Day Nine Vampire Hunters Hong Kong, 2002 Director Wellson Chin
Tsui Hark is usually referred to as the Hong Kong Steven Spielberg, and while the analogy doesn’t sustain close scrutiny, it is nevertheless the case that like Spielberg, Tsui Hark is enamored by special effects sometimes to the detriment of story. Also, like Spielberg, there is sometimes the suspicion that when Tsui Hark acts as producer for the film that he also acts as the real director. On a project like this, where Tsui Hark acted as both producer and script writer, there is a tendency to speculate as some have done with Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist that the producer was involved more directly in the direction than the credits would tend to indicate. The fact that this film is sometimes referred to as “Tsui Hark’s Vampire Hunters” is a bit of a giveaway though.
At his best, Tsui Hark is able to add the gloss of professionalism to stories that could only be told from Hong Kong. His collaborations with John Woo, for example, gave Woo the wherewithal and the creative freedom to create his bullet ballet masterpieces. At his worst, Tsui Hark can take a unique piece of Chinese culture and make it as bland and inoffensive as any Hollywood blockbuster.
This is Tsui Hark at his worst. It’s about Chinese Vampires and the Hunters who pursue them. Chinese Vampires hop. Chinese Vampire Hunters are horny. Somebody keeps the corpses of his ancestors in his basement preserved in wax. This is a bad idea. Fights ensue. It’s smoky. There are explosions. If there weren’t subtitles, I would readily believe that this tasteless piece of cardboard tripe was directed by some Hollywood punk who cut his teeth directing music videos and car commercials.
Day Nine Drive Japan, 2002 Director Hiroyuki Tanaka (Sabu)
Meteorologists tell us that, in theory, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in China can lead to Hurricanes in the Atlantic. Many films that play in Fantasia follow this chaotic pattern. The steps from the gentle flapping of the wings to the fury of the hurricane seem logical and inevitable, but at the climax of the film, surrounded by the fury of the hurricane, one is compelled to look back at the butterfly that started it all and ask, “How did we get here from there?”
At their worst, such films can seem nothing more than artificial Rube Goldbergian constructions. At their best, we find films like Johnnie To’s Expect the Unexpected where the viewer finds himself in the dying moments of the film doubting the director’s skill and wondering if the forgotten plot threads are meant to be seen as the distractions and frustrations and unsolved mysteries inherent in any police procedural. It is at this moment that the director does the cinematic equivalent of sneering from the screen, “Tie up these plot threads, MOTHER-FUCKERS!” as he launches a live grenade into the audience’s expectations. As you reel from the devastation, kicked in the gut by your own complacency, you can only wonder that you couldn’t see the fury of this inevitable destruction coming.
Drive is a film whose entire structure is built on following the butterfly to the hurricane. In fact the film is divided into set-pieces, each one of which has its own butterfly and its own hurricane, so that the entire film causes us to reflect on the vagaries of fate as we follow a series of seemingly random events that inevitably lead to a fateful conclusion and each of these individual conclusions forms the links of another chain of events that leads to a final cathartic resolution. And as we stand in the eye of the hurricane at the climax of the film and wail, “How do we get here from there?” we must be prepared to accept that each link of the chain that lead us here made perfect sense.
The man at the center of the driving forces of chaos and fate is Kenchi a Japanese salary man with blinding headaches that his doctor assures him are psychosomatic migraines caused by stress. Kenchi’s type A personality is so extreme that he is physically incapable of violating even the mildest of traffic rules, a quirk that lands him in deep water when he is car jacked by a trio of bank robbers intent on a quick getaway. Their encounter begins a series of seemingly random events that will in the end explain why Kenchi has migraines in a most astonishing way.
If the film has a weakness, it is that the first two set-pieces in the film, set in a restaurant that the bank robbers take Kenchi too and at a punk rock concert that the bank robbers and Kenchi flee to when pursued by the police, are such masterpieces of logical domino toppling that they overshadow the middle of the film, leaving the viewer rather underwhelmed until the climax of the film begins in earnest.
It also needs to be said that the film is very much a believer in the Desiderata, that the Universe is unfolding as it should and that the participants in the film are where they need to be. Not everyone escapes the film unscathed, but those who are true to themselves are rewarded by a benevolent fate, while the film reserves vicious retribution for those who betray their own true selves or who betray others. Nonetheless, some may find the film rather naive in its optimism. Personally, I find it comforting, even if I find it impossible to accept that fate would be so considerate towards myself.