Fantasia crowds are lively. They hoot and holler and laugh and boo. “And also,” in the words of Nevermore director Stuart Gordon, “…they’ve seen everything!” In case you haven’t partaken in the three-week long celebration of celluloid known as Fantasia, relax. Rover is here to offer reviews of three flicks from decidedly different genres: a kung-fu comedy, a historical epic and a horror film, oh my. Feel free to applaud.
Let’s begin with Gallants. This Hong Kong-produced charmer follows a group of students as they fight to restore honour to their crumbling dojo by trying to win a fighting competition. If the premise sounds well-worn, the approach is certainly refreshing. Directors Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng create an inter-generational cast of martial artists that’s easy to root for. Among them are a dorky, Peter Parker-esque office worker with a dream, a spirited young woman with a temper and a determined Master.
Naturally, you’d expect the boy and the girl to fall in love and Master Law (Teddy Robin) to lead the way with thoughtful, “wax-on, wax-off” catch-phrases. Thankfully, Gallants dodges the clichés with style. This Master has a thing for cute girls and a lucky, preserved duck. He also gets the chance to deliver some fun lines when offered a challenge by scroll: “What is this – a kung-fu movie? Just send me an email.” Though the script is delightfully self-aware, the movie still delivers on the action sequences, thanks in large part to the amazing skills of middle-aged performer Bruce Leung, who does all his own stunts. Simply put, it’s a load of fun, and the audience just ate it up.
The same can’t be said, unfortunately, for Yu Ha’s period piece A Frozen Flower. The ambitious tale of forbidden romance set in Goryeo Dynasty Korea wants desperately to portray each of the players in its central love triangle as sympathetic parties, but fails utterly. The crowd at the screening turned against the King (Ju Jin-mo) during the opening flashback, in which he takes an intense liking to one of his young, training bodyguards-to-be, Hong-Lim (Jo In-sung) and ultimately grooms him into an adult lover.
It probably didn’t help matters that he did so by exchanging lusty looks with him while playing music in private. Flower is filled to bursting with such scenes of unintentional hilarity; scenes where you know the director was aiming for unadorned intensity and completely missed the mark. How could you not chuckle as the King sends his lover off to impregnate the Queen (Song Ji-hyo) and – visibly sickened by the thought – pats his man solemnly on the shoulder? Or at the shots of the King sadly staring into a garden pond while his two confidants passionately roll in the hay for the umpteeth time?
When their love for one another finally comes to light, the King lashes out with brutality, castrating his life partner and permanently alienating the audience. They proceeded to root for Hong-Lim as he fought his way back into the palace to slay the King… and scratch their heads as Ha’s final shot depicted them horseback riding their way through the afterlife together, happy as can be.
Ha may have completely missed the mark with his direction, but Flower has a few saving graces. For a South Korean film, it breaks new ground in its frank depiction of both straight and gay sex scenes and the cast throw themselves wholeheartedly into their roles. The action scenes are brisk and pulse-pounding and the costumes are designed with a keen eye for colour. Many of the shots are ornate tableaux you just want to freeze-frame and examine. There is obviously a moving historical narrative here to explore, but no matter how much slack you cut him, the fact remains – Ha botched it badly.
For La Meute (The Pack), the issue isn’t so much the treatment of the material as the material itself. Make no mistake – the first half of director Franck Richard’s big-screen debut offers up moody cinematography, terrific sound editing, and a script that constantly keeps the audience off-centre. Lead character Charlotte (Émilie Dequenne) is immediately relatable as a despondent girl driving her way to a fresh start. The dialogue between her and hitch-hiker Max (Yolande Moreau) is to-the-point and amusing.
It’s once she finds herself in the middle of a horror story that things start to take a turn for the worst. Sure, we’re all used to seeing the heroines or heroes stick around for the big finale to fight the bad guys, but in this case Charlotte has no reason to do so, especially since it involves waiting till nightfall for the zombies to awaken when she could just as well hop in her car and get the heck out of there. In an even more stupefying twist, she opts to team up with the people who spent the first half of the movie tormenting her.
With no explanations given for her actions and logic thrown well out the window, the film concludes with a cliché climax and half-hearted attempt at an epilogue that’ll leave you wondering if Richard ran out of money or interest or both. According to the Fantasia program, the Cannes Film Festival opted to cancel an outdoor screening of La Meute so as to not upset more easily-frightened audiences. Ironic, given that the only thing really scary is seeing the stellar first half squandered by silliness.
Before Fantasia wrapped up for another year, those with a love for the silver screen were given a real treat. For the first time since it debuted in 1927, Fritz Lang’s legendary look into the world of tomorrow, Metropolis, was screened with nearly all of the original footage intact and restored. It amounts to an additional 25 minutes of Art Deco, silent film glory set to a new original composition by Gabriel Thibaudeau, who conducted a 13-piece orchestra live at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier screening. A more memorable way to close out the festival there simply could not be.