For Asian-themed films at SIFF this week, please select links below to download:
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“71 — Into The Fire,” Korea (2010), directed by John H. Lee
Reviewed by Andrew Hamlin
Released to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of Battle of P’ohang-dong in the Korean War, this historical re-creation of those conditions satisfies on all the levels of the classic war movie. The “71” of the title were 71 young students from South Korea, assigned the seemingly-impossible task of holding a strategic post against a much larger, much better-trained North Korean force.
They seem like a motley crew at first. Two big-city thugs (played by Sang-woo Kwon and Yoon-seong Kim) strut around feeling superior to everyone else. The officer left in charge (Seung-hyeon Choi) begins the movie as a shrinking violet, unsure even how to load his rifle properly. His battle-induced transformation from meek to bold forms the backbone of this impressive narrative.
Grenades and gunshots abound, along with heartfelt letters home to anxious mothers, and heroic battlefield deeds.
Seung-won Cha, as North Korean commander Moo-rang Park, manages an impressive and menacing stone face. The movie follows standard war picture conventions in many ways, but its importance as a piece of history grants it relevance.
Watch for a few video shots of actual survivors of the actual battle, over the closing credits. Matter-of-factly, they bow their heads and weep for their fallen friends. This forms a sweet, plaintive epilogue to the main movie’s explosive spectacle.
Pacific Place, June 3, 6:30 p.m.
Kirkland Performance Center, June 5, 8 p.m.
Admiral Theatre, June 10, 9:30 pm
“Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame,” China (2010), directed by Tsui Hark
Reviewed by Jason Cruz
The story, set in 690 A.D. China, features an exiled detective (Detective Dee) brought back by the female empress that jailed him to solve the murders of two high ranking officials.
Aside from the murders, a monumental Buddha is being constructed near the place of celebration for the empress.
The fact that the Buddha shadows over the ceremony leads the audience to deduce, as does the detective, that a plot to disrupt the empress’ celebration is imminent.
One must detach themselves from reality as the mystery centers around murders where people are being poisoned and spontaneously combust when exposed to sunlight. It also includes talking, magical deer. In one scene, several deer team up to attack Detective Dee.
Although the plot is laughable, the film is an entertaining one that incorporates a whodunit feel with kung fu fight scenes. Detective Dee, played by Andy Lau, is part sleuth, part action hero, and his investigation has everyone as a suspect. The movie allows its viewers the chance to piece together the investigation along with Detective Dee in coming to a conclusion.
The special effects for Detective Dee are not so special as the CGI used for many of the scenes would make some sci-fi movie aficionados cringe. Yet, they serve their purpose.
Egyptian Theatre, June 6, 9:30 p.m.
“Donor,” Philippines (2010), directed by Mark Meily
Reviewed by Jason Cruz
Set in the Philippines, Lizette is stuck in a loveless relationship with her lazy, dim-witted boyfriend, Danny, who steals money from her. In an effort to escape her directionless life, she decides to sell her kidney to a Jordanian businessman for 100,000 pesos (equivalent to approximately $2,300).
However, due to a Filipino law banning such transactions with foreigners, Lizette must marry the man prior to the surgery.
Many questions arise while watching the film. Will Lizette marry the businessman? Will Danny approve? Will she actually receive the money for her kidney?
Lizette’s life is further complicated when Danny announces the need for a gun for protection. While this may be sound reasoning because they live in a crime-ridden section of the town, it poses an immediate danger for the people around them and the ill-equipped user.
“Donor” is a tragic tale of someone attempting to better themselves in life, but continues to encounter obstacles that prevent happiness. The movie has its comedic moments, but the bulk of “Donor” centers around Lizette as a strong woman trying to steer her life in the right direction. Lizette must be the mature adult in her relationship with Danny.
It seems at times that theirs is more of a mother-son relationship, rather than a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. Yet, she remains with Danny, rather than leaving him or requesting that he change his life. Meryll Soriano does an excellent job of portraying the flawed, yet hopeful main character.
Admiral Theatre, June 4, 6:30 p.m.
Harvard Exit, June 7, 4:30 p.m.
“Gandu,” India (2010), directed by Q
Reviewed by Jason Cruz
Gandu, a colloquial term for loser (also a derogatory term synonymous with a donkey’s behind), takes the viewer through the life and into the mind of a young South Asian man aspiring to be a rapper. Aside from writing lyrics, he wastes his days in Kolkata, India, getting high, playing the lottery, watching Internet porn at a local Internet cafe, and stealing from his mother’s lover to support his habits. Gandu shows disdain for just about every person he comes into contact with, except for a rickshaw driver that is infatuated with Bruce Lee. His new-found friend introduces him to hard drugs that blur the line between reality and hallucination. In a drug-induced haze, Gandu and the rickshaw driver go on a psychedelic journey, where Gandu wins the lottery, has sex with a beautiful young woman, and realizes his dream of becoming a rap star.
Most of the movie is in black and white, and scenes are accompanied by hard-driving, headbanging metal infused with Gandu’s rap lyrics. It’s unnerving and loud, but makes its point as it reflects the frustration and unhappiness Gandu experiences in life. The director, Kaushik Mukherjee, professionally known as Q, makes the audience feel the angst of the 20-year-old main character. Only certain parts of the film are in color. One of these scenes is a graphic sex scene involving Gandu during a drug escapade.
The movie seems to confuse its audience on purpose, as one wonders what is real and what is not. It will take some time after watching the movie to properly understand what one witnessed and the purpose behind it. In the end, the film seems to make a statement on traditional films from India, as well as on the confusing lives of poor young males from South Asia.
Kirkland Performance Center, June 7, 6:30 p.m.
Neptune Theatre, June 10, 7 p.m.
Egyptian Theatre, June 11, 1 p.m.
“Grandma, A Thousand Times,” United Arab Emirates (2010), directed by Mahmoud Kaabour
Reviewed by Tiffany Ran
Director Mahmoud Kaabour shines the spotlight on his 83-year-old grandmother, Teta Fatima, who is as witty as she is wise. Through her sharp tongue and fond memories of her late husband, a violinist, she recounts the brighter days of Beirut in her apartment, once filled with music and how she copes with its current silence. She also talks about her smoking habit and death. In the film, Teta Fatima meets Kaabour’s fiancée for the first time and she cries at Kaabour’s wedding, providing intimate and humorous looks at this matriarch and the family who loves her.
The film does not touch on the violence or politics of the area, which may disappoint those expecting a grittier portrayal on life in Beirut. But this film does not aim for this. The deliberately short 48-minute film is a conversation with grandma without the milk and cookies, but just as sweet. Kaabour weaves his grandfather’s unpublished music into the film and even plays a little joke on the audience in this heartwarming documentary, a light-hearted departure from the weightier issues of Kaabour’s last documentary, “Being Osama.”
SIFF Cinema, June 2, 4:30 p.m.
Kirkland Performance Center, June 10, 5 p.m.
“The Majority,” Turkey (2010), directed by Seren Yuce
Reviewed by Tiffany Ran
Mertkan (Bartu Kucukcaglayan) is a listless young man who lives at home with his parents and works as a delivery boy for his father’s construction company. He meets Gül (Esme Madra), a Kurdish girl, who tries to inspire him to reach for greater goals. Mertkan, however, is held under the firm hand of his brutish father, who is prejudiced against ethnic minorities and orders Mertkan to break up with Gül. Mertkan is unable to do so; nor is he able to show her any real affection. Throughout the film, he is submissive, unable to act on his own desires or escape from his father’s control.
Not to be forgotten in this film are the women, who, despite their inner-strength and full awareness of the situation, only stand by and watch it happen.
The acting offers a raw, realistic portrayal of flawed characters that float through dark-colored and dim-lit scenes devoid of hope or happiness. Set in the modern city of Istanbul, the film (and its title) is a condemnation of how the majority lives, unable to escape from the unseemly tradition of unfeeling men and passive women. In this coming-of-age story, unlike other such stories, you will root for a protagonist who continuously disappoints you, and you will wonder if he’ll ever be able to step out from an oppressive, unfulfilling life or end up like the majority.
Kirkland Performance Center, June 11, 3:30 p.m.
“Sandcastle,” Singapore (2010), directed by Boo Junfeng
Reviewed by Tiffany Ran
Prior to enlisting in the Singapore army, En (Joshua Tan) stays with his grandparents, while his mother spends time with her new boyfriend. En soon uncovers secrets of his late father’s involvement with the communist-led Chinese middle school riots in Singapore. With his mother’s new love in the picture and his grandmother’s progressing dementia, these secrets remain as deeply buried at home as they are in history. En is at first aloof and reticent, unable to understand his mother’s disdain for the Chinese migrants living nearby or his father’s dogged pursuit of his ideologies, but he soon grows to understand his father’s sacrifice.
The film ambitiously combines socio-political issues with a coming-of-age story, connecting themes like history and memory to those of personal and national identities. The acting is poignant, coupled with beautiful shots of the shoreline, a symbol of eroding memory. But just as history and memories crumble like sandcastles under the heft of such weighted issues, the film inherits a similar fragility, unable to stand alone with its many themes. Symbolism is interspersed, and certain historical nuances go unexplained — too much to digest in one sitting — but perhaps comparable to the disjointedness of dwindling memories and overlapping lives.
AMC Pacific Place 11, Friday, June 3, 9:30 p.m.
AMC Pacific Place 11, Sunday, June 5, 1:30 p.m.
“The White Meadows,” Iran (2009), directed by Mohammad Rasoulof
Reviewed by Tiffany Ran
Rahmat (Hasan Pourshirazi) travels to remote islands in a rickety boat to collect the tears of local inhabitants in a glass pitcher. Each island has a different terrain and a new source of misery. The film does not directly answer the question of what Rahmat does with the tears. Instead, the film focuses on Rahmat’s journey and rituals, which take on the spiritual significance of providing compassion and dignity for the grief-stricken.
Director Mohammad Rasoulof was recently imprisoned (and later released) in his native Iran, a fact that has caused many to see the film as a social commentary disguised as a fable. However, by weaving poetry with metaphors, the film also taps into both the volatile and vulnerable natures of human behavior. With its whimsical landscape shots of salt flats and misty mountains, the film softens the brunt of prejudice, sexism, and censorship with cinematic storybook scenes that will leave you in awe of its beauty and haunt you with a slow blooming sadness. ♦
Egyptian Theatre, June 2, 7 p.m.
Kirkland Performance Center, June 4, 6 p.m.
Neptune Theatre, June 8, 4:30 p.m.
Jason Cruz, Andrew Hamlin, and Tiffany Ran can be reached at email@example.com.
Asian-themed SIFF films playing this week:
“12 Angry Lebanese: The Documentary” (Lebanon): For 15 months, 45 inmates in Lebanese prison work together to present an adaptation of “12 Angry Men.”
- Egyptian Theatre, Saturday, June 4, 1 p.m.
- Harvard Exit, Sunday, June 12, 7 p.m.
“Circumstance” (Iran): A political drama and love story about a romance between two Iranian women
- Harvard Exit, Saturday, June 4, 6:30 p.m.
- Egyptian Theatre, Monday, June 6, 4:15 p.m.
“Eternity” (Thailand): Love can linger long after death.
- AMC Pacific Place 11, Monday, June 6, 9:30 p.m.
- AMC Pacific Place 11, Wednesday, June 8, 4:30 p.m.
“Flying Fish” (Sri Lanka): The effects of Sri Lanka’s civil war told through three stories of love, betrayal, and ethnic tension.
- AMC Pacific Place 11, Tuesday, June 7, 6:30 p.m.
- AMC Pacific Place 11, Thursday, June 9, 4 p.m.
“Kosmos” (Turkey): A man drifts into a remote snowbound town and disrupts the existence of its inhabitants after rescuing a drowning boy.
- Kirkland Performance Center, Sun., June 12, 3:30 p.m.
“Norwegian Wood” (Japan): A young Japanese couple finds their tentative relationship blighted by their best friend’s death.
- Egyptian Theatre, Saturday, June 11, 6 p.m.
- Egyptian Theatre, Sunday, June 12, 3:30 p.m.
“Qarantina” (Iraq): After realizing that their current lodger is actually a hitman, a family must choose between bonding or breaking.
- SIFF Cinema, Monday, June 6, 9:30 p.m.
- SIFF Cinema, Wednesday, June 8, 9:30 p.m.
“Revenge: A Love Story” (Hong Kong): After a series of brutal slayings involving policemen and their families, Hong Kong detectives search for the killer.
- Egyptian Theatre, Friday, June 10, 11:55 p.m.
- Neptune Theatre, Sunday, June 12, 6:45 p.m.
“Sushi: The Global Catch” (USA): A documentary movie about sushi, originally a humble street food that has exploded into an iconic cuisine.
- Admiral Theatre, Wednesday, June 8, 7 p.m.
- Harvard Exit, Friday, June 10, 4:30 p.m.
“The Intruder” (Thailand): A horror movie about thousands of cobras invading an apartment building and attacking the residents.
- Egyptian Theatre, Saturday, June 4, 11:55 p.m.
- Neptune Theatre, Wednesday, June 8, 9:30 p.m.
“The Sound of Mumbai” (United Kingdom): A group of kids perform The Sound of Music at Mumbai’s prestigious National Centre for Performing Arts.
- Kirkland Performance Center, Saturday, June 4, 1 p.m.
- SIFF Cinema, Sunday, June 12, 11 a.m.
“Yellow Sea” (South Korea): A tale of a hit job gone wrong and a man who wants to turn his life around.
- SIFF Cinema, Friday ,June 10, 9:30 p.m.
- SIFF Cinema, Saturday, June 11, 1:15 p.m.