Day Four Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan Hong Kong, 1972 Director: Yuen Chor Canadian Premiere
Imagine for a moment that you are Lady Chun, the Madame for an exclusive and profitable Chinese brothel. Your most beautiful courtesan, Ainu, is a spirited daughter of peasants whom you have kidnapped from her family. You have auctioned off her virginity to the four biggest (and richest) lechers in town. Not to put too fine a point on it, you have profitted from her rape. Her would-be lover, who disguised himself as a deaf-mute to rescue her, lies bleeding in the snow, wounded onto death by your lethal palm strike. Before dying, he begs Ainu to live so that she can, eventually, revenge him. What do you do?
Do you: a) Kill Ainu immediately. Itís the only way to end the cycle of revenge. b) Sell Ainu to another brothel preferably one in another country to get her out of town. c) Leave town, change your name, disguise your identity. d) Keep Ainu locked in the cellar, only releasing her when the lechers pony up a premium.
e) Fall in love with Ainu and teach her martial arts.
Now, if you are thinking that teaching a rape victim kung fu, especially when you facilitated the rape, is the dumbest idea ever, you would be absolutely right. The actual rapists are even dumber, managing to convince themselves that Ainuís professional demeanour somehow shields them from her thirst for vengeance. As Ainu kills off the rapists one by one, and her future victims are warned before their deaths by the increasingly frustrated town constable, the rapists inability to believe in their own mortality rises to the levels of ridiculousness.
So the film has lapses of logic, or it exploits the failure of logic that results when men (or woman in the case of Lady Chun) allow their passions to overwhelm their reason.
The film also suffers from odd pacing, with the narrative speeding up and slowing down like a crazed treadmill. On the other hand, the film is a feast for the eyes, with exquisite costumes, choreography and cinematography. And the final battle in the brothel is a bravura performance, though admittedly one that dances on the knife edge of going so over the top that it threatens to descend into parody.
Day Seven Man in White (Yurusarezaru mono) Japan, 2003 Director: Takashi Miike North American Premiere (Shown in Japanese with French sub-titles)
Miikeís films tend to be endurance contests with the director trying to offend as many of the audiencesí sensibilities as possible in as short a time as possible. One sometimes feels that the director measures his success based on how many people he drives out of the theatre. In this case, Miike has taken full and careful aim at the audienceís threshold of boredom as he puts on what may be the most tedious gang war ever filmed.
Asuza is the Man in White of the title, a yakuza who always wears pure white suits. At the beginning of the film, Asuza is the only survivor of an ambush where an assassin kills his boss, the father of his Yakuza family. The assassin is Asuzaís older (step?)-brother who also murdered Asuzaís father when Asuza was a small child. As the most tedious gang war ever filmed breaks out, Asuza tries to find out why his boss was killed and he unexpectedly finds himself allied with his older (step?)-brother as those who commissioned the killing scramble to cover their tracks.
The one thing that you can say about Miike is that even when he fails, his failures are interesting. Man in White features interesting symbolism, great acting, some astonishing cinematography, and some outstanding action set pieces. Of especial interest are the opposing assassins, who make the best team of homosexual assassins since Diamonds Are Forever. That said, the film is much, much, much less than the sum of the parts. The film is paced like a arthritic snail and it is at a minimum half an hour too long.
I suspect the problem may be linked to the source material. The film has the feel of an adaptation either from a novel or, more likely, from a manga, where the script writer and director developed such reverence for the source material that they felt compelled to use as much as possible. The director would have better served to take a lesson from the bonsai tree. Sometimes to fully display the beauty of the tree it is necessary to remove a part of the tree. The part of the tree that you remove may be beautiful in its own right, but that should not protect it from the necessary surgery.
Day Fifteen Public Enemy (Gonggongeuy Chuek) Korea, 2002 Director: Kang Woo-Suk Canadian Premiere
With its casual brutality, corrupt atmosphere and constant references to Kojak, Public Enemy is a film steeped in the traditions of 70ís US cop films and TV series. But while this film may unleash the violence of Baretta or Dirty Harry, and while it may make reference to Kojak, the filmís unlikely inspiration is another 70ís TV detective: Lieutenant Columbo.
Like Columbo, detective Kang is a slovenly dressed working class cop who tackles murder cases with stubborn persistence. Just as Columbo usually found himself confronting rich conscienceless killers, so too Kang finds himself trying to prove that Cho, a slick yuppie financier with a temper, murdered his parents. The confrontation between the two men becomes a class struggle, in other words.
Unlike the honest Columbo, Kang is a corrupt cop on the take. But he finds himself repulsed by Cho, who operates on a level of corruption that baffles him. Kang, an ex-boxer has resources that Columbo lacked, specifically a capacity for violence that frightens even the most brutal of Koreaís gang world.
Part of the joke of the film is that where Columbo always feigned stupidity, Kang really is stupid. But blessed by Columboís dogged persistence, Kang pursues the case searching for the one critical mistake that killers always make.
A fine, funny and brutal film, Public Enemy cheerfully acknowledges its roots even as it breaks new ground.