Crime

Fantasia 2017 Review: Have A Nice Day

A stupid guy steals one million yuan from his boss in the Chinese animated neo-noir Have a Nice Day.

Have A Nice Day (Hao Ji Le) is a very clever, animated neo-noir film from China. I don’t remember seeing such a thing before. You?

The character Xiao Zhang, on the other hand, is not clever at all. In fact, he’s dumber than the proverbial sack of hammers. As a fan of movies like The Godfather, he ought to know that stealing from your sadistic, criminal boss, is a very bad idea. Mistake No. 2 was taking the bag full of money (100 million yuan = $187,090.52 Canadian) from a fellow employee at knifepoint, so there’s no mystery about who the culprit is.

Maybe he could have gotten away with this for a short time, but the idiot doesn’t even leave town! And he isn’t any good at covering his physical tracks, nor his digital ones.

The crime boss, Uncle Liu, sends his henchman Skinny, who is also a butcher (gulp!) after Xiao Zhang. Of course, once other people hear about the stolen money, they go looking for him, too. He draws attention to himself by using a large bill to pay for a cheap meal. His rudeness towards a guy at an Internet cafe leads the man’s friends to beat up Xiao Zhang and take the bag.

That bag passes through many hands, rooms and vehicles in the course of Have A Nice Day.

This is Uncle Liu, the baddest bad guy in Chinese animated film Have a Nice Day. Would you mess with this man?

BTW: There’s no question that Uncle Liu is sadistic – early on we see that he’s holding a hostage – a half-naked, bruised and bloodied man who’s tied to a chair. When Uncle Liu tells an embarrassing anecdote about him we realize that they’ve known each other since childhood, though we never do find out exactly why the man is tied to a chair.

In old U.S. films, a guy might do a stupid or dangerous thing (robbery, kidnapping or a boxing match) because a sick mother, brother or sister needs surgery to prevent blindness, replace a failing kidney, etc. But Xiao Zhang has stolen the money because his his fiancée’s plastic surgery did not go well. He wants to take her to South Korea to get the job done right. He must make her happy, so they can marry, have children and make his mother happy. Filial piety is still a thing!

These are just two of the many people chasing after stolen money in the Chinese neo-noir animation Have a Nice Day.

Philosophical remarks about the different levels of freedom, and an animated music video that mocks the iconography of Chairman Mao’s era are among the many things that make Have A Nice Day entertaining. We are so very far from that era now. People dye their hair all sorts of colours, including blue; they wear U.S. T-shirts; they have U.S. film posters on their walls, they struggle to send their children to university in the U.S. or U.K., they talk about Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Brexit. We even hear a few words from Donald Trump on the radio! Some practice Christianity, while others just wear crosses as a fashion statement. I didn’t see anyone riding a bicycle, either!

The Chinese animated film Have a Nice Day contains a music video mocking the iconography from the era of Chairman Mao.

Director Liu Jian also wrote the film and his name appears in several other places in the credits, too. Seems like a multi-talented guy! And I wonder if he jokingly named the villainous crime boss after himself?

Have A Nice Day was shown in competition at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. Variety says that Strand Releasing has bought the distribution rights for the U.S. and the company plans to show the film there in the fall.  Memento Films International has sold distribution rights for Have A Nice Day in the U.K., Spain, Benelux, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey and Eastern Europe.

If you get a chance to see Have A Nice Day you really, really should! (Did I mention that the music is great, too? It includes tunes from the Shanghai Restoration Project.)

Meanwhile, lucky Montrealers can see it on Wednesday, July 19, at 3:15 p.m., in Salle J.A. De Sève of Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Have A Nice Day, China, 2017, 77 minutes long
In Mandarin with English subtitles
Directed by: Liu Jian
Written by: Liu Jian
Voice cast: Zhu Changlong, Yang Siming, Ma Xiaofeng, Zheng Yi, Cao Kai
Company: Memento Films International

Visit the Fantasia web site for more information.

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Fantasia 2017 Review: Free and Easy

The Chinese film Free and Easy has two screenings at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. The film won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Cinematic Vision at the Sundance Film Festival.

Free and Easy is low-key, black comedy that takes place in an unnamed Chinese town in winter. Many of the town’s buildings have fallen down, while others are in an advanced state of disrepair.

There’s some symmetry in Free and Easy: two con men, two policemen, two guys pasting posters on walls. Eventually we see a con woman, too, and a third person pasting posters.

One con man asks people to smell the soap he’s selling. Something in it quickly renders them unconscious. He takes their money, phones and watches while they’re knocked out. Pretty easy as far as it goes, but the pickings can’t be great in such a rundown place. There aren’t many people out and about, either, though it’s not clear if they’re sticking close to home or if the town is more or less abandoned. If there were more people around, surely they’d warn each other about this guy.

The other con man is an alleged monk who offers “free” amulets, but then requests a “donation,” to rebuild his burnt-out temple. If they don’t want an amulet, people can touch him “for luck.” Of course, he wants money for that, too.

When the monk and the soap man walk along some railroad tracks, there are ugly grey hills in the distance, the kind of scenery we see in films by Jia Zhang-ke. Is this place a former mining town?

The policemen don’t seem to have much to do; they smoke and eat in the station house, even sharing their medications in a weird, comradely way. One of them has plenty of time to make unwelcome visits to a woman who runs a boarding house. Coincidentally, the soap man rents a room from her, and her husband, who’s in charge of a reforestation project, is the man looking for the missing tree. This tree man is a very quiet sort. Slow moving, too. He might be bored out of his. . .tree, exhausted, or suffering from narcolepsy, who knows?

As for the poster-pasters, one is looking for his mother, who has been missing for years, while the other is looking for a very large tree, which vanished more recently.

The jokes in Free and Easy are subtle; there aren’t any martial-arts battles, or car chases (hardly any cars at all, actually). There is a troublesome dead body that has to be dealt with, though. Free and Easy won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Cinematic Vision at the Sundance Film Festival. Music in the film is from Chinese band Second Hand Rose. Second Hand Rose has a web site, and a Facebook page. The New Yorker wrote a profile on the group back in 2014.

Free and Easy
China (2016) 99 minutes long, in Mandarin with English (subtitles)
Directed by: Geng Jun
Written by: Liu Bing, Geng Jun, Feng Yuhua
Cast: Xue Baohe, Gu Benbin, Xu Gang, Yuan Liguo, Zhang Xun, Wang Xuxu, Zhang Zhiyong
Company: FilmRise

Free and Easy will be shown on Thursday, July 20, 2017, at 5:30 p.m. in Salle J.A. De Sève of Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Visit the Fantasia web site for more information.

Fantasia 2016 Review: Three by Johnnie To

Wallace Chung, left, Vicki Zhao Wei and Louis Koo in the Johnnie To film Three. Everything that happens in the film is a prelude to the madness depicted here.

Wallace Chung, left, Vicki Zhao Wei and Louis Koo in the Johnnie To film Three. Everything that happens in the film is a prelude to the madness depicted here.

Three did not do it for me. I’ve enjoyed many Johnnie To films over the years, thanks to the Fantasia International Film Festival, but I found Three both disappointing and annoying. The film asks us to throw common sense to the wind. I do that all the time, and not just at the movies, either, but I just couldn’t do it for Three.

(However, it’s only fair to point out that both Fantasia screenings were sold out, albeit in the smaller De Sève cinema, and that one of my friends, an esteemed film prof, watched it twice.

My problems with it, in no particular order: a dumb script with many unlikely events, unnecessary carnage, wooden acting.

To elaborate further: Shun (Wallace Chung), the leader of a criminal gang, is shot in the head by a cop (we don’t see it happen) and he’s taken to a hospital. Not only is he still alive, it seems that the bullet hasn’t done any damage – he’s quipping away about philosophy, taunting his police guards, etc. Even so, the doctors say that he needs surgery as soon as possible. Shun refuses that surgery because he wants to be conscious when his gang comes to rescue him. But then what? He’ll still have a bullet in his head, and it’s not like your average mob doc is prepared to deal with that.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the surgery now, and then have the gang rescue him while he’s being taken to prison? Hijack the prison van – should be a piece of cake, right?

If his henchmen are so scary (and we’re led to believe that they are) and he’s in such medical danger you’d think that he’d be held in a private room with many guards, but no, he’s in a ward with several other patients.

Vicki Zhao Wei plays a neurosurgeon and Louis Koo plays a police detective in Three, a film from Hong Kong director Johnnie To. Koo wears that same stone-faced look in 98 per-cent of the film.

Vicki Zhao Wei plays a neurosurgeon and Louis Koo plays a police detective in Three, a film from Hong Kong director Johnnie To. Koo wears that same stone-faced look in 98 per-cent of the film. He doesn’t take that jacket off, either.

Lotsa cops, led by Ken Chan (Louis Koo) are waiting for the gang to arrive so that they can arrest them. Or kill them. It’s a tense waiting game! Never mind that this plan puts all the patients, doctors, nurses, other hospital workers and visitors in extreme danger. The sensible thing to do would be to restrict access to the hospital, as was done in many countries during the SARS outbreak, and to catch those bad guys at some other time, in some other place. But no, Chan is determined to nab them today.

Because this is a Johnnie To film, we know that there will be an over-the-top-shoot out, and, um. . . (SPOILER ALERT!) other kinds of mayhem, as well. The only question is when. But even in the land of make believe, I object to doctors and patients being blown away for such contrived reasons.

Which brings us to the wooden acting. Most of the time Louis Koo looks grim, stoic, stubborn, angry, or determined, which is pretty much the same thing on his face. He barks, snaps and scowls at everybody. Neurosurgeon Dr. Tong (Vicki Zhao Wei), who is having a very bad week, looks glum and exhausted, sometimes on the verge of tears. Not a lot of nuance happening here. Well-cushioned Lam Suet, one of  Johnnie To’s regular actors, plays the guy sent to get lunches, of course. His character can barely speak in sentences.

A patient named “Uncle Chung” provides some comic relief, though he isn’t that funny. Two other patients offer what you might call tragic distraction. There’s a cliffhanger scene, or more precisely a-bedsheet-and-firehose scene, that is just left. . .hanging. Literally. We don’t see how it wraps up. There’s another scene that might remind you of the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin. And why not? Toss it all in!

Every time I look at Louis Koo in his quilted blue jacket I wonder – just how heavy is the air-conditioning supposed to be in this hospital?

For the squeamish: Action-film fans are used to shootouts, but are they used to gruesome surgery? Be warned that even though Shun refuses his operation, many other patients do get theirs. There are scalpels, drills, copious amounts of blood and exposed brains in Three.

Meh. I suggest watching something else by Johnnie To.

THREE
Director: Johnnie To
Writers: Yau Nai-hoi, Lau Ho-leung, Mak Tin-shu
Cast: Louis Koo, Wallace Chung, Vicki Zhao Wei, Lam Suet
Run Time: 87 minutes.
In Cantonese with subtitles in English and Traditional Chinese
Seen at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal

Fantasia 2016 Review: Psycho Raman

Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays a serial killer in the Indian film Psycho Raman (also known as Raman Raghav 2.0) The fim is being shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays a serial killer in the Indian film Psycho Raman (also known as Raman Raghav 2.0) The fim is being shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Psycho Raman (aka Raman Raghav 2.0) is one tense film. Ramanna is a serial killer, and actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui gives a bone-chilling performance in the part. He kills people because he likes to – men, women, children, it doesn’t matter, he doesn’t make any distinctions. The things that he says, and the look in his eyes when he says them, are extremely unsettling.There’s no telling what he might do next. And when he makes circles with his fingers and looks through them, as you would with binoculars. . .all I can say is Eeek! (The pose reminded me of the poster for The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer’s second documentary about genocide in Indonesia.) Ramanna takes his alias from Raman Raghav, a real-life serial killer in the 1960s.

The character is so disturbing that I felt uneasy watching him, as if my very presence in the theatre was some kind of approval for his (fictional) actions.

We see Ramanna swing a tire iron, and other weapons, but, mercifully, we don’t see them land on his victims. (And that’s just fine with me!) The guy is totally terrifying all the same – a perfect example of less is more.

Raghavan (Vicky Kaushal) is a crooked, violent, doped-up policeman, who got his position via family connections. The guy is so addicted and so callous that he snorts cocaine at the scene of a triple murder. One night, Ramanna sees Raghav kill someone for no reason. He’s convinced that they’re kindred spirits and wants to meet Raghav, maybe even work together? The film switches back and forth between their two worlds.

Ramanna keeps tracks of his victims in a little notebook. There’s no indication that Raghavan does the same, but I couldn’t help but wonder who had the bigger body count.

Like several other films in this year’s Fantasia lineup, Psycho Raman was well received at the Cannes Film Festival.

Psycho Raman (Raman Raghav 2.0), directed by Anurag Kashyap, written by Anurag Kashyap and Vasan Bala.
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vicky Kaushal, Vipin Sharma, Amruta Subhash, Sobhita Dhulipala, Ashok Lokhande, Harssh A. Singh
127 minutes long, in Hindi with English subtitles.

See Psycho Raman on Wednesday, July 20, 2016, at 5 p.m., in the de Seve Theatre of Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

FNC 2015 Review: Coin Locker Girl

Mom (Kim Hye-soo, with cigarette) and Il-young (Kim Go-Eun, centre in khaki T-shirt) in Coin Locker Girl.

Mom (Kim Hye-soo, with cigarette) and Il-young (Kim Go-Eun, centre in khaki T-shirt) in Coin Locker Girl.

The South Korean film Coin Locker Girl plunges us into a cruel and deadly world. It might not stand up to scrutiny, so don’t think about it too much, just go along for the ride.

The coin locker girl of the title was abandoned in an Incheon coin locker shortly after her birth. She is not taken to the police, or a hospital, as you might expect, she is informally adopted by some homeless people. Is this an act of kindness or does her presence make begging a little easier? We never find out. Her story only really begins for us when a crooked cop scoops her up, stuffs her in a suitcase and delivers her to “Mom,” the tough boss of Ma Enterprises, in Chinatown. Someone remarks prophetically that no good will come of this.

The little girl had been named Il-young after the number of the locker she was found in; in Sino-Korean il is one and yeong (or young) is zero. Talk about not having an identity of your own.

As a child, Il-young begs on the subway with other young children who live with Mom. (We don’t learn their back story.) By the time she reaches her teens, she is a very tough, somewhat androgynous young woman (played by Kim Go-Eun), who collects debts for Mom. Woe betide the self-styled tough guy who does not take Il-young seriously and treat her with respect. She is quite handy with fists, feet, knives or ashtrays.

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FNC 2015: Film festival offers 8 films made in the two Koreas

 

A scene from the South Korean film The Shameless.

A scene from the South Korean film The Shameless.

The Korean peninsula is in the spotlight as the Festival du nouveau cinéma shows three films made by South Koreans, four made by North Koreans and one documentary shot (mostly) in North Korea by a British company with an American subject (Dennis Rodman) and an Irish narrator.

In alphabetical order, the three South Korean films are Coin Locker Girl, directed by Han Jun-He), The Shameless, directed by Oh Seung-Uk, and Right Now, Wrong Then, directed by Hong Sang Soo. You can read synopses of these South Korean films on the FNC web site.
The North Korean films are A Bellflower, The Flower Girl A Schoolgirl’s Diary, and The Tale Of Chun Hyang. Read synopses of the four North Korean films here.

Former basketball star Dennis Rodman was demonized by some people because he went to North Korea, several times, and met with dictator Kim Jong-un. Montreal's Festival du nouveau cinema will show the documentary, Dennis Rodman's Big Bang In Pyongyang, which takes us along for the ride.

Former basketball star Dennis Rodman was demonized by some people because he went to North Korea, several times, and met with dictator Kim Jong-un. Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinema will show the documentary, Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang In Pyongyang, which takes us along for the ride.

Finally, the documentary, Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang In Pyongyang, gives us an inside view of the several visits the controversial former basketball made to North Korea. Read more about it here. 

The Festival du nouveau cinéma runs until Oct. 18, 2015 in several theatres in downtown Montreal. Consult the FNC web site for schedules, synopses and to buy tickets.

License to Operate: Former Los Angeles gang members come together to save lives

License to Operate map

The documentary License to Operate introduces us to former Los Angeles gang members who were deadly enemies in their younger days but are now co-operating, through an organization called A Better LA,  to break a cycle of murder and retaliation that had lasted for decades.

One man gets out his high school yearbook and tells us that most of his former classmates are dead now. He has photos from their funerals. it’s obvious that he’s lucky to still be alive himself. Another man tells of seeing five candlelight memorials for murder victims in just one evening. That was the night that he knew he had to do something to save the next generation of children.

After receiving instruction from the Professional Community Intervention Training Institute, the men do liaison work between neighbourhoods and the police and fire departments, encouraging young people to stay out of gangs and calming tensions after murders. If something happens, even in the middle of the night, they’re out there on the street, trying to keep the situation from escalating, eliminating rumours, etc.
They certainly have their work cut out for them. A Better LA says that there are more than 450 gangs in Los Angeles, and that: “ ‘Invisible lines’ drawn by gangs to designate their turf cause children to live in a constant state of fear, wondering if walking to school or crossing the street puts them in harm’s way.”

A lawyer explains that many of the children in these neighbourhoods have the same levels of post traumatic stress disorder as children living in war zones. Before the age of 16, they have lost as many as 10 friends to murder. We see doors and walls that have been riddled with bullets. It’s truly appalling.

License To Operate, directed by James Lipetzky, 101 minutes, in English
Saturday, Oct, 3, 2015 – 7 pm
Cinéplex Odéon du Quartier Latin
350, Rue Émery, Montréal (Métro Berri UQAM)
Admission is $10.
Check the Montreal International Black Film Festival web site, www.montrealblackfilm.com/ for details, the film schedule, film synopses and trailers.
The Montreal International Black Film Festival has a Facebook page, too.

NYAFF and Fantasia 2015 Review: Battles Without Honor and Humanity

Bunta Sugawara as a gangster in the 1973 Japanese film Battles Without Honor and Humanity, which is being shown at the 2015 Fantasia Film Festival.

Bunta Sugawara as a gangster in the 1973 Japanese film Battles Without Honor and Humanity, which is being shown at the 2015 Fantasia Film Festival.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity! What an appropriate title! Many yakuza films would have us believe that there are rules to be obeyed, a code of conduct to be followed, that there is, in fact, honour among thieves. This film just laughs at such silly notions . . . beats them to a pulp, and throws them right out the window.

And the various rituals and ceremonies? When it’s time for someone to give up a finger, no one is quite sure how it’s supposed to be done. A woman says “I saw it in Osaka, once.”

Battles Without Honor and Humanity was made in 1973, though the story it tells begins just after World War II, in Hiroshima. Japan is under U.S. occupation, and U.S. soldiers are running wild and acting like animals. The local crooks almost look civilized in comparison, which is quite the feat.

The film mixes conventional scenes with parts that are like a vintage version of 60 Minutes, with a narrator describing feuds and alliances, and onscreen text telling us how and when certain people were killed.

Gangs struggle for supremacy within the city, and gangsters struggle for power within their gangs. A boss cries poor so he can get away with underpaying his underlings. There’s lots of yelling and arguing; fights are not elegantly choreographed. Not one of these guys seems like a criminal mastermind.

Frankly, I couldn’t keep track of all the lying, plotting and double crossing that was going on. I could have used a family tree and a score card. Maybe that’s because the film is based on the memoirs of a gangster and real life can be more complicated than fiction? Battles Without Honor and Humanity was also part of the lineup at the recent New York Asian Film Festival.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity

Crime / Thriller / Classic / Retro Japan 1973, 99 min., DCP, Japanese (with English subtitles)
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kazuo Kasahara, Koji Shundo, Koichi Iiboshi
Cast:Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Nobuo Kaneko, Kunie Tanaka, Goro Ibuki, Tatsuo Umemiya, Tsunehiko Watase, Seizo Fukumuto

Saturday, Aug 1, 2015, 2:50 p.m., Concordia Hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

 

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 5, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com

 

‘Nobody reads newspapers anymore?’ Yeah, sure, tell that to fugitive bank robber Jason Stange, now back in custody, because of a newspaper article

Nice kitchen! Photo by Tony Overman of the Olympian newspaper shows "Crew members (from left) Travis Johnny Ware, Brandon Roberts, Jason Stange, Lisa van Dam-Bates, Katie Hemming and Rose Hall discuss the night's schedule for filming of the movie "Marla Mae" in Olympia on Tuesday, July 21, 2015."

Nice kitchen! Photo by Tony Overman of the Olympian newspaper shows “Crew members (from left) Travis Johnny Ware, Brandon Roberts, Jason Stange, Lisa van Dam-Bates, Katie Hemming and Rose Hall discuss the night’s schedule for filming of the movie “Marla Mae” in Olympia on Tuesday, July 21, 2015.”

There are many articles on the Internet today about Jason Stange. He’s a convicted bank robber who broke his probation when he walked away from a halfway-house in July 2014; Stange was arrested on Friday, July 24, 2015, after he appeared in seven photos (!) accompanying a July 23 (online) article in Washington-state newspaper The Olympian, about low-budget horror film, Marla Mae, being shot in Centralia, Olympia and Tacoma. The article ran in the July 24 print edition of The Olympian.

Stange is an actor in the film, and while his name only appeared in the photo cutlines, not in the article itself, people who study that kind of thing will tell you that the first thing a newspaper reader looks at is the headline, and photos come right after.

I can’t help but wonder, WHAT was Stange thinking? Presumably, he did see the Olympian’s photographer, Tony Overman, taking the photos, and of course, Overman would have asked for the names of all the people in the photos.

Newspapers in many parts of the world have seen a decline in readership and advertising revenue, leading to layoffs and the widely held belief that “nobody reads newspapers anymore.” Did Stange believe that, too?

Screen grab from online edition of The News Tribune, of Tacoma, Washington. The article explains how a story in another local paper, The Olympian, led to the arrest of convicted bank robber Jason Stange, who had been a fugitive ever since breaking his parole conditions one year ago.

Screen grab from online edition of The News Tribune, of Tacoma, Washington. The article explains how a story in another local paper, The Olympian, led to the arrest of convicted bank robber Jason Stange, who had been a fugitive ever since breaking his parole conditions one year ago.

As for his role in the film itself, “15 minutes of fame” is a very well-worn concept by now. Maybe he thought that “filming while a fugitive” would be an extra cool and rebellious thing to do, a way to thumb his nose at the establishment, and an interesting footnote when they film is released. Oh, and his “professional name” is Jason Strange – an especially good name for horror roles, dont you think?

On the other hand, an article about Stange’s arrest, in the News Tribune of Tacoma, links to an arrest warrant which says that “(Stange) was ordered to pay a $4000 fine or face jail time. Mr. Stange reported he had no money to pay a fine and left.” So, maybe Stange was trying to earn the money to pay his fine. On the other, other hand, the film’s entire budget is only $8,000, so maybe not.

I learned of this story via The Guardian. A person using the name Eisenhorn made a comment there, saying: “Heh. The cynic in me says it might well have been one of the film’s producers who shopped him to the police, the resulting publicity being no bad thing :-)”

The people behind Marla Mae say they hope to release it next summer. Who knows, maybe it will turn up at Montreal’s own Fantasia International Film Festival, which is showing many kinds of genre films, including horror ones, right now. The Fantasia festival continues until Aug.  5, 2015.

Interest in horror film Marla Mae is up 43 per cent this week. Presumably, the arrest of cast member Jason Stange (he uses the name Strange on imdb.com) has something to do with that.

Interest in horror film Marla Mae is up 43 per cent this week. Presumably, the arrest of cast member Jason Stange (he uses the name Strange on imdb.com) has something to do with that.

 

Fantasia 2015 Review: Korean police thriller A Hard Day

Homicide detective Ko (Lee Sun-kyun) is startled by the unexpected sounds coming from his mother's coffin, in the Korean film A Hard Day.

Homicide detective Ko (Lee Sun-kyun) is startled by the unexpected sounds coming from his mother’s coffin, in the Korean film A Hard Day.

As a policeman, Ko Gun-su (Lee Sun-kyun) ought to know that talking on the phone while driving is unwise. But the calls keep coming. His sister wants to know why he bolted from the funeral-home visitation for their mother, and when is he coming back, anyway? His very young daughter wants cake.

Meanwhile, his fellow (crooked) cops want to know if he will make it back to the station house before the guys from Internal Affairs get there. There are incriminating items in his locked desk.

Ko is really flustered, and the road is dark. He almost hits a dog. Before he recovers from that scare, he hits something else – a man this time. And that man is now dead. In a panic, he throws the body in the trunk. He does not notice the surveillance camera on a nearby post. He does not get to the office before Internal Affairs.

Ko and his fellow officers, including his chief, have been accepting bribes, and now Internal Affairs has proof. That’s bad enough, but now Ko is getting calls on his office phone and his cellphone, from someone who seems to know way too much about his unfortunate accident. And that someone wants to know where the body is.

In the Korean film A Hard Day, Detective Ko gets call after call - his phone won't stop ringing,

In the Korean film A Hard Day, Detective Ko gets call after call – his phone won’t stop ringing,

A Hard Day? You’d better believe it! The film’s title is very well chosen. Ko might not seem like a sympathetic figure at first, but he’s an angel compared to his monstrous mystery caller.

While Ko is often tongue-tied when it comes to explaining himself, he is quite wily and inventive. He won’t be giving up without a fight.
A Hard Day is full of twists, turns, high tension and dark humour. It was a big hit at the Directors Fortnight at Cannes 2014, and has won eight awards in South Korea alone. I enjoyed reading reviews from Cannes so much that I wrote a blog post back then, expressing hope that the film would come to Montreal as soon as possible. I didn’t realize that it would take more than one year.

A HARD DAY
Directed by Kim Seong-hun, with Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Jin-woong, Shin Jung-geun, Jung Man-sik.
Monday, July 20, 2015, 17:15, Concordia Hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W
Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, 12:30, J.A. de Sève Theatre, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 4, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com