Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Screened Pre-Fest

The Wayward Cloud (Tsai Ming-liang) 57 – I’ve already written a review, but I’ll just repeat that Tsai’s firmly established himself a niche in the world of world cinema, so it should be obvious what to expect. This one doesn’t deviate from the norm much, except that it’s a bit more overt, a bit less funny, and generally less successful than usual. Some people seem to find it shocking, too. That this is the closest the director’s come to failure so far is a testament to the consistency of his output.

Shanghai Dreams
(Wang Xiaoshuai) 59 – A surprise prize-winner at Cannes, this sensitively observed drama focuses on a teen girl whose family has relocated to one of China’s outer provinces as part of a government initiative. Much tension arises as she grows romantically interested in one of the town’s locals. Her father, insistent that a return to their home in Shanghai will one day come, demands she ignore him and focus on her studies. What emerges from the situation is an examination of power, with the oppressive forces of government filtering down to a local, familial, and finally personal level.

It stumbles somewhat in its last half-hour, when the script starts working through a series of tragedies that feel just a bit too directly related to the thematic material at hand to be wholly affecting. Overall, though, this is a solid work, filled with elegant master shots and a vivid sense of place.

The President’s Last Bang (Im Sang-soo) 56 – This is a completely capable political satire. Focusing on the real-life 1979 assassination of Korean President Park Chung Hee, it’s irreverent enough to prompt comparisons to Dr. Strangelove, and I imagine that for Korean audiences it might be as shocking as that film would have been back in the ‘60s. In the interest of full disclosure, I suppose I should point out that I don’t consider Kubrick’s film to be the masterpiece it’s generally touted as, but those who do can believe the hype surrounding this one. They will likely consider Last Bang to be of the year’s very best films.

Im’s take-no-prisoners approach starts out jokey, but when the shit finally goes down, and the balance of power shifts, the film reveals a surprisingly fierce political perspective. Oscillating between jet-black humor and severe contempt for Park’s regime, the movie shifts tones with an adeptness that seems innate to the new Korean Cinema. The wide-ranging series of perspectives we see, ensures that no party is left uncriticized, and the film is formally excellent, filled with elaborate tracking shots, and tableaux framings that imply how removed from reality the administration is. All in all, it’s an undeniably well-made film that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend, despite my personal predilections.


phyrephox said...

I don't think you've fully explained your dislike for "The President's Last Bang," which from your description sounds great except that some may link to to Dr. Strangelove, which I guess you don't like--what is it about the film in particular that accounts for the medium score?

Jeremy Heilman said...

I certainly admired the technique and what the movie set out to do in theory, but I guess the procession of grotesque characters and the film's clinical attitude toward everything that happens acted as a distancing effect (as it should in a satire, I suppose), and kept from actually liking the film very much, no matter how much I liked its concept.

I guess that's why I'm so defensive... I recognize the quality here, but as with Dr. Strangelove (which I think is actually a better film... just not flat-out amazing), I can't get fully into it. I'll probably watch it again at some point. Knowing what it is going into it might help, and familiarity might bring assent.