I don't talk about it here much, but I'm a big movie geek and Fantasia is the highlight of my summer. For the next three weeks, I'm going to be seeing 32 movies at what is the best film festival in North America (you can see my schedule here). Great movies, super high energy and best of all, democratic. Though it is becoming more and more influential for genre movies (for instance, Inglorious Basterds premiered here last year to close the festival), there is a happy dearth of industry types. At worst, you get some people affiliated with sponsors who get free passes, but most of them tend to be movie geeks as well. What it is particularly famous for is its rowdy, enthusiastic crowds and so while there is a lot of time standing in line next to the Hall building (part of Concordia University) in downtown Montreal, a lot of the fun is just the festive, communal atmosphere. Another new fun element is the online community as well, as there are lots of great blogs in french and english which send teams of horror movie nerds to report on the festivities. I haven't had a chance to get my head around the blogs yet, but when I do, I'll post their links here (and start following them slavishly myself).
So while I will continue to blog about general Montreal stuff, I am also going to do some regular reporting on Fantasia and movie reviews (how many I'll do, I can't say, but I hope for most). So I hope my regular readers, if you aren't interested in Fantasia or movies, can bear with me for the next three weeks.
Last weekend, Fantasia held an opening party at the MacAuslan Brewery near LaChine on the canal. I'd never been there before, which is a huge omission, as it is a great place to get a beer before or after a ride along the canal. They sold the program and projected the trailers against the side of a white semi.
It was a neat event, but not as rowdy as I was hoping. Most people just came to sit and watch the trailers (though we left early, so it could have gotten rowdier). That is something my wife and I like to do together (and you get a CD of all the trailers with the program) so I held off.
Last night was the real kick-off and it started with a screening of a Disney movie! The Sorceror's Apprentice, starring Jay Baruchel and Nicholas Cage is a family fun special-effects laden movie based on the scene with Mickey Mouse and the brooms from the original Fantasia movie. Fantasia is growing, but I suspect it is Jay Baruchel's pull that got the movie here. I didn't go to it, but some friends did and they said he introduced it and did a Q&A after (where he got challenged on his hockey knowledge). They also said he didn't stay to watch the movie, which I find surprising, considering he is going on in all the media about how much he loves Fantasia, still has posters from old Fantasias on his wall and so on. A lot of times, though, the guests leave out the side door after their intro and then go back to a seat saved for them.
But I didn't have time for any of that noise. I come to Fantasia mainly for the ass-kicking and Ip Man 2, directed by Wilson Yip who is probably one of the top new HK action directors with Sammo Hung doing fight choreography, promised to deliver. But first, I had to face the line-up!
(okay, I suck at taking pictures at night.)
It takes a bit of strategy to handle the lineups at Fantasia. Fortunately, experience and allies have put me in a pretty good position. If you go to an earlier showing, when they empty the theatre, the people who were in the previous show get to wait in a section that goes in first. So it's good to have some friends in the previous showing (or just be there yourself). Nevertheless, I still like to show up at least an hour early in case there is some kind of snafu. Last night, I had my kung fu class and couldn't get there until about 45 minutes early. Fortunately, my lovely wife staked out a spot and not only that, brought me some dinner! We also had friends on the inside (thanks Tamu!) and so we ended up with pretty good seats.
The inside of the Hall Theatre is always full of energy waiting to explode during Fantasia and at the opening night of a big kung fu film, it was on. It just needed a trigger and that trigger came in the form of Daniel. He is a long time Fantasia employee/volunteer who does all the a/v stuff, which includes setting up the mic and turning off the lights. The tradition is to cheer him and when he came down the stairs to set up the mic, the place went absolutely nuts. You could see first time particpants looking around utterly confused. I think Daniel feels a bit self-conscious at this point, as he was waving people to quiet down. He is a real film geek himself, as I've seen him at other non-Fantasia movie events several times now.
King-wei Chun, who is one of the programmers (I think for martial arts movies, but maybe just hong kong movies) came up to introduce the film. He is not the best public speaker and his "who here wishes they were Chinese!?" cheer was just bizarre and got awkward silence. But his heart is in the right place and info he delivers is solid. He gave a shout-out to Martin Savageau (?) who was the original kung fu programmer (and what a job that guy did, I found an older program for Fantasia when it was almost entirely HK kung fu movies and it was an absolutely astounding line-up of classics before they were recognized as such). He also brought up Clement Cheng, the director of the upcoming Gallants who may be the next hot thing in HK kung fu movies. A really young dude and from Vancouver! I saw him outside the theatre, but I hadn't seen his movie yet so held off on talking to him. Gallants does look sweet, though.
We started the movie with an awesome classic Shaw Brothers trailer and the crowd went nuts. It was a Ti Lung movie based on the Water Margin and crap I can't remember the title of the movie (I think "The Emerald Forest" or something like that?). We love that stuff. Those old trailers are really beautiful, vibrant, just surging with energy and honest, almost naive entertainment. Then the trailer for Gallants and finally the movie. It was a rip-roaring affair, that got a bit distracted in the middle, but delivered the action goods. The crowd was psyched the whole way through and there were several great moments of Donnie Yen humbling kicking someone's ass. I actually preferred it to the first one, just because it was a lot less dour and had Sammo Hung in it. That guys is older but like Jackie Chan he is making up for his waning speed and strength with some real acting chops. Sammo has a gravitas now that is really appealing and it's clear that Wilson Yip loves him, so I suspect we'll be seeing more of him. Ip Man 2 is no classic, but it's highly entertaining with some great fighting, that goes just a bit too far beyond realistic at times for my taste, but is still beautiful to watch.
So that's it. Fantasia is on and I am locked in. Tonight is Secret Reunion, a South Korean espionage thriller where a South Korean agent has to ally himself with a North Korean spy.