All the Young and Angry Voices

in 19th Busan International Film Festival

by Ru-Shou Robert Chen

One major theme among entries in the New Currents section of the 2014 (the 19th) Busan International Film Festival is rage. This special section is reserved for new directors from Asia who made one or two films.

In Sunrise (Partho Sen-Gupta), for example, a police inspector is haunted by the grief of his kidnapped daughter ten years ago. Nothing can stop him from chasing a shadowy figure, which, as if from a German Expressionism film, might be a specter in his own mind. The film shows a father’s desperate, but failed attempt to reunite with his missing daughter. He is not alone – the film ends with a statistic that more than 60,000 children are missing in India each year.

Rage in The Face of the Ash (Shakhwan Idrees) is expressed through religious conflict between Muslims and Christian over a corpse and its “proper” funeral service. Although the film proceeds with a half-comic tone, its allegorical nature points to the reality behind the Iran-Iraqi war. That is, clashes of religion and civilization take people’s lives away. However, the dead cannot rest because the conflict still follows them beyond the grave.

No one is happy in the Korean film End of Winter by Kim Dae-hwan. The retirement ceremony for a father turns into a revelation that he wants a divorce. The mother is of course angry, but other family members have their own problems, while not knowing how to mend the relationship between father and mother. Because of heavy snow, they are stuck in the father’s dorm for three day and all try to maintain daily business as usual, while tension among them is always there.

The same can be said of the high school soccer team players in Don’t Say that Word. After their team loses too many games in a season, each player has to decide whether to quit for future career goals, or to stay for the love of sport. But nobody wants to be the first to say the word. So as daily practices go on, skirmishes between players and bullying junior players are ways to release their anger.

In Taiwan’s (Sex) Appeal by Wang Wei-Ming, a female graduate student is raped by her male instructor. Her rage turns into post-traumatic stress disorder and results in her committing suicide. What follows is the most terrific court scene in the history of Taiwan cinema as two female lawyers argue verbally while the audience watch with unbelieving eyes and ears. These two actresses reverse their idol images and bring out their best performance ever.

13 by Iranian director Hooman Seyedi is even more terrifying. The protagonist is a pre-pubescent 13-year-old boy who finds his sense of belonging with gangster friends after he can no longer tolerate domestic violence in his home. He finally vents his repressed anger on a man whom his gangs attacks, accidentally killing him. The director intends to let the audience reflect on the social conditions which force the boy to become violent. Jalal’s Story by Abu Shahed Emon runs in the same vein as 13, except the social context moves to Bangladesh. We witness Jalal’s degeneration from an innocent child to a gangster, while the film does not question who should be responsible for his down fall.

This side of films in the New Currents section expresses discontent commonly held by young directors across cultures, nations, and languages. They are able to transform their critical viewpoints into creative impulse and present their films perfectly.

The other side of films is much more hopeful. In Ghadi, a boy with Down syndrome becomes an angel and brings blessings to his neighborhood, Milo Sogueco’s Mariquina from The Philippines is a tender and bittersweet story about a daughter’s memory of her deceased father, and the Chinese title of Nezha actually refers to a boy who, according to folktale, slices his flesh and bone and returns them to his parents, as a way to compensate his rebellious action against the Dragon King. That film adopts the same spirit and portrays a rite of passage story for two girls, with the same uncompromising attitude toward life, family and relationship. It is a rare subject matter to be found in Chinese cinema.

We Will Be Ok sets the time to the last day before the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar where the protagonist has failed to accomplish his goal to become a famous actor and therefore considers jumping off the roof. However, an unlikely rendezvous with a mysterious woman changes his mind and as they enjoy the last sunshine on Earth, both realize that they should keep on trying as long as they are alive. The film ends with the protagonist facing the camera, and, with a self-assured smile, says, “Cut.” What a relief!

The last unmentioned film is What’s the Time in Your World? (Dar donya ye to saat chand ast?) by Safi Yazdanian from Iran. For some unknown reasons I am thinking to compare this film with Julio Medem’s The Loves of the Arctic Circle (Los amantes del Circulo Polar). Both films are about mysterious romance between two lovers over a long span of time. In What’s the Time in Your World?, the female protagonist suddenly comes back to her hometown after a 20-year separation. The male protagonist, however, and her childhood friend seems to have been waiting for her return from the day she left. And even more surprisingly, he seems to know everything about her and a long lost friendship is built up gradually as the film proceeds. It is the most poetic film in the New Currents section, which also proves that even though love can be expressed in a million ways, the one in What’s the Time in Your World is too beautiful to easily forget.

Edited by Glenn Dunks