Monday, July 19, 2010

Fantasia Day 11 - slightly disappointing HK Sunday night

I had high hopes for the double bill on Sunday night: Milky Way's Accident followed by the big budget kung fu blockbuster Bodyguards and Assassins. Sadly, the highlight of the evening were the two classic Shaw Brothers trailers that preceded the films, rather than the movies themselves.

These trailers are just astounding. So full of life and energy. They explod onto the screen with the logo and the loud, brassy instrumental like an army of the Emperor's elite warriors being announced into a provincial court. The audience goes wild every time and how can you not? They hearken back to a time when movies were all about delivering entertainment. I don't know exactly what it is about the Hong Kong film culture of the period, but they are particularly ingenuous, almost naive, in the way they are structured. The trailer tells the audience precisely and explicitly what they are going to see when they watch this movie, and they show a lot of it as well. The editing can be particularly artless, with snippets of scenes just thrown in and abruptly stopped. Just great fun.

The trailer before Accident was "The Bloody Parrot", which I learned from this blog was
part of the effort of the late period Shaw Brothers studio to win back its audience from the younger, sexier Cantonese speaking studios by making wild genre mixtures of dubious sanity. In this case, it's a wuxia in Chor Yuen's style, just much less carefully filmed, but with more gore, worms, vomit, breasts and other exploitative elements,mostly playing out like a horror film with lots of fighting.
Wow. It really did look absolutely nuts.

I'm a huge fan of Milky Way productions (and obviously not alone in this, the film was sold out) and the premise of Accident is irresistible. It's the story of a team of elite assassins who manufacture elaborate, Rube Goldbergian traps to take out their victims and make the whole thing look like a terrible accident. Of course, things go wrong and it turns out they may not be the only ones in the game. As usual in Milky Way films, the characters are often quite humble and non-movie-star ish. They show a lot of regular Hong Kong street life, which is fantastic. But ultimately, I felt they didn't go far enough with the premise. They show one staged accident and then the preparation for a second one which is the big set piece and where everything falls apart.

My dissatisfaction with the movie started here. I felt it lacked context, so that I had no real sense of who any adversaries may or may not be. Worse, I had a sneaking suspicion throughout the last half of the movie that I knew what was going on and that if my suspicions were correct, I would not be satisfied. My suspicions did turn out to be correct, so much so that I was really hoping the film would last another 20 minutes or so and it would all be turned on its head. Again, I'm speaking very obliquely to avoid spoilers. Overall, not a bad movie but it just didn't take its premise as far as it could have.

My cinematic pleasure was dowsed even further by a new rigidity in the way the line-up works between films at Fantasia. If you saw the previous film, you get a place ahead of the first-time attendees waiting outside. However, it used to be that the previous ticket holder's section was a kind of a massed free-for-all, where you could just sort of insinuate yourself into the amorphous crowd pushing up against the ropes. Now there seems to be a tradition of lining up and imagine my dismay when I see a huge line snaking around the Hall lobby and some doofus telling me I had to go to the end of it. Why do I have to go to the end of it? Because I didn't race out of the theatre to get to the front of the new line? Are we being rewarded now for not watching the credits? I've got an idea. How about let's just fight it out? I won't be the toughest, for sure, but I'd get a pretty good spot. Freaking movie nerds trying to stare me down. It's a good thing I was there with my wife and a more reasonable friend who got all Canadian and ushered us to the back of the line or there could have been trouble!

The trailer before Bodyguards and Assassins was absolutely spectacular. It was for The Angry Guest, with David Chiang, Ti Lung (man he was cool in modern garb) and directed by Chang Cheh. Man, there are so many of these classic Shaw Brothers flicks that I still need to see. I wish they would show more of them at Fantasia.

By the end of Bodyguards and Assassins, I felt this more strongly than ever! It started out so well, with beautiful production values that really showed a turn of the century (not the last one but the one before that!) Hong Kong from afar and in close. Also, all kinds of great actors that we haven't seen in a while (is that Jacky Cheung as the assassination victim right at the beginning?). It does a great job of constructing a multi-threaded narrative all around the oncoming visit of Sun Yat-Sen and a Qing general's attempt to kill him. What we were told is that the movie explodes into a glorious final hour of kung fu action. This was sort of true, but what we weren't told was that it wasn't an hour of pure kung fu action, but rather each scene had to be punctuated with an another interminable death, accompanied by slo-mo, flashbacks and swelling music. By the end, the whole thing just kind of dragged me down and there just wasn't enough action to counteract its own turgid weight. It really made me miss Tsui Hark something fierce.


Christian Jarry said...

Keep up the good work. I enjoy reading your reports.

meezly said...

Bodyguards & Assassins!

Not Assassins & Bodyguards!

At least get the title of the movie right.

even the hardcore Fantasia veteran had to subtly correct you that time!