2008 Pusan International Film Festival reviews

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Day 8

Members of a Funeral
The death of a high school student brings the skeletons out of the closet in Baek Seung-bin's circular feature debut, which weaves together a complex story about death and isolation. Read review

Rough Cut
Based on a screenplay by Kim Ki-Duk, the story turns on many of his favorite themes and issues. But director Jang Hun has a more populist eye and has crafted a mainstream -- meaning linear -- drama. Read review

Miao, Miao
The first feature by director Cheng Hsiao-Tse focuses less on the dynamic among the three members of an adolescent love triangle as it does on the two young women as they navigate the pitfalls of oncoming adulthood. Read review

A Light in the Fog
The characters in Panahbarkhoda Rezaee's film go through their days on autopilot and in near silence, patiently waiting for something to happen. The images create a mesmerizing tone that result in a film that's more curious than compelling. Read review

Tokyo Girl
Following the success of time-travel films "Bubble Fiction" and "Cyborg She," "Tokyo Girl" concocts a romance-fantasy in which two young Tokyoites living 86 years apart connect through a mobile phone. Read review

Nucingen House
Prolific and surreal filmmaker Raoul Ruiz takes on genre filmmaking with this classical haunted-house tale that pivots on the ghosts of the past literally haunting the present, and rich with nontraditional structure, experimental pacing and curious motifs. Read review

Who Killed Our Children
Pan Jianlin's documentary could have been a discomforting voice of dissent that exposes the widespread problem of shoddy construction in China, which some assert caused or exacerbated casualties in the Sichuan earthquake. However, Pan's filmmaking approach is impressionistic and guerrilla-style. Read review

Victoria
Iconic actress Anna Karina's second feature film has flashes of some of the French New Wave's more notable "conventions" and motifs, and a similar fractured tone, but because it's all been done -- and emulated -- before, her road movie drama leaves no real lasting impact. Read review


Day 7

Er Dong
Yang Jin's 150-minute film about an angry young man living under the stigma of being adopted is overlong and lacks the vigor associated with youth. Read review

Fiksi
"Fiksi," which means "fiction" in Indonesian, gingerly explores and blurs the borders between reality and fiction through a mentally disturbed woman's involvement with a writer who wants to turn real-life stories happening in his residential block into a novel. Read review

Heartbreak Library
Before there was J- or K-horror, Asian cinema had established a strong tradition of the romantic, desexualized weepy, usually colored by youthful nostalgia or tragedy -- preferably both. Kim Jeong-kwon's film is a solid if unspectacular entry into the burgeoning genre that covers its bases efficiently. Read review

The Pit and the Pendulum
The fragmentation of knowledge is at the heart of "The Pit and the Pendulum," a pseudo-mystery with multiple layers that unfurls minute by minute. Read review

Routine Holiday
Li Hongqi's film is so utterly devoid of pleasure or meaning it defies comparison. Pointless extended silences and uncomfortable spatial dynamics define this affected drama far more than insightful commentary does. Read review


Day 6

Feast of Villains
Obviously heartfelt and deserving attention for its dire topic, the film's painfully inert structure and absence of energy in most of its players will limit much exposure beyond sympathetic festivals. Read review

Land of Scarecrows
An obtuse and cowardly film about that most tired of subjects, identity, that says nothing really new about personal self-awareness or self-determination and grows wearying at an astonishing pace. Read review

Make Yourself at Home
Unconvincing performances, characters devoid of empathy and a heavily contrived plot overwhelm some of Sohn Soopum's more pointed observations about Korean marriage beliefs, assimilation, identity and superstition. Read review

Panda Diary
Director Tadashi Mori was privileged (or resourceful) enough to nuzzle right up to his subjects as he shuttles between a Japanese zoo and a Chinese reserve to show a few things we want to know about pandas. Read review

Plastic City
Yu Lik Wai's overblown crime story "Plastic City" tells of an aging Chinese godfather to a crime syndicate in Sao Paolo, Brazil, with a mystical connection to the Amazon jungle. It's like watching Don Corleone morph into Col. Kurtz. Read review

The Pot
Substitute the more Western concept of demonic possession for ghosts and you'll get a vaguely Asian version of "Rosemary's Baby," which is exactly how "The Pot" begins. But the film soon devolves into a rambling and unfocused groaner about the impact of too much faith, ambition and greed. Read review

Sisters of the Road
Boo Ji Young's film takes the dog-eared formula of the odd couple on a road trip, and bends it out of recognition with a twist that would give many viewers a double take. Read review


Day 5

Child by Children
In the West, a controversial subject like early teen pregnancy would probably be examined as a social problem, and the film would focus on any psychological or medical damage the girl suffers. This is not the case in Koji Hagiuda's film, which celebrates the experience as a blessing of nature. Read review

Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells
Mixing the stranger-in-a-strange-land motif with the restless anxiety of middle age, writer-director Jeon Soo-il crafts a soporific story of connection and disconnection that stutters to its conclusion. Read review

Jay
Zooming on the modern-day evil of television journalism out to capture the best shot and stories -- often thrusting microphones and cameras right into grief -- Francis Xavier Pasion's movie exhibits awfully cruel manipulation and deceit. Read review

My Dear Enemy
Eloquently scripted, with finely tuned dialogue, immaculate characterization and emotions that are brewed like coffee until the aroma comes out, this cinematic rendezvous will be savored by a mature, sophisticated audience. Read review

Rembrand't J'Accuse
Combining Derek Jarman's "Caravaggio" and the director's own painterly "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover," Peter Greenaway turns fine art into a worthy murder mystery in "Rembrandt's J'Accuse," a docudrama replete with Hitchcockian soundtrack and Everyman witness to a crime. Read review

Treeless Mountain
Without wallowing in sentimentality or judging any of her characters, writer-director Kim So-yong has drawn a mature portrait of an elementary school girl old before her time and a loss of childhood that rings true on every level. Read review


Day 4

100
Thoughtfully scripted and performed with a delicate balance of gravity and humor, the dignified image of women represented by director Chris Martinez here is exceptional for a Philippine melodrama with mainstream aspirations. Read review

Crush and Blush
Mover over Glenn Glose. Directed with the batty humor of Almodovar's early gems, this character-driven comedy exposes the fine line between female bonding and female rivalry. Read review

Modern Boy
A decadent thirtysomethig playboy falls into the dragnet of a femme fatale with a dozen disguises and becomes a hero of Korean independence. With a formula that worked for "Casablanca" and a budget exceeding $8.1 million for CG re-creations of Japanese colonial architecture in Seoul, how can Jung Ji-woo's "Modern Boy" go wrong? Yet, go wrong it did.  Read review

Naked of Defenses
A poised yet internally turbulent film of almost religious purity and compassion, "Naked of Defenses" devotes its entire time to one central figure, a female Lazarus who rises from spiritual death by connecting with the woman she hates and envies.  Read review

Ocean of an Old Man
The effects of the devastating and defining tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in 2004 are at the heart of this willfully opaque drama by first-time director Rajesh Shera. Focusing on an elderly schoolteacher who lost most of his class to the catastrophe, Shera's intentions are honorable, but his execution makes for difficult viewing. Read review


Day 3

Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly
Edwin is a household name in the Indonesian experimental and short film circuit. His works are at times idiosyncratic to the point of visionary and at other times just darn weird. His debut feature, a personal interpretation of the experience of being Indonesian Chinese, is no less out-of-this-world. (New Currents) Read review

Dada's Dance
Part female coming-of-age experience and part road movie, Zhang Yuan's latest project is less a film than an adagio that owes its romantic Latino atmosphere a lovely score by Italian composer Andrea Guerra. (Gala presentation) Read review

Flavor of Happiness
Set mostly in a serene seaside location in Kanazawa, an ancient city hailed as Kyoto of the North, the film captures the region's august mountainous landscapes and the reserved yet decent values of the locals. (Asian Film Market) Read review

Lake Mungo
Throughout a compelling slow build, Aussie writer-director Joel Anderson's debut feature cleaves close to reality, making a climactic otherworldly event earn its shock value and ensuring the resulting disquiet lingers.  (World Cinema) Read review

A Moment in June
Director O Nathaporn draws on his theater experience to devise an impressive crossover of cinema and stage through a play-within-a-film. This exquisitely wrought triptych structure achieves a poetic interface between the lovers' worlds. (New Currents) Read review


Day 2

The Gift to Stalin
Rustem Abdrashev unearths a harrowing chapter of ethnic persecution in postwar Soviet years, but he softens the bitterness and moral condemnation by recounting it through the nostalgic memories of a child. A work of old-fashioned, wholesome goodness celebrating virtue in adversity. (Opening night film) Read review

The Good, The Bad and the Weird
Kim Ji-woon's direction shows no signs of fluster, resulting in a jaunty, happy-go-lucky adventure that packs a fistful of dynamite in the spectacular showdown.(Korean Cinema Today-Panorama) Read review

Still Walking
Hirokazu Kore-eda's film unfolds almost in real time as three generations gather for a weekend. The course of the day is so uneventful and the narration so deceptively simple that it feels as cozy as flipping through a family album.  (Windows on Asian Cinema) Read review

Divine Weapon
Director Kim Yoo-jin tries to combine the historical war epic with swashbuckling martial arts and conventional romance in a catch-all commercial blend that succeeds as a vehicle in rousing national pride. (Asian Film Market) Read review

Confessional
A mockumentary posing as the making-of of a Philippine religious festival that morphs from an amateur filmmaker's profile of a shady local politician into a stinging satire about the manipulation of truth in art and life. (Windows on Asian Cinema) Read review

Gu Gu the Cat
Multifaceted director Isshin Inudo has a knack for making quirky characters come alive, highlighting the local color of a place and telling a story in the traditional, feel-good way. His latest mingles all these elements in an amiable modern fairytale. (Windows on Asian cinema) Read review

Parking
Double parking evolves into a pert metaphor for Taipei's urban chaos and the obstacle-strewn nature of life in this neat concept film by Chung Mong-Hong, who devises a chain of bizarre encounters and confrontations that are by turns amusing and disquieting. (Windows on Asian cinema) Read review


Day 1

All Around Us
Charting the highs and lows of a 10-year marriage is a film subject as prosaic as a TV ad for life insurance, but in the hands of Ryosuke Hashiguchi ("Hush"), it is nothing short of transcendent. (Windows on Asian Cinema) Read review

Nightmare Detective 2
The horror master of the "Tetsuo" series already has a collectivist fanbase that laps up whatever he makes, but this work has the emotional depth to move beyond such circles to a more mainstream market. (Midnight Passion) Read review

Cape No. 7
There are colorful character sketches, rowing and bonding, love interests and family feuds, the pursuit of dreams. But with a little rearrangement to suit local taste, plus plenty of heart from cast and crew, the film hums its own sweet melody. (Windows on Asian Cinema) Read review
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