to pay while still delivering lines as the previous character. I was curious going into this how they were going to arrange for these multiple scene/character changes, but was very pleasantly surprised to see how creative and quick they accomplished this throughout the piece.

And finally as a filmmaker, I was naturally drawn to the incredibly gorgeous lighting design by Alexander Smith. His transitions between scenes and his ability to truly create different worlds and moods with a flick of the switch was mind-blowing. His work really gave the play a very cinematic feel, which is probably why I was so drawn to it.

One thing to point out to anyone thinking of attending this is that contrary to whatever impressions you may have of Clive Barker and what you think a production called THE HISTORY OF THE DEVIL may be about, it’s very important that you know going into this, that this play isn’t a gore-fest or even really a horror piece. It’s a very cerebral, intelligent and meditative work of art akin to Neil Gaiman’s THE SANDMAN or Mike Carey’s LUCIFER. If your only experience of Clive Barker is the countless HELLRAISER sequels that Barker was a part of, in name only, you may be slightly disappointed or perhaps more likely, confused by the piece. If however, you’re open-minded and willing to experience a cutting edge, experimental and philosophically-driven play produced by a young company looking to make a name for themselves by shattering any preconceived notions of what you may think art is, than THE HISTORY OF THE DEVIL may be right up your alley.

THE HISTORY OF THE DEVIL will be performed two more times – Friday, August 2nd at 8pm and Saturday, August 3rd at 8pm.

The play will be performed at Place-des-Arts-Cinquième Salle, 175 St. Catherine Street West.

Tickets are $24 (including all taxes and service charges) and can be purchased by phone (514) 842-2112 or online at the Place-des-Arts box office.

MACHI ACTION (2013) - directed by Jeff Chang

Ever wondered what happens when the proverbial “Man in Suit” gets too old to continue on or gets fired in favor of someone younger and/or hipper? Jeff Chang’s charming, funny and heartwarming new film MACHI ACTION sheds some light on the matter by providing a satirical behind-the-scenes look at the world of kaiju/tokukatsu films and television programs.

Washed up actor Tie Nan’s (Chen Bo-Lin) childhood dream is shattered when the producers of the show in which he plays a space hero replaces him with a fresher face named Face (Owodog Zhuang). Together with his best friend and co-star Monster (Qiu Yanxiang), Tie Nan sets out to find new acting gigs that eventually lead him to rediscover himself, and enlightens him on what being a hero truly means.

Much like ROBO-G of last year, MACHI ACTION is a film that manages to defy the sheer absurdity of its subject matter by telling a story that audiences can easily empathize with, regardless of whether they’ve had any experience working in the entertainment industry. We all fear that one day we’ll be replaced by someone younger, faster, stronger with an eclectic set of skills that put our own to shame, be it in the workforce or even our own personal relationships. This anxiety over remaining relevant can sometimes result in us rising (or as is often the case, sinking) to levels we never dreamed of.  Tie Nan’s journey from fame and fortune to yesterday’s news is something everyone can relate to in some respect. I know I did, which is why MACHI ACTION worked for me on levels I wasn’t quite expecting.

Aside from the film’s subtext, MACHI ACTION’s undeniable highlights include the kaiju/tokukatsu scenes that director Chang lovingly lampoons. I’ve always felt there was a film worth making about what goes on behind-the-scenes in these films, be it a documentary or a work of fiction, and I’m glad to see Jeff Chang rise up to the occasion of giving us just that. Tie Nan plays Spacehero Fly, a takeoff on Ultra Man and watching him in action against some of the more absurd villains had me in hysterics.

Overall, MACHI ACTION is a film that walks the fine line between comedy and drama and does so brilliantly. I highly recommend checking this out if you’re lucky enough to catch it at a film festival near you.

BIG BAD WOLVES (2013) – directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado


There’s 120 feature films playing this year at the Fantasia International Film Festival. I could live without seeing 118 of them. There were two films on my must-see list and BIG BAD WOLVES by directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado was at the very top of it. Their feature film debut RABIES, which was held two years ago at Fantasia, was such a mind-blowing, visceral experience at the movies that I liken it to the time I saw Darren Aronofsky’s PI at Fantasia way back when, in that both were startling examples of a filmmaker with such a mastery of cinematic language you would think you were watching the work of a veteran in the twilight of his career, rather than a novice popping their filmmaking cherry. Needless to say, I went into BIG BAD WOLVES with rather high expectations and I’m very pleased to announce that Keshales and Papushado not only lived up to them, but exceeded them immensely.

There are many reasons why BIG BAD WOLVES is such an enjoyable experience. The casting is wonderful with many of the actors looking like dead ringers for such Hollywood greats as Robert Duvall, Mel Gibson and Paul Giamatti. The film is gorgeous to look at whether it’s the impeccably framed close-ups of our heroes (and villains) in action or the slick and subtle dolly camera movements (see the opening credits sequence). The sound design and music is also very well done adding just the right amount of tension and dread in any given scene.

But chief among all of these things is the fantastic screenplay. At the end of the day, cinematography, editing and sound design are all smoke and mirrors. Any good motion picture is built upon a strong cast and a stronger script and thankfully filmmakers Keshales and Papushado understand this concept to a tee. The story is about a series of brutal murders that puts the lives of three men on a collision course – the father of the latest victim now out for revenge, a vigilante police detective operating outside the boundaries of law, and the main suspect in the killings – a religious studies teacher arrested and released due to a police blunder.

The film starts off as a police procedural with almost some hints of a giallo insofar as there’s been a murder (with a whodunnit factor), a civilian is given immunity to act beyond the law in order to find said criminal, and there are red herrings galore as far as who the filmmakers want us to believe is the murderer. For a good part of the beginning of the film, we’re led to believe that the man (who ends up being the father of the victim) is indeed the killer as we see him spying on the vigilante police detective as well as the religion professor and see him purchasing a home that has a sound-proof basement (in a really great scene where we think he’s going to kill the realty agent). But then just when we think we have him figured out, there’s a twist in the plot and the tables are suddenly turned where all signs point to the religion professor being the killer. Or is he? The film’s twists and turns definitely keep the audience engaged right until the end credits.

One thing I ought to point out is that contrary to what you might gather about the film from viewing elements of the trailer is that it’s not a torture porn film. I have to admit that once things settle down to a simmer and the film really begins (once the father has the religion professor locked up in his basement), I feared that this was simply going to turn into the typical torture porn/revenge film where the father of a sexually assaulted daughter gets violent retribution by systematically tearing apart the man responsible for the nefarious deed. Thankfully, that’s not the case as what could have been yet another variation on HOSTEL/SAW/etc. turns into one of the funniest, cleverest and original takes on the revenge film.

Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado have been referred by many as the Israeli Coen Brothers and it’s easy to see why. Like the Coens, Keshales and Papushado both work within genre and yet manage to transcend the cliche trappings of it by adding new and unexpected layers that not only surprise and delight longtime fans of these kinds of films but also prove to those who would otherwise scoff at the idea of watching a crime/revenge film that this is a legitimate art-form that’s just as capable, if not more so, of evoking the same powerful emotions like your typical art-house film.

I had a ball watching BIG BAD WOLVES and along with DOOMSDAYS and IT’S ME, IT’S ME, this film will not only find a spot in my top 10 of Fantasia, but likely in my top 10 of 2013.



DOOMSDAYS (2013) - directed by Eddie Mullins

Eddie Mullins’ DOOMSDAYS may be the first pre-apocalyptic absurd comedy in the history of film. Owing a debt to the deadpan humor of early Jim Jarmusch and the slightly bent characterization of Wes Anderson, director Mullins manages to combine the best of both worlds and create an original and charming one of his own.

The premise is pretty simple in that Dirty Fred and Bruho are a couple of squatters who travel from home to home breaking and entering as they see fit. They don’t have any moral hangups on what they’re doing as according to Bruho, the world is about to come to an end on account of our diminishing oil supplies. Along the way, the guys meet Jayden (a dead ringer for Jonah Hill) and Reyna (a dead ringer for Olivia Wilde) who join their party forming emotional and in the case of the latter, sexual bonds among the leads. The film doesn’t have a “plot” per se and functions more on an episodic level with random events happening to the party over the course of a month. The days are broken up as individual chapters in the film.

I have to say that going into the film, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. There was a part of me fearing that this would be the annual “catering to the hipster crowd” entry that Fantasia seems to program year after year in an attempt to appeal to audiences beyond the genre crowd. Fortunately, it was not as I enjoyed every single frame of this film. The best kinds of films are the ones populated by characters you wish you could spend a day with. In the case of DOOMSDAYS, I’d be willing to give it all up and walk the earth with these guys as they’re funny, witty, intelligent and very resourceful. The films strikes me as being very improvisational in nature yet the screenplay is structured so well that it avoids the self-indulgent trappings of the Judd Apatow/Seth Rogen variety. As a fan of the long take, I was especially pleased with the cinematography and how director Mullins had the confidence in his material and actors to simply set the camera on a tripod with a wide-angle lens and let the natural progression of events build up any humor/tension/drama/whatever the scene called for as opposed to artificially creating them via a series of contrived editing techniques.

DOOMSDAYS is currently my pick for best of fest and for that matter, best of 2013.

IT’S ME, IT’S ME (2013) – directed by Satoshi Miki

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.

8.	LESSON OF THE EVIL (2012) – directed by Takashi Miike

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.

9.	THE GRAND HEIST (2012) – directed by Joo-ho Kim

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
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.

DRUG WAR (2012) – directed by Johnnie To
I must confess that I’m not really familiar with the work of Johnnie To. Aside from the wonderful DON’T GO BREAKING MY HEART (2011) that I saw at Fantasia a couple years ago, his filmography remains a mystery to me. So to say I went into DRUG WAR with any real expectations would be a lie as I simply took a friend on his word that this was a can’t miss film. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

There are many problems with this film but first and foremost would be the plot and the rather convoluted nature of it. On the surface, the premise of a drug dealer ratting on his friends to get a lesser sentence would seem simple enough. However, we’re introduced to hordes of characters that by the time the story finally settles down to a pace where we can soak everything in – which at my count was about 20 minutes into the picture – we don’t exactly know who’s who, nor do we really care.

I was also quite surprised by how horribly staged and filmed the action sequences are. Johnnie To is apparently up there with John Woo as being one of the pioneers of  Hong Kong action cinema, but you wouldn’t know it with DRUG WAR. The final shoot out sequence almost felt like I was watching a rough cut of the scene rather than a polished product as evident by the awkward editing and usage of some shots that only called more attention to how amateur the mis en scene was. Then again, the old adage of “fixing it in post” couldn’t really save this scene as the action itself was either shot way too close or when it was shot wide, it felt like we were watching a rehearsal where the actors were going through the motions.

And finally, my own personal objection to the material stems from my stance on the whole “war on drugs” to begin with. Here we have yet another film attempting to glamorize the “nobility” and the “moral superiority” of a war based on hypocrisy (the United States and many other first-world countries are secretly funded by drug cartels, why do we think we’re really in Afghanistan) that is financially and spiritually bankrupting the world we live in.