This year’s Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (PiFan), in its 17th year, served up an eclectic mix of new and classic films by auteurs from varied nationalities and walks of life. Featured film series like “Urban Cult: Dark Side of the City” and “The Catcher in Korean Film: KAFA in 30 Years” confronted the audience with the violence, energy and chaos of urban life in cities as different as New York and Tokyo. The latter series offered some of the paragons of Korean contemporary film, a body of work known for its dark edge. On the whole, this year’s films showed a penchant for themes of seediness, frustration, crime, imminent death; the murkiness matched Bucheon’s weather at the time of the festival. Sunny optimists need not apply: these are the films worth finding to delight your darker side.
You probably haven’t seen anything like Sion Sono’s “Bad Film“ (Japan). Originally shot guerrilla-style in 1995 on the streets and subway trains of the Koenji district of Tokyo, the prolific Japanese auteur edited over a hundred hours of film to create a cinema work that defies easy categorisation.
A tribal war has broken out between the nationalist Kamikaze gang and a Chinese immigrant gang. The action is spliced into three parts and follows the organizations as they fracture, fight, form a truce, and implode. A homeless woman, Maggie, the leader of a lesbian gang that illegally imports guns, becomes involved with both factions.
Many scenes are enacted in front of real-passersby who often look bored or puzzled. Perhaps this is the point of the film: to jolt the viewer into seeing what surrounds them everyday. In Sono’s film the bizarre clashes with the everyday. In one scene, two gay members of the Kamikaze gang hide from their homophobic boss. Their dapper chief arrives cradling a severed hog’s head, whose snout he lovingly kisses, and fails to notice his underlings who are (literally) hiding in the closet.
Elsewhere the local Yakuza boss, sick of the violence, referees a relatively amicable game of baseball between the warring groups, all the while disguised as Charlie Chaplin, and yes that hog’s head does make a few more cameos. “Bad Film” is long, loosely structured, very violent, and at times completely nuts, but it’s a daring, original hymn to tolerance that never seems trite or worthy. It’s also at heart a love story—the mysterious Maggie’s lesbian affair provides touching moments amid the mayhem and brutality of life on the streets.
The Act of Killing
Ever wondered what would happen if Indonesian death squad leaders were given the chance to re-stage their heinous crimes in the genre of their choice? I didn’t either, but that didn’t stop Danish documentary maker Joshua Oppenheimer persuading the killers to recast their atrocities as gangster films, westerns, war movies, or musicals. “The Act of Killing“ is an unsettling and original documentary that Werner Herzog has described as “Powerful, surreal, and frightening … it is unprecedented in the history of cinema.”
Rico Maria Ilarde’s The Fridge (Philippines). In a scenario to baffle the most ardent after-sales service team, Tina, an orphaned Filipina-American, returns to her ancestral home in the Philippines to find the vintage refrigerator is serving up more than dairy products and soft drinks and is now the domestic appliance from hell.
The story of a closely knit group of three young Korean men who fall out after one of them dies mysteriously, “Bleak Night” is a heartrending story about the complexities and brutalities of male friendship. The aesthetic is stark and shadowy; it’s not a portrait of Seoul crafted by the average cinematographer. The film sings in its ability to drag the viewer down into the deeply intense and anxious world of hormonal and emotionally frayed psychology of Korean school boys.
The Story of Mr. Sorry
With a nod to Tim Burton, this full-length animated film tells the story of a miserable member of society to whom strange and terrible things begin to happen. “Sorry” is a timid professional ear cleaner whose sister has mysteriously disappeared. After suffering much at the hands of his rancorous boss, Sorry shrinks down to the size of a spider and realizes his power to see people’s memories. Though the story is often far-reaching, it sticks out for its commentaries on conformity, family and work culture in Korea. The film is
The Terror Live
The closing film for this year’s PiFan is,” a film by Kim Byoung U. It’s a thriller that stars Ha Yeong Woo, one of the leading actors in Korea at the moment, as a radio show host who has to face and fight against a terrorist who is threatening to blow up the Mapo bridge. It’s on general release August 1st 2013.
Words by Laurence Pritchard and Charlotte Hammond