Seven Days in Heaven (2010)
Wang Yu-lin, Essay Liu
A perfectly calculated dramody, Seven Days in Heaven is an excellent representation of a mainstream film from Taiwan that will probably never find its way across the Taiwan Straight or the South China Sea, let alone the Pacific Ocean. Debut directors, Wang Yu-lin and Essay Liu, effortlessly combine refreshing humor and bittersweet sorrow that feels honest to the characters they represent. After Lin Guo-yan passes away, his family and friends congregate for a funeral with all the Buddhist bells and whistles. Steeped in rigorous tradition, the funeral must be carried out with specified ritual and seven days of mourning. The majority of this burden falls on Lin's daughter, Mei, and son, Da-zhi. The two follow all the filial obligations while also dealing with their very mixed emotions. Presiding over the ceremony is Yi, an eccentric Taoist priest and hobbyist poet, and his multifaceted girlfriend who works as a professional mourner, karaoke singer and all around charmer. The script is whip-smart and is able to build the characters into unique yet familiar individuals. Light and entertaining, Seven Days balances complex emotions with ironic wit into a very sweet affair of the heart.
Pinoy Sunday (2010)
Ho Wi Ding
Pinoy Sunday is a buddy film about two immigrant Filipino workers in Taiwan. With the promise of higher wages, Manuel and Dado travel far from their home as contract workers in a bicycle manufacturing plant. Manuel is the free spirit and smooth talker who worries more about chasing girls than being deported for curfew violations. Dado is a family man who left a wife and daughter back in the Philippines and is now guilt ridden about the girlfriend he has in his new home. Down on their luck and feeling low, Manuel and Dado spot an expensive abandoned sofa that symbolizes a brighter future for the two of them. The only problem is how the money-strapped duo will get the sofa back across town before their curfew. Like a hybrid 48 Hours, Pinoy Sunday tracks their mission impossible from city center to police station to river crossing. Unfortunately Manuel and Dado are sketched as caricatures and never allow the film to levitate beyond its own contrivances. As they bicker their way across town, they are scripted into corners of calculated humor. It's hard to take either of their characters seriously, even when they are being serious, and that likewise carries over to the entire film.
A simply yet poetic "observation film," Peace was commission by the DMZ Documentary Film Festival, a festival that highlights the complicated issues at the North and South Korea Demilitarized Zone. Kazuhiro's film focuses on the humanitarian work of Kashiwagi Toshio and his wife Hiroko. The couple run a non-profit to help the elderly and disabled who do not have the ability to drive. The people they visit, help and just spend time with are those cast aside with little or no support system left. There kind-hearted endeavors carry over to the gang of motley cats that take refuge in their backyard. Also unwanted by the majority of society, the cats become an allegory for the disabled and the infirmed. Kazuhiro's gentle portrait finds a simple power in humanity and kindness - an onscreen rarity.
The Sleeping Beauty (2010)
Coming at this film with only a Walt Disney knowledge of the fairy tell "Sleeping Beauty" is not going to help anyone. Catherine Breillat tackles her second fairy tale in so many years with surreal and abstract panache. And while the origins of Bluebeard's sinisterness is obvious, The Sleeping Beauty's is buried within Charles Perrault's original from 1697 as well as other adaptations that followed. But even full knowledge of these texts may not help navigate Breillat's obscure intentions with this lavishly detailed but highly digressive adaptation. Much like the original, a young princess is cursed at birth to fall into a deep sleep that will last 100 years. But here is where the film splits with the text as Breillat freely improvises a surreal world that feels merely inspired by the fairy tale. Anastasia, as the princess is named here, spends much of the film wandering a dreamworld that she enters after impaling (not pricking) her hand. The Sleeping Beauty is full of the most striking images that resonate and leave an impression: vultures perched in a tree with a slate-grey sky; they young girl riding a deer in a pink outfit through a snowy landscape; the ogre covered in boils who challenges the young girl. Unfortunately the narrative details become as confounding and tedious as the ambiguous logic behind this loosely woven story. Fairy tales, and their perverse subtexts, seem perfect for Breillat's keen eye for social and sexual politics, but this one is far too drawn out and elusive, even for this fan.
Fortune Teller (2009)
Armed with an HD camera, Xu Tong has made one of the bravest documentaries I have ever seen. Brave, not so much because of the risk or the strength it took to make Fortune Teller, but brave because the importance of the subject matter is placed ahead of the importance of the audience. Xu Tong takes a long look (2 1/2 hours) at Li Baicheng, a traditional Chinese fortune teller, and his wife Pearl Shi. Both are physically disabled and int their 60s, and Pearl is also mentally disabled. The couple, and most the people they come in contact with, represent the fringes of the fringes of Chinese society. Its a completely engrossing examination that is as rewarding as it is painful. I was completely galvanized. (This is an international premiere for Fortune Teller and I plan on spending some time on a full review.)