Fantastic Fest 2012: Day 3

David Wu Talking About Cold Steel

Director David Wu talking about his film, Cold Steel.

It’s extraordinary how exhausting Fantastic Fest is. Today is only the morning of Day 4, and every cell in my body is already plotting a revolt. Yet I shall soldier on, because I got great film picks today!

Here’s a sampling of what I saw yesterday:

COLD STEEL
This film is essentially Enemy at the Gates set in China, a tale of two snipers on opposite lines. It is quite a good wartime melodrama, though, with nice bits of dialogue, gorgeous cinematography, and excellent action. It also contains a more subtle antagonist than I’m used to seeing in an Asian drama about wartime. Recommended.

HOLY MOTORS
Man, I have no idea what this film was actually about (aside from “spiritual stuff”), but I sure enjoyed the journey. On the surface, the film is about an actor who rides around in a giant limousine, who stops at “meetings” around the city and performs different roles in seemingly real-life vignettes. His first meeting has him turning into a beggar woman; later, he’s a father, or a dying uncle, or sewer-dwelling bum who photobombs Eva Mendes. It is strange, beautiful, and hallucinogenic, held together by a magnificent performance by Denis Lavant. Holy Motors is dense and possibly impenetrable, but it is also enjoyable without diving into its philosophy. My friend Don, though, may have had the best capsule review of this film when he said, “That was the Frenchest thing I have seen in a long time.”

PLAN C
I’m a sucker for a decent “crime gone horribly wrong” movie, and this one is quite good. The story centers around a cop who owes money to a Chinese thugs; when they start threatening his family, he turns desperate for payback cash. That’s how the plan to rob an illegal casino comes to life… and so on. Plan C is quite dark and quite funny, centering around an engaging main character and supporting characters worthy of a Cohen brothers movie. Yet the film keeps its quirkiness understated, and never seems to be clever for the sake of cleverness. Nicely done.

PUSHER
I am sad to report that I have never seen the Refn version of Pusher, which is damn near 15 years old by now. I am pleased to report, though, that this English remake is quite solid, and that it makes me want to look into the older film as well. I am told by others that this remake is very faithful to the original (and is even executive produced by Refn), though the characters have a different tone. On its own merits, this Pusher is also a fine “crime gone horribly wrong” flick, wherein a drug dealer flubs a large deal and winds up owing a huge amount of money in a short amount of time to very dangerous people. Most of the film progresses as you might expect, but I was particularly impressed with its endgame. Nice, tense, and full of verve.

TAI CHI 0
I was exhausted by this time, and the film didn’t start until 1 AM, so I have to admit that I snoozed off during a couple points of the film. That’s not the fault of this movie, though. Tai Chi 0 is a bright, feather-light, zany, zippy martial arts flick, complete with video game narrative guideposts (think Scott Pilgrim), steampunk machinery (!), and fight choreography by Sammo Hung (!!!). Don’t go in expecting a complete story, though. Tai Chi 0 is only the first entry in a series, and it ends on a cliffhanger. (You get to watch the trailer for the next film during the credits.) The basic story is one you’ve seen a thousand times in martial arts flicks; it’s the method of storytelling here that makes Tai Chi 0 a treat.

OTHER ODDITIES

I had a fantastic day yesterday at scoring free stuff. I got a free beer in the Shiner theater during Plan C. I got free Tales from the Crypt pint glasses (!) at Pusher. I got a free lollipop at Tai Chi 0.

Speaking of lollipops, a guy named Lars gave the most astounding introduction to Tai Chi 0, which involved a five-minute rant about rediscovering lollipops and the phrase, “Watch out, man, I know Tai Chi.” I think the preamble (emphasis on “amble”) was due to someone telling him to fill time while they got the film ready, but the result was downright surreal.

I totally missed out on The Fantastic Debates, wherein Fantastic Fest guests first debate with words, and then resolve their battles in a boxing ring. I hear that the twin women who made American Mary battled each other, and Tim League battled the guy who made Miami Connection. I’m sure video will emerge soon.

Director David Wu was present for the Cold Steel screening, and he delivered a fantastic Q&A. He’s funny, articulate, and in possession of decades of experience in the Asian film industry. I could listen to him do Q&A for hours.

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