PiFan 2008

I like the newish Listal Widget that lets you flow-scroll through the images in a list. This is an (incomplete) list of the films I saw at the Bucheon International Fantastic (PiFan) Film Festival 2008.

(I’ll post tomorrow, at greater length, about the  Korean Film Archive (KOFA) 괴수 대백과 (Giant Monster Movie Omnibus) retrospective I caught part of earlier this week.)

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I’m not going to stand a hope in hell of reviewing every one of them in depth, so I’m going to do a hit-and-run review: Ten words or less for each title, with some musings at the end.

What I watched at PIFAN 2008:

Recycle: Cheesy Filipino SF. Alien invasion, giant mecha, melodrama. But fun.

Opapatika: Thai horror. Very confusing. Suicide gives you magic powers? Meh.

Om Shanti Om: Bollywood — yay! Loved it. Still singing the songs. Watch it!

(Really. It was, for me, the highlight of the festival, and Lime loved it too. Highly recommended.)

The Housemaid: 1960s Korean melodrama. Sexual morality play. Fascinating. Need the DVD.

Triple X Selects: The Best of Lezsploitation:  Yawn. No critical discussion. Just clips and clips of lezsploitation.

Bhoothnath: Hee! Kiddie Bollywood. Canterville Ghost rehabilitated by a kid. Fun.

Woman Detective Mary: 70s pulp. Sexually perverse narcotics ring hunted. Occasionally shocking.

The Ecstasy of Black Rose: Japanese wackos. Not really porn. Sexual insanity? Red-light liberationism? Odd.

The Summer of the Flying Saucer: Irish “SF.” Smalltown UFO crash. Aliens fit in. Cute, alright.

A Chain of Islands: Japanese murder mystery; American occupation, drug ring, gangsters. Fascinatingly opaque.

Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge: Silly/fun: Japanese schoolgirl & boyfriend fight chainsaw monster. Awwww.

The Auteur: Fauxdoc: poor famous porno director’s career in decline. Hilarious stuff.

Alone Across the Pacific: Japanese, true story. First transpacific Japanese sailor. Pretty damned good.

Mirageman: Utterly brilliant comedic superhero: penniless Chilean dude. Touching subplot, too.

Let the Right One In: Swedish vampire drama. Little kids. Spooky, touching. Cool.

American Zombie: Hilarious fauxdoc: Zombie Civil Rights. Zombie speed? Don’t Ask. Grrrrrrrr!

Sarkar Raj: Serious, somewhat confusing Indian political drama. Comic-book like.

When the Full Moon Rises: Funny Malaysian horror/comedy/mystery. Ghosts, lycanthropes, jazz, pretty girls.

Jodhaa Akbar: Beautiful but long Indian historical drama. Needed intermission… but wow.

Death Bell: Fun Korean remix: SAW + Battle Royale, spooky highschool.

The Rage: Schlocky monster vultures. Korean audience girls screaming. Anglophones howling laughter.

Cyborg, She: My Sassy Droid. Define “cyborg”? Better than expected. All Japanese!

(Seriously. You could tell there was Korean influence, but it was heavily Japanese, and in my opinion benefitted from being much more deeply influenced by Japanese manga than any other Korean SF film to date. More on that in a post in a week or two…)

Transsiberian: Russkie murder mystery. Predictably surprising. Twisty. Dark. Brr.

I’d have to say the most entertaining film of the bunch was Om Shanti Om, which I saw twice — the second time, I insisted Lime come along, and she loved it too. It’s very cheesy in some ways — the twists and turns of the plot didn’t really surprise — but there’s a lot of metafictional commentary on (and celebration of) Indian cinema, the songs are mostly very catchy, and everyone looks like a million dollars.

Om Shanti Om poster

Here’s a campy (on purpose) trailer:

The best Korean film, for me, was The Housemaid (하녀) which I suspect may well be the most interesting Korean film I’ve ever seen. It was somewhat like a Korean episode of The Twilight Zone but, instead of anything supernatural happening, a single moment of moral weakness in which a man cheats on his wife with the housemaid leads to, well, baaaad things. Watching this film, I realized that Korean “melodrama” is not one genre, but several, one of which is the sexual morality play, a seemingly major genre in Korean cinema. (Including films like The Good Lawyer’s Wife, Crazy Marriage, The Green Chair, Plum Blossoms, Summertime, La Belle, Too Young To Die, maybe Oasis, and much more.)

hanyeo pic

Between The Housemaid and Woman Detective Mary, a Korean pulp flick about a female narcotics officer hunting for her supposedly undercover cop boyfriend who’s involved with a narcotics ring (with generous dollops of sexploitation thrown in), I was stunned by how different older Korean films were than what I imagined. I imagined, when watching Crazy Marriage in the cinema, that this was a new sort of thing, this kind of explicitness — but it seems to me now to fit onto a pretty smooth curve of development.

The other fascinating thing — a subject I want to post more about, though it’ll have to wait till September at the soonest, is the very overtly and necessarily gendered character archetypes in these movies, all of which is fascinating. It’ll be part of an upcoming discussion of Gender Archetype Taxonomy in Korean pop culture that I’ll be getting to, well, just as soon as I can.

As for the festival itself, it’s well-known that the mayor blackballed the people who actually got the PIFan going in the first place for forgetting his name in the ceremony. That’s pathetic of him, it’s very third-world-politics and officious and childish too, in my personal opinion. But that is no reason to dismiss the festival, or, well, not a good enough one. Dozens of volunteers put in a lot of work, and while there were many  serious problems with the way the festival was executed — the fact that ticket reservations were screwed up from the beginning, the fact that ticket reservations were only available on the Korean site (I’m not sure whether it required a Korean ID number as Lime went ahead and reserved them for me), the website worked only in Windows (as usual), and the fact that the opening and closing film tickets could only be bought online.

All of that added up to a big, big pain in the butt, but Lime posted a pretty strongly-worded complaint, and the festival high-ups let loose a flurry of “Oh, gee, sorry! That’s true, we could have organized things a lot better.” To the volunteers’ credit, they tried hard to smooth things over, they went out of their way to ensure I could get the tickets I wanted, and they were very helpful. I was impressed by the volunteers, and I do hope that the higher-ups really intend to address their various infrastructural problems and set things up a little more professionally next time.

All in all, PIFan was a good experience for me. Incidentally, I also made a couple of friends there — Korean guys, one of them just a student who happened to chat with me. Not a word of English, and he didn’t make a big deal out of it, which was cool. We had dinner. I also hung out with Matt and Mark (and, briefly, some of the festival people) one night, and met a friendly young Korean writer at the Genre Books Sale that was held at city hall. (He’s a mystery writer working on getting his first book published.)

Good times.

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