TIFF – Saturday Fiction

Released 2019

2 stars (out of 4)

This movie, set in 1941 Shanghai during the Japanese occupation, was too… advanced for me.

There were very many characters, each with their own allegiances, motivations, and secrets. Four languages were spoken prominently in the film (Chinese, Japanese, French, English); at least I had the benefit of recognizing each of them when I heard them, otherwise it would have been even harder to keep track of who was whom. In general, it was challenging to discern what was truth and what was a lie when the characters interacted with each other. That applied to the main character too. Great that she was a badass film star/undercover agent, but she remained as much of an enigma to the viewer as to her allies and enemies.

Additionally, there was a “play within a play” (the film shares the name Saturday Fiction with the play) which seemed to blend in to reality.

Based on the title, this blurring of fact and fiction might have been the whole intent, but for me, I could not tell what the movie was trying to say then.

The film was all in black and white, shot with hand-held cameras closely following the characters. With a period piece like this, I would have liked to have seen some historical scenery images, but there was not much to be found here beyond the inside of the buildings.

TIFF – No.7 Cherry Lane

Released 2019

3 stars (out of 4), having the benefit of the director’s preface. Likely less without it.

3D-animated to start, then redrawn to appear 2D on a rice paper canvas, No.7 Cherry Lane takes place during the political unrest of 1967 Hong Kong. The film was made in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Beijing; and the dialogue is a mixture of Mandarin and Cantonese.

Director Yonfan was in attendance and he provided an interview and comments before the screening – which was a really good thing! Apparently, he does not watch animated works himself, so he did not have preconceptions about how things should be done, and so the film might be seen as unconventional. He also warned that it would be a slow movie and advised us how important he thought the soundtrack was.

Indeed, No.7 Cherry Lane was pretty different from the anime that I’m accustomed to, which values “show” over “tell.” Some parts were so heavily narrated that it seemed more like reading a book, with the images on screen matching the narration. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as otherwise I might not have known to pay attention to the somewhat mundane details. Yet, for all the abundant exposition in those scenes, there were just as many that could have benefitted from further explanation.

Some parts were just plain weird. I still don’t understand the point of the ball-less tennis match (at first I thought it was an artistic choice to not show the ball, while my sister thought it was a budgetary choice – but apparently there was actually no ball!) And particularly, that hallucinatory sequence near the end had us wondering, quite literally, “What the heck is she smoking?”

The computer-graphic origin of the art was especially apparent in the characters’ movements, which was the “slowest” part of the film. The way they walked reminded me of zombies; and if I had been streaming this on the computer, I might have thought I had a connection problem with how laggy it looked!

This is not to say I completely disliked the film. There were aspects that worked for me. The music was beautiful, as promised. The historical Hong Kong backdrop was a treat to behold. Additionally, I did ship the May-December romance between the 2 leads, even if the love triangle seemed unnecessary and (at least for me) incomprehensible.

WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL?

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2013 (TIFF Encore Presentation)

Amid ongoing gang wars, a yakuza boss’s wife is about to be released from jail after doing time for murder. He has promised to show her a movie with their daughter as the star. Meanwhile, there’s a group of amateur filmmakers who are willing to lay down their lives in the service of creating the ultimate action flick.

WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? is bloody, crazy violent, and also absurdly funny. The characters are surprisingly likeable, as well, despite being a bunch of murderous gangsters and idiots.

At the end of the day, though, I kind of hoped that there would be a point to all the carnage, some more plot, if you will, but there was not.

Don’t get me wrong; I still enjoyed the film. I think I had a smile on my face the entire time except when I was wincing at the butchery – and sometimes it might have been both at once. Taken as an unrestrained celebration of glorious, comedic violence, the film is a rousing success.

REAL

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2013 (Toronto International Film Festival)

A young man enters the subconscious mind of his comatose lover through a procedure called “sensing”. His purpose is to discover why she tried to commit suicide and to find a way to wake her up. But things are not exactly what they seem; and when he starts to experience hallucinatory side effects, it becomes hard to differentiate the real from the not real.

The movie was a bit more frightening than I expected. Frequent imagery involving mirrors, glass and shadows created an eerie, unsettling atmosphere. And some of the visions were quite disturbing.

It was probably a bit longer than it needed to be, too, such that there was plenty of time to see one particular plot twist coming. Also, there were quite a few red herrings, such as characters who acted suspiciously for no reason. Other than that, the various little mysteries did get resolved; but ultimately, I felt those subplots failed to properly tie in with the overall coma storyline.

The Suicide Shop

2 stars (out of 4)

(Released 2012)

This TIFF entry is a French-language animated 3-D musical comedy based on a French manga (IIRC).  The story is about a family that runs a shop specializing in poisons, nooses, weapons and other means of committing suicide, and about what happens when a boy with an incongruously sunny disposition is born into the family.

The film was made with obvious love and attention to detail (the English subtitles for the songs were done in rhyme), but the story is ultimately too thin and predictable to provide enough interest.  The black humour was essentially one joke told over and over (a customer matter-of-factly choosing suicide and a shopkeeper helpfully providing him with the means).

Midnight’s Children

2 stars (out of 4)

Midnight’s Children is based on a celebrated book (which I have not read) by Salman Rushdie, who also adapted the story for the screen.  The story is about a group of children, born at the stroke of midnight on the eve of India’s independence, who possess magical powers, and whose lives parallel that of the fledging nation.  Apparently, the book has famously been considered too difficult to adapt to the screen, and now I know why.

The movie suffers from a surfeit of story threads, so many that there is simply no time to fully develop or finish any one.  Ruthless editing at the screenplay level would have benefited this film  immensely.  For example, some characters (even entire generations) could have been eliminated or at least amalgamated with the same narrative effect.  Better movie editing would have helped too, as some gaps and disjointedness in the storyline could have been easily remedied if the filmmakers had tried.  It’s odd that some scenes are shot with such charm and attention to detail and yet some storylines are just left hanging.  I do wonder if budget or time constraints forced this movie to be released before it was really ready for an audience.

You could see the potential for a good movie (at least a 3 star movie) in there, but, as it is, it felt unfinished and unsatisfying.