Sunday, August 23, 2009

Quick Reviews

I need to keep a hand in here... it was a good week for movies. All the talk is about Inglourious Basterds, but that was the odd one out, this weekend. Jia Jiang-ke's 24 City was playing, a handful of shows, only one really convenient, so there was that... and it seems to me, the big release of the week, at least in Boston (some people are getting The Headless Woman, aren't they? Though I've seen the Headless Woman, so...) is Park Chan-wook's latest, Thirst. Tarantino can wait.

Thirst certainly delivers. A vampire film, starring Song Kang-ho as a priest who volunteers for a medical experiment, dies - and then - Vampire! He goes home, rumored to be able to heal the sick, and runs into some old friends, a rotten hypochondriac, and what the priest thought was a sister, but turns out to have been a foundling... and their formidable mother... Before long priest and bullied girl are enacting Zola (or James M. Cain, though it's Zola gets the screen credit...) and sharing diseases... As in all of Park's films, morality and sympathy shift and blur - the priest would do good, but has evil in him - he is, after all, a vampire; the girl has suffered all her life, and now - well... she does not have to suffer quite the same way anymore, and more, she gets to taste all the pleasures long denied.... Park shoots the whole story without committing to any side, quite - or any style, or tone - it veers constantly from horror to comedy to the kind of persistent sadness that appears in all his films I've seen.

And, while I'm here - 24 City is another strong film from Jia Jiang-ke. Set in Chengdu, it's partly a documentary about Factory 420 - which has been sold, and is being leveled, to put up "24 city" - a condo high rise. Workers from the factory are interviewed, telling stories about their lives - about coming to Chengdu from the north (Shanghai, etc.) - about growing up there - about making their way after the factory closed. The twist is - the interviewees are delivered by actors, playing the interviewees... the strangest moment perhaps being Joan Chen playing a woman who was nicknamed "Little Flower" at the plant - because she looked like Joan Chen, in a film called Little Flower... The stories themselves are driven by loss, sometimes recognition (as the final story and shot, a young woman who understands her parents for the first time when she sees them at work - then turns and the camera pans across the city...) - the sense of the old world being replaced, perhaps buy things that are, in fact, better - but without acknowledging what went into the old world... A theme running through Jia's work.

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