Soulmining at TIFF '09, Day Ten - Deliver Us From Evil, Air Doll, Sawasdee Bangkok and Ong Bak: The Beginning
26th Oct 09
And so we come to the final day of TIFF 09. The P&I screenings have ended, so anything I want to see today is going to have to be done on a rush basis – ie. I have to turn up at the cinema 15mins before the start time and if there are spare seats then I can show my pass and get a ticket. This is where stringent pre-planning and scheduling plays an important part for me; I’ve deliberately held back a few key titles until today that I’m confident will not have sold out in advance. Fingers crossed then, or it’s going to be a barren day!
Deliver Us From Evil
First up is Deliver Us From Evil at the Varsity where I bump into Kurt Halfyard from Twitch who has had the same idea as me. Following hot on the heels from Just Another Love Story which has just been released on DVD in the UK, Ole Bornedal’s next feature is a jet-black thriller with echoes of Straw Dogs. Set in a small Danish community we’re introduced to Lars (Jens Andersen) a long-haul lorry driver who’s having a bad day; he’s just discovered that his girlfriend is pregnant, he’s drunk, and he’s just run over Anna, one of the town’s elderly and much-loved citizens on a deserted stretch of highway. Aghast at what he’s done, Lars decides to hide the body… a decision that will have a serious impact on a number of other townsfolk: his liberal brother Johannes (Lasse Rimmer) and family; Alain (Bojan Navojec) a Bosnian refugee whose family perished in a fire and who now does odd jobs for Johannes; and Anna’s husband Ingvar, a war veteran battling with demons from his past.
Taking on xenophobia and class divides in a rural community, Deliver Us From Evil is simply terrifying as it builds towards its violent climax. Lars’s actions are maddening and frustrating as events spiral out of control – you just know there are going to be serious consequences – and it’s a testament to the strong, well defined characters that the film is such an intense experience. Bornedal deserves credit for a tight script in which everyone has good reason to behave in the way that they do to Anna’s death, and his direction is spot on too, using oversaturated colours and a narrator who appears on screen to bookend the story. It’s a theme that has been tackled before but rarely so masterfully, and as such Deliver Us From Evil is without doubt one of the very best European thrillers in recent years and shows a filmmaker working at the top of his craft.
A quick dash to the Scotiabank and I manage to secure a ticket for Air Doll. Based on a graphic novel Gouda’s Philosophical Discourse, the Pneumatic Figure of a Girl, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film is a curio indeed. Hideo (Itsuji Itao) is a lonely middle-aged waiter. At night he retires to his apartment where he attends to his partner Nozomi, telling her about his day over dinner, bathing her, and finally making love to her. All very normal you might think… except she’s an air doll, named after an ex-girlfriend. Then one morning Nozomi (Doo-na Bae) comes to life and with a childlike innocence dons the tiny French maid’s outfit that Hideo bought for her and ventures outside to learn about the world around her. She spends her days wandering around the city, having chance encounters with random strangers and eventually gets a job in a video store where she develops a relationship with fellow clerk Junichi (Arata).
Very different from the sad yet comic Lars And The Real Girl (TIFF 07) which featured an airdoll that’s treated like a real person, here Kore-eda uses the airdoll come to life to address what is it that makes us human, the argument being that it’s the people we surround ourselves with that give our life meaning. With cinematography courtesy of Mark Lee Ping-Bing, the film looks fantastic and there are some wonderful moments – the scene where Junichi has to inflate Nozomi after she’s been punctured is both tender and erotic. However at times Air Doll lacks focus, aimlessly meandering a little like Nozomi herself, almost unsure which direction or what tone to take, and at two hours its slight tale is stretched too thin. Still there’s much to admire with its original approach and a particularly bold performance from Bae who like Haruka Ayase in Cyborg She manages to illicit real emotions from the audience towards a non-human character.
Another sprint across town to the AMC and I’m ready for the Thai omnibus Sawasdee Bangkok. Commissioned by the Thai Public Broadcasting Service, nine respected Thai directors were asked to make short films about their capital city. Four of the nine shorts are included here for the theatrical version and we begin with Sightseeing (Dir: Wisit Sasanatieng) about a blind girl living on the streets who’s taken on a guided tour of the city. The second tale Bangkok Blues (Dir: Aditya Assarat) concerns two university friends and their disastrous relationships with Thai girls, whilst the third segment Pi Makham (Dir: Kongdej Jaturanrasamee) is about a guy who meets a prostitute in Sanam Luang Park. The fourth and final part Silence (Dir: Pen-ek Ratanaruang) focuses on a girl who encounters a homeless man after her car breaks down after a night out clubbing.
What all of these short films share is an unflinching view of Bangkok that’s not afraid to show the worst aspects of the city along with the best. It’s a real melting pot of old and new values that illustrates the rich diversity of the country and its people, from the affluent students and their hedonistic lifestyle to the street beggars and the slums, also finding time to touch upon the Thais’ belief in ghosts and comment upon the recent political turmoil in the capital. Of the four, Pi Makham is the most rewarding as it manages to cram so many elements into its brief running time, but Silence delivers the most impact as the clubber’s prejudices are confronted by her encounter with the homeless guy. The full 4hr version comprising all nine segments – which recently screened at BKKIFF – is obviously the most comprehensive way to appreciate this body of work from Thailand’s finest filmmakers, but nevertheless this shortened version of Sawasdee Bangkok is still a worthy, fond and respectful portrayal of the city of angels.
The Midnight Madness bloggers – Robert, Sachin, Sanjay and Darryl
On leaving the auditorium I spy Colin and Aliza (waiting to introduce the final screening of Enter The Void) and Colin hands me an invite to a party at his place after tonight’s Midnight Madness screening, the perfect way to wind down post-festival. Picking up a dirt-cheap copy of The Protector (aka Tom Yum Goong) on DVD ahead of tonight’s Tony Jaa actioner, I return back to my apartment to take a break and have a bite to eat before the final film of this year’s festival.
Feeling remarkably refreshed I make it down to the Ryerson in good time for the screening of Ong Bak: The Beginning where I’m delighted to run into Paul who I haven’t seen since Wednesday; he’s buzzing having just seen Chuck D performing live down at Yonge & Dundas Square straight after Enter The Void, plus I find out he’s also had dinner at George A. Romero’s house and been out partying with The White Stripes after their ‘on the road’ documentary Under Great White Northern Lights. This man sure knows how to party! I also take the time to catch up with the MM bloggers and get some soundbites from them on their festival highlights for broadcast in my next podcast.
Inside the auditorium the atmosphere is riotous with beachballs flying around (again!) and the crowd chanting Colin’s name as he takes to the stage. After a specially recorded video message from Tony Jaa himself Colin runs through the usual formalities including the ever present anti-piracy warning and the chorus of ‘arrrrrs’ from the audience and then we’re into the ads for the final time this year: TIFF’s Bell Lightbox promo, this year soundtracked by Pilot Speed’s Light You Up; film clips celebrating Toronto’s 175th anniversary; the TIFF volunteers; RBC and the ‘cheetah prince’ and not forgetting Cadillac and their amusing ‘death shark’ / ‘dance fight’ promos.
Ong Bak: The Beginning
Let’s clear this up right from the start – Ong Bak: The Beginning is not a sequel to Ong Bak, the Thai movie that introduced action superstar Tony Jaa to the west. Hell, it’s not even a prequel. But it does feature Jaa taking on all-comers and I guess the producers felt that was close enough to slap on the branding – remember it was marketed as such in Thailand as well, so we can’t blame the US distributors for cashing in this time! A full on historic epic, Jaa (who also directs) stars as Tien a young lad sold into slavery after his parents were slain by an evil warlord when he was ten years old. Rescued by a group of bandits who take him in and teach him the art of combat, years later the now accomplished fighter takes his revenge. As he remembers more about his childhood he then decides to seek out the warrior who killed his family…
I saw Ong Bak: The Beginning in Bangkok back in January and was troubled then by its incoherent storytelling. Jumping back and forth in time without warning it’s quite confusing, something I’m sure that could be improved by more time spent in the editing suite. Whilst rumours abound of a recut ending by no less than Luc Besson, the version shown here is the original cut and therefore comes with all those inherent flaws in the narrative. The troubled production, with Panna Rittikrai (Born To Fight) coming on board to help finish the film is clear to see when the Ghost Crow (Dan Chupong) character appears out of nowhere for a breathtaking show down which feels like it’s from another film entirely. Criticisms aside though, there’s no faulting the direction of the action set pieces or Jaa’s ability – he showcases a mixture of muay thai, drunken master style fighting, knife play and sword fighting that is simply jaw-dropping and brutal in the extreme. Ending on a truly bizarre cliff-hanger, let’s hope the narrative flaws can be fixed for Ong Bak 3 which is currently in production.
So that’s it, one final kick to the head and I’ve managed to see 38 films in 10 days and TIFF is over for another year. With the Cadillac People’s Choice Award going to Lee Daniels’ Precious: Based On The Novel ‘Push’ By Sapphire it’s time for me to single out some of my highlights. In what’s been an above average selection this year my favourites, in no particular order, would have to be Dogtooth, Enter The Void, Micmacs, Same Same But Different, Deliver Us From Evil and Defendor. And with that it’s time to head off to Colin’s place where the cocktails await and we can drink and dissect the festival until the sun comes up...
For further information on TIFF 09 visit the festival website: www.tiff.net/.
Air Doll will screen at the BFI 53rd London Film Festival in October.
Ong Bak: The Beginning was released in UK cinemas on 16th October.
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