Wild Wild East

in 22nd Torino Film Festival

by Dinko Tucakovic

The Torino Film Festival has a significant tradition of presenting Asian cinema. Well, there is no place like the Far East when you are looking for something else than the middle of the road. This year was no exception. The East is wild and the West is the rest. Or something like that.

Feature films competition

An Estranged Paradise (Moshen Tiantang, China, 2003) is a black-and-white essay on landscape painting, sex, and alienation, set in a remote province of China, by Yang Fudong, video-artist, painter and first-time director. Freud meets Nouvelle Vague. In this case the medium of film is just artistic material and not the goal. But the final result is a tempting work of art of (e)strange(d) beauty.

Directors of martial-art film have been inspired by Italian exploitation films, whose authors were inspired by Kurosawa, who picked up on Ford, who loved German expressionists.. The bottom line for Left Hand (Juang Hu, Hong Kong, 2004) is déjà vu. Leone or Woo, it is not so crucial at the end of the day. Director Wong Ching Po still has to find a cinema path of his own.

Casshern (Japan, 2004) is the film debut of fashion photographer Kiriya Kazuaki. It could be read as a manifesto of post cinema or as a memorial for analog, chemical film art. But on the whole, when you cut the philosophy, it is just another manga.

But the cinema of Japan was also Ozu. The Cat Leaves Home (Inu neko, Japan, 2004) is a little and delicate “cat” film, about tenderness in the glamourless life of contemporary Japan. Emotional storm in the cup of teenage tea (FIPRESCI prize in this year’s edition of the Torino Film Festival).

In a search for love even hypnosis could be a tool for the final result. Kim In-sik certainly is not a newcomer, and the follow-up to his first film, Road Movie (2001), has been eagerly expected. But somehow, I was not hypnotized by Hypnotized (Ulgool Upnun Minyeo, South Korea 2004), a visual tour de force in which the story is just an excuse for design. OK, the author is there, but the stage is bare when THE END hits the silver screen.

The Beautiful Washing Machine (Malaysia, 2004) stars the second-hand washing machine as alien and alienator, in a smart low-budget comedy which has never reached 35mm. Slow in pace, but witty and sometimes hilarious, the film reveals a major talent in James Lee (born 1973), who will do some more quality film laundering in the future.

Out of competition

Jack(ie) is back. Jackie Chan is again starring in the Hongkongollywood vehicle New Police Story (Hong Kong, 2004), so far, the last chapter of the legendary serial, signed by Benny Chan. Old tricks still looking good, in bolder production.

Master Chan gives a cameo support to his junior, Jaycee Chan, in another sequel, The Huadu Chronicles: Blade of the Rose (2004), routine chop-suey with Cory Yuen and Patrick Leung having some serious laughs at the expense of Crouching Tiger. and Hero .

The day is saved by Johnnie To, who has demonstrated top form in both Breaking News (Hong Kong, 2004) and Yesterday Once More (Hong Kong, 2004). Powerful storytelling and vibrant action sequences make him the leading contemporary commercial director, with a sophisticated artistic touch.

Asia goes Hollywood

Sam Raimi scores another hit by producing the remake of the cult Japanese horror Ju-on (2002), re-titled as The Grudge (USA, 2004), with the same director Shimizu Takashi. Shot in Japan, with a rather unexpected, but classy cast (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Bill Pullman, Grace Zabriskie.), at first sight it’s unpolished by drama factory standards, but the Asian scent definitely does the trick.

So, for Asian film gourmets, Torino offered a good but not spectacular selection, with some radiant moments, no masterpieces but some masters in pieces.

Dinko Tucakovic