Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I really dug how the first and final film I saw today had "a love story" in their titles. They couldn't be more different.

Milocrorze: A Love Story (dir. Yoshimasa Ishibashi, 2011, Japan)

The supernova visual and grimy-ass, circa '94 Bristol drum'n'bass beat that welcome Milocrorze's title screen — the feature debut of CM/TV wunderkind Yoshimasa Ishibashi — is a delightful harbinger for the color explosions, elastic visuals and emotional rollercoasters contained within. And props must be due to lead Takayuki Yamada, shedding his insouciant eye-candy looks (from Gantz to Crows Zero to the spoiled nephew turned hero in 13 Assassins) for EVERY MALE LEAD in this film. He's Besson Kumagai, straight outta Swingin' London set in Shibuya, barking impassioned advice to lovelorn youth ("I give great advice to wimpy assholes!") before shouting "1,2,3,4!" and launching into one of many coordinated dance sequences with his boob-buoyant backup girls. He rolls in a zebra-striped car (still dancing w/ aforementioned honeys), talks on a wood-grain car-phone, and dispenses such tidbits as tweaking a woman's nipples on the first date (no hesitation, or she'll punch you!) and asking for condoms repeatedly at a grocery store to make the entire gravure idol-like female staff fall head over heels for you. Yamada's also Tamon, a noble samurai caught in some dystopian jidaigeki, searching for the love of his life Yuri (Anna Ishibashi, perennially surrounded by gorgeous blooms) amid Tusken Raider-like thugs and Taisho City madams. His quest from dive bars to irezumi dens leads to a geisha parlor re-imagined as a Kabukicho soapland and bears an unbelievably badass time-stretched swordplay sequence, as Tamon lays waste to every MFer in his way as he tirelessly searches for his girl. And finally Yamada's the adult version of Ovreneli Vreneligare, an orange-haired mop-top dressed in acid-green plaid and fuchsia trousers, who was just a precocious kid when he first encountered the lovely Milocrorze (absolutely NOT a real Japanese word, but when said in Japanese it sounds kind of like "miracles"). Ovreneli's been pining for the fickle Milocrorze ever since, and it's this underlying theme of heartbreak and genuine human emotion that carries Milocrorze beyond its glittery exterior and straight into our hearts.

Invasion of Alien Bikini (dir. Oh Young-doo, 2011, S.Korea)

Think about this for a bit: Yubari Fantastic Film Festival's Grand Prix award includes prize money totaling like USD 25,000. Oh Young-doo's second feature film Invasion of Alien Bikini — the title alone equalled a personal must-see — was made for about USD 5,000. And he won the Grand Prix, the first foreign director to do so at Yubari, AND he's a native Korean to boot. So a film titled Invasion of Alien Bikini is basically as awesome as you might think, despite its lack of budget. The everyman Young-gun (Hong Young-gun, co-writer of Alien Bikini and star of Oh's previous film The Neighbor Zombie) is properly brawny and awkward, donning a fake mustache whenever he's protecting neighbors from societal evils and lecturing at length on the health benefits of yam juice. His counterpart, the "bikini" in the title, is the gorgeous Harmonica (Ha Eun-jung, also in The Neighbor Zombie), who claims her name means "the peach tribe came out of the winter mud" and comes onto Young-gun after he saves her from a group of dodgy thugs in a brawl echoing Oldboy and Kick-Ass simultaneously. The pair play Jenga in Young-gun's tiny flat, and the brush of foreheads, the passing touch of hands grasping for the same Jenga block — paused for a bit for a Rolex commercial! — lead to the two making out, first tentatively, then aggressively, as Harmonica tries to jump his bones and begs for his sperm. Because it's not really Harmonica talking, it's the alien inside her, using her body as host to regenerate itself…and those thugs from the beginning are really like government scientists frantically pursuing the alien. Thing is: Young-gun's practically straightedge, i.e. no drugs, no alcohol and definitely NO SEX. There's gonna be a brawl as possessed Harmonica tries every means necessary to get what "she" needs. Oh keeps the pace percolating and camera angles creative and seductive, so the shoestring budget never shines through this pretty sexy, pretty dark gem of a film.

Extraterrestrial (dir. Nacho Vigalondo, 2011, Spain)

What exactly is the "extraterrestrial" in Fantastic Fest darling Nacho Vigalondo's new film Extraterrestrial? Is it the dozens of several mile-wide UFOs hovering over Spain, resulting in a citywide evacuation one quiet Sunday morning? Is it Julio (the excellent Julián Villagrán), the new visitor waking in a bed that's not his, after purportedly sleeping with a woman he doesn't really know? Is it Julia (the stunning Michelle Jenner), the obvious subject of attention for Julio, next-door neighbor/weirdo Angel (Carlos Areces), and — oops! — her live-in boyfriend Carlos (Raúl Cimas)…you know, the whole "women are from Venus" angle? Despite Julio's obvious attraction to Julia — at one quietly intimate point turning the DV camera he'd had trained on a nearby UFO to instead record Julia asleep — once friendly, trusting dude Carlos arrives, it becomes clear that Julia's warmed to Julio. Vigalondo deftly portrays the intricacies and difficulties of a love triangle, or Julio loving Julia, Julia loving Julio but still with Carlos, Carlos trusting Julio and loving Julia…and Angel discovering the two J's affair and trying to alert Carlos (at one point, Angel installs himself at an adjacent balcony with a ball-machine, launching tennis balls inscribed with "JULIA FOLLA CON JULIO" into their flat). The two J's tender, growing affection, despite the possible futility of it all, is really the key here, and that big spaceship outside is more a metaphor for that mysterious thing called "love".

Sleep Tight (dir. Jaume Balaguero, 2011, Spain)

To say I'd been anticipating Jaume Balaguero's latest feature film would be a grave understatement. Besides his writing and co-direction credits to the phenomenal REC and REC2, his solo directorial chillers The Nameless and Fragile burrowed deep under my skin with their respective atmospheric dread and creative scares. Sleep Tight is not horror, but it's damn terrifying and intense. When the film opens w/ Cesar (Luis Tosar, played the bruiser Malamadre in Cell 211) leaving a woman's bed in the early dawn hours, showering, dressing in uniform and taking his position at the apartment complex's front desk, we think: OK, so he's getting some. Then we see that woman again, sunny young resident Clara (Marta Etura, played Elena in Cell 211), jamming out to her iPod and greeting Cesar on her way out, we think: they're having a little role-play here to disguise their clandestine relationship. Next time we see them, though, Cesar's hiding under her bed, carefully drugging her w/ chloroform or something before getting in bed with her…and this situation just got WAY more twisted. He's been tainting her body creams and lotions with sodium hydroxide and even uses her damn toothbrush as if it were his own. Hell, we get the impression he's sleeping with her, too, unbeknownst to Clara, except she wakes up more lethargic by the day, her complexion reacting wildly to her creams. There's a girl in the building who knows of Cesar's sick relationship, and he alternately bribes and ultimately threatens her to shut up about it, as his feelings for Clara resort to rage when her U.S.-residing boyfriend returns to shack up with her. Yet you might just surprise yourself by feeling a bit of empathy for Cesar, who despite his obsessions simply really really likes her, but if only he could just tell her rather than going through all these covert maneuvers, pushing himself gradually, dangerously close to discovery.

Revenge: A Love Story (dir. Ching-Po Wong, 2011, Hong Kong)

Ching-Po Wong's Revenge: A Love Story — truly an apt title — is, in my opinion, right up there with Tom Six's The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) in terms of onscreen brutality. Violent dispatches filmed from above bookend this whirlwind of decimating retribution, set off by a bunch of abusive cops. We're not allowed to breathe: Wong dives straight into the murder targets, young pregnant women, their unborn babies ripped from their wombs, hemorrhaging a slow death. The women's husbands are killed too, and they're all police officers. The cops locate the killer Kit (Juno Mak, co-writer of the film) and torture him into talking, at one point shoving a long needle into his ear. But Kit's got little to say except that the cops are trying to set him up AGAIN. Meanwhile, a young woman Wing (J-AV idol Sora Aoi, and full disclosure half my reason for attending the film) eviscerates her own womb, instilling an alibi for Kit's supposed killings. Cue the backstory: Kit the steamed dumpling seller, Wing the space-case cutie who runs away with him after he saves her from a torturous life in a squalid girls' home. Their moments of revery at a Christmas light-illuminated playground at night is fleeting, though. They crash with a neighbor, who just happens to be the madam of a prostitute ring, and when Kit leaves to open up his nearby dumpling stand, Wing receives a "guest", the chief of police. When Kit and Wing report the attempted rape to the neighborhood police, the full reveal ensues, as Kit is beaten and handcuffed to watch the officers take turns with Wing. Then the violence is pinned on him and he's sent away to prison for six months.
Damn! When he emerges, fingerprint-less (thanks to a gruesome sequence of him tearing each one off), he and a very pregnant Wing reunite, but revenge consumes him and that's what we're going to get and then some. There's an outrageous slo-mo chase sequence in a field, where a squad car does a midair flip just next to Kit as he sprints away, that must be seen to be believed, it's that awesome. But happiness on this earth isn't in store for the lovers, their blissful existence forever shattered by the very uniforms who are supposed to be protecting them. Wong's film was produced by Josie Ho and 852 Films, the same company behind Pang Ho-cheung's harrowing Dream Home. If that one was Hong Kong's best take on the slasher genre, then Revenge is its torpedo to true love.