Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Ghost Story (1979)

The Ghost Story (1979)

October 27th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Few directors have had careers as unusual or industry shaping as Li Han Hsiang. He crated popular movements, built national cinemas from the ground up, introduced more than a few new sub-genre and completely reshaped his career no less than four times. Several of his films have been shown in this series before, mostly his Huangmei or Yellow Plum opera films such as The Lover Etern (1963), arguably the most popular film ever released in Taiwan in terms of mass attendance. By the 1970’s he had already become the king of Hong Kong commercial directors, relocated to Taiwan and been run out on imaginary charges of communist sympathies. Back in Hong Kong he would invent another new sub-genre, one that would produce films that would regularly outperform the films of Bruce Lee. This new type was an episodic film, typically operating under an overall theme, if an abstract one. It would be episodic, mix a range of genre including comedy, theater, drama, period film, comedy of manners, exploitation and sexploitation and musical. At their hart, they were about human nature, and the concept of cheating.

The Ghost Story is a good example of this new type. It was one of several dealing lightly with horror elements, although in this case it would be more accurate to say that he uses themes found in traditional Chinese fantasy to satirize the present. In it, a Qing era storyteller takes a group of youngsters on several trips into the paranormal through a variety of eras and locations. One of the films obvious highlights is the actress Hu Chin. She, along with a small group of other actresses, formed the core cast of these films. A gifted comic actress, she followed Li from Taiwan back to Hong Kong. Her most typical role was that of a sadistic madam of a bordello, or some other predatory character. Destroying both men and women with an emotional delight that words do not adequately describe. This would be her last film with the Li before he would make the transition to China, ready to start a new phase in his career. It is a fitting sendoff, with her playing several characters as well as stealing the punch line of the film as it were.

Hong Kong, Director Li Han Hsiang, Cast Chan Shen, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Hu Chin and Lee Kwan, 102 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Seven Days in Heaven (2010)

Seven Days in Heaven (2010)

October 20th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

After the death of their father, a group of his adult children come back to their home village for the seven day death ritual. During the week that follows, relationships of the different characters are explored through flashbacks in a journey of grief and human relationships that is sometimes amusing, sometime heartrending but always compelling.

This very personal film has silently been making its way through film festivals for about a year now. One reason for this is the relatively low profile of the films two directors and principal stars. But where it may lack the shadow of established international careers, it does have the strength of its concise vision. Mixing harsh emotion with sly comedy, it is a film that hopefully will become increasingly well known in the future.

Taiwan, Directors Wang Yu-lin and Essay Liu, Cast Wang Li-Wen, Wu Peng-Fong, Tai Bo, Chen Chia-Hsiang and Chen Tai-Hua, 94 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bad Guy (2001)

Bad Guy (2001)

October 13th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Director Kim Ki-Duk has a kind of monstrous power. His films disturb the viewer on both a level of primordial emotion, and on an intellectual plain. The subject is almost always a study of emotional isolation and uncontrollable human impulse that would guide and pervert even the best intentions. Somehow he has found a way into the viewer’s mind in a very rare and profound way. You rarely see a Kim Ki-Duk film without feeling dirty, depressed and in awe. If I am particularly concentrating on emotional experiences, then it is because that is what his films are.

In Bad Guy a young woman happens to encounter a gang member one day. Just a random encounter, but for the offhand tone of a single moment. Now the film asks the question, what would happen if one human being decided to systematically destroy and pervert the existence of another without the second party every being aware of it?

Kim has become something of a pariah in South Korean cinema. Endlessly railing at what he sees as popcorn films with no real weight. But despite this stance, he continues to be one of the most internationally popular film makers in the region. Probably best known in the United States for his uncharacteristically upbeat Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (2003.)

South Korea, Director Kim Ki-Duk, Cast Cho Jae-hyun, Kim Yun-Tae and Seo Won, 100 minutes, in Korean with English subtitles.