Thursday, September 13, 2007

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Nine

FLASH POINT / DAO HUO XIAN (Wilson Yip, 2007, Hong Kong)

This could have been bad. The last film I saw that Wilson Yip wrote and directed that starred Donnie Yen was the less-than-delightful SLP (see Cashiers du Cinemart #14 for review). Set in the same pre-1997 timeframe as SLP, FLASH POINT captures the fun and excitement of films from the golden era of pre-Triad-run HK films.

Starring Yen as hot-handed supercop Inspector Ma, his "by any means necessary" brand of justice isn't winning him many friends in the upper echelon of the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) but he's getting the job done and always looking out for his friend, Wilson (Louis Koo), an undercover agent trying to blow the whistle on brothers Archer (Rai Lui), Tony (Collin Chou), and Tiger (Yu Xing). These Vietnamese refugees have been taking a rather Tony Montana (of the DePalma SCAREFACE) tact of grabbing all the money and power they can in the Hong Kong underworld.

Themes of motherhood, family, and broken legs run throughout the film. There's also a great deal of reliance on cell phone technology that I don't think was as advanced as shown a decade ago (even in Hong Kong). While anachronistic, I managed to overlook this as the rest of the melodrama, fighting, and gunplay were just so darned fun. I got the same rush of exhilaration I used to feel watching Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Yuen Biao, et cetera, while watching FLASH POINT. Definitely worth a look if you're feeling as nostalgic about the halcyon days of HK cinema as I am.

DAI-NIPPONJIN (Hitoshi Matsumoto, 2007, Japan)

An attempt to be a THIS IS SPINAL TAP for the kaiju crowd, this mockumentary directed by and starring Hitoshi Matsumoto posits what life might be like for a hapless superhero in a world where giant monsters have lost their appeal. With televised battles relegated to the twilight hours (and only gathering a 1% share of the audience), life for Daisoto (Matsumoto) is far from glamorous.

The last line in a family of men who can turn to giant size with the generous application of electricity, Daisoto lives in relative squalor while his predecessors lived lives of luxury (as his agent seems to be living now). Oh, what indignity for one of the final champions of Japan! Daisoto's house is defaced with hateful graffiti, his wife won't let him see his daughter more than twice a year, and his grandfather often runs away from his rest home to load up on electricity and cause senior citizen havoc. As Dai-Nipponjin—the oversized troll-doll with tattooed torso and deadly baton—Daisoto battles a deadly array of foes such as Squeezie Baddie, Jumping Baddie, Mean Look Baddie, and more. Alas, the public criticizes his every move!

The segments with Daisoto as Dai-Nipponjin are beautifully rendered computer animation. Unlike VEXILLE, the CG characters of DAI-NIPPONJIN are shown "warts and all"—no plastic perfection here. There are a lot of good ideas and chuckles in DAI-NIPPONJIN. I suspect that a native Japanese speaker would find the dialogue funnier than the subtitles. The film lags on occasion—feeling like the jokes are too far between—and, sadly, it feels like Matsumoto simply ran out of ideas before the film comes to its bizarre conclusion.

THE DEVIL'S CHAIR (Adam Mason, 2006, United Kingdom)

Oh, my brothers, let me tell you the story of a film that thinks it's far too clever for its own good. By talking directly to the audience and acknowledging the obvious similarities between it and other films it wants to seem smarter. And, my brothers, by using a voiceover that recalls little Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, then that brings the irony up to such a level that can not be overlooked, yes?

SPOILERS: Let's just boil down this blood-drenched little film into its basic elements: supernatural thriller turns out to not be supernatural but the drug-addled delusions of a maniac. There's no subsequent twist at the end to say, "But, wait, maybe it was supernatural!" Add a voiceover to make the audience sympathetic with the low-rent Jason Statham clone playing the lead (Andrew Howard) and give him complete control over the narrative (the film stops for his pithy comments with maddening irregularity) to make the big switch even more of a surprise. Surprise for whom? For anyone not paying attention to the film, I suppose. Otherwise, this terribly-acted HELLRAISER / PUMPKINHEAD meets SESSION 9 film will shock and delight you, my brothers.

THE DEVIL'S CHAIR is only good in one respect; it goes with the Devil's Sofa and the Devil's Rug (which really ties the Devil's Room together). Otherwise, I think that Adam Mason needs to be stopped.

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