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Monday, 20 November 2017

Japanese Film Festival - Barrie Pattison reviews TEIICHI: BATTLE OF SUPREME HIGH (Akira Nagai, 2017)

Well the single figure audiences elsewhere this week make a striking contrast to the Japanese Film Festival's near full houses. Some sessions seem to be booking out. The audiences I saw there were overwhelmingly Asian.  I note the excellence of the promotion, with a presentable booklet available more than a month beforehand and a warm up retrospective - only the ham fisted Seijun Suzuki but still. 

Hard to imagine Akira Nagai's  Teiichi no kuni/Teiichi: Battle of Supreme High emanating from any other source - in fact it’s edging on for startling to find it coming out of Japan.

The young school boy is bullied by the son of his businessman father’s arch rival until his girl chum karate kicks the snotty thug. Our hero only wants to play piano despite his dad's exhortations to man up and get on with the business of being Prime Minister of Japan which dad missed subsequent to the time he lost his high school president election by one vote.

Grown to be Masaki Suda, the kid arrives at the uniform- wearing high school, a place of military order which is clearly exaggerated for comic effect. It’s just that we don’t know how much. The Expats I saw it with were falling about at bits of serious business that clearly meant something more to them.

'an uber-mensch with shoulder length blonde hair'
Teiichi:Battle of Supreme High
The current high school president will be replaced by one of three, a privileged youth who proves inarticulate, a kid who only wants to get rid of the ritual, faction-dominated school pecking order and an uber-mensch with shoulder length blonde hair who takes down neighbourhood toughs when they rough up his class mates.

The new school boy rivals’ path to glory will be determined by throwing their support behind the winning candidate. However, things are complicated by the arrival of a popular nice guy scholarship boy. Meanwhile the lead is talking to the kung fu school girl via cups on string ‘phone because that can’t be tapped and counted against his prospects.

The film has been compared to the Reese Witherspoon/Alexander Payne Election (USA, 1999) but the proceedings are more formalised, more grotesque as the action moves between the homes with their ambitious fathers (mums don’t get much action), the school with donation conscious management and the tribal loyalties among the kids. Raising the school flag is an enormous deal, a previous flag boy having failed and been required to commit virtual hara kiri, making him ineligible for any future status in the ruthless climb to power.

The lead’s gay-boy sidekick is bugging the opposition and the dads are going to the slammer over a racket involving US auto producers – compare the Argentinian movie reviewed recently Summit.

'near naked boy drummers' Teiichi: Battle of Supreme High
Throw in a couple of extraordinary musical numbers, one with near naked boy drummers and one a re-staging of the circular victory dance which gave an historic Shogitai power. The striking cast all contribute vivid characters but it’s hard to separate the players’ skill from the bizarre Manga originated story line. Production values are super pro.

The dynamic is how much of what we are shown as grotesque and exaggerated actually reflects reality, rather than any suspense from the outcome of the elections. This one arrives at the same time as Bad Genius with the two films having a community - both studies of ridiculous school ambition peopled by academic high achievers who never seem to spend any time in the class room - not unlike the football player heroes of thirties Hollywood college films.

Oh yes….. and…. “A frog that spends its time in a well knows nothing of the ocean - but it sees the sky.” There’s also a Chairman Mao quote but I didn’t write it down in the dark.

Whether there is an audience here for this one despite its excellences is speculative.

The Current Cinema - John Snadden recommends tracking down THE OUTLAWS (Kang Yoon-sung, South Korea, 2017)

Fans of violent, gritty Asian crime films shouldn't miss THE OUTLAWS, a South Korean gangster pic showing around Oz at selected multiplexes and Melb's Chinatown cinema. It's down to single daily sessions at most theatres but is well worth making an effort to see. 

It details a crime spree which raged in Seoul's Chinatown District in 2004, where Chinese triad gangs attempted to take over the protection rackets being operated by local Korean gangsters. Korean cop Suk Do (Ma Dong-seok from TRAIN TO BUSAN) and Mainland crim Chen (Yoon Kye-sang) are forces of nature separated by the law. 

Ma Dong-seok (centre), The Outlaws
It's very violent (how it avoided an R-rating is beyond my under-standing) but once it hooks you it just doesn't let go and barrels along at a tremendously enjoyable pace. The seedy neon-lit locations and their brutal inhabitants are, at times, reminiscent of the best work of HK helmers such as Ringo Lam (FULL CONTACT), Johnny Mak (LONG ARM OF THE LAW) and Johnnie To (A HERO NEVER DIES). There's not a gram of fat on this film and it has a story line which never tries to be anything else but a hard-as-nails crime narrative. In short, it's a visceral, brutal brilliant movie! 

Don't miss it!
Yoon Kye-sang, The Outlaws

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Latin-American Film Festival - Barrie Pattison reviews a new movie with Ricardo Darin, THE SUMMIT (Santiago Mitre, Argentina, 2017)

The imposing Ricardo (El secreto de sus ojos/The Secret in Their Eyes) Darin seems to have taken over from Federico Luppi as the Argentinian star who has a lock on the best Hispanic movies. This year we’ve already had his excellent thriller with politics, Sebastián Borensztein’s Capitan Koblic, so watching him as the President of Argentina in Santiago Mitre’s La Cordillera/The Summit looked like a sure thing. Well, yes and no.

"the Argentinian star who has a lock on the best Hispanic movies"
Ricardo Darin, The Summit
This one is a class act - superior technical work, substantial budget, strong cast (they have gone to some trouble to get the nationalities right) and a serious subject, a meeting of heads of South American states in an attempt to form an oil cartel comparable to OPEC in their area.  It coasts along with unfamiliar developments and a nice tension generated by its parallel plots, the leaders’ summit and the melt down of Darin’s unstable daughter (Dolores Fonzi from Truman) installed in the swank Chilean mountain resort hotel to protect her from a breaking scandal back home.

Mexico, headed up by abrasive Daniel Giménez Cacho is against the US getting a foothold. “We are not brothers. We are neighbours.” Darin says he’ll walk out if Cacho keeps on calling them Gringos and refers to them as Yankees. He wants to fall in behind Brazil’s Leonardo Franco but there’s the offer of a secret meeting by entering the high rise development through the kitchen and leaving all the sidekicks behind.

While all this is happening a window in the alpine resort is smashed and a chair lies in the snow. Time to call in Chilean President Paulina García’s hypnotherapist. His tense session with Fonzi is the film’s highlight with Darin letting himself be reduced to background figure.

He at least gets to go down on the well-built lady towelling herself off in the neighbouring suit, about whom we are still wondering. Slow fade. Well it must look good in the trailer.

Christian Slater, Ricardo Darin, The Summit
Darin also gets a scene with Christian Slater (nice to see him again) where he volunteers his plausible but accented English until they get down to where the rubber meets the road and he has one word in Spanish which keys the outcome.

It’s easy to believe that these people in their luxury environments are deciding the fate of nations, attention lifts as Presidential limos roll along the deserted snow country hairpin bends, convincing support players mill about behind Darin. However, when it all comes to a halt there are too many loose ends. What is the secret Ricardo doesn’t want the doctor to discover? Is he being played by the Yankees? How did Fonzi know about events which happened before she  was born?  The film has got us interested in these and it’s frustrating to be told it’s an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Of the excellent films Ricardo Darin has fronted lately, this is the least satisfactory.