A festival the likes of Fantasia is not to be tread lightly. For a variety of evident reasons it is a behemoth of an event, lasting far longer than the vast majority of other movie festivals and offering a slew of genre features and shorts ranging from lighter fair some may deem to be mainstream to supremely hard core, provocateur material. As with any event of similar ilk, not everything showcased earns the passing grade. Quite the contrary in fact; when 150 or more motion pictures are shown to the public, at least some are guaranteed to be utter tosh if not downright risible. Swimming through the ocean of bad, decent and good movies for a three-week period will invariably result in one stumbling upon some standout efforts. Below are five that won me over easily, sometimes in rather shocking ways.
Written by Bradley and B.P. Cooper
Directed by Bradley King
Apart from a head-scratching final five minutes where one twist too many is inserted for shock value, Bradley King’s Time Lapse is a fast paced, clever effort in the time travel genre. Beyond the smartly utilized premise of a picture camera that can produce images from the future (itself not an original concept, mind you), the film strikes a great many chords for its intelligent exploration of a trio of people obsessively trying to control the future they think they must adhere to given what the fantastical machine appears to dictate. Its greatest strength is not necessarily the thrilling twists and turns but King’s clear intention to play with his characters, their ticks, their personalities under these most far-fetched of circumstances. Full review
Written by Eisuke Naito, Makoto Sasaki and Yusuke Yamada
Directed by Eisuke Naito
Several films played at this year’s event that aimed for shock value (Gun Woman being one that springs to mind) but the award, so to speak, goes to Puzzle. Whereas other pictures shocked mostly for the sake of delicious frisson, Puzzle shocks in ways to provoke the mind as much as the gut. Yes, a lot of what happens in Eisuke Naito’s picture is grotesque and borderline offensive, but it always feels steeped in some perverse form of character study, in this case of two individuals who at first are rather different from one another, only for one to slowly understand that a monster exists within her. If audiences were given a movie depicting how the Joker takes Harley Quinn under his wing, Puzzle would be a solid approximation of that film. Full review
3-Once Upon a Time in Shanghai
Written by Angela Wong
Directed by Won Ping-po
Hong Kong, 2014
Won Pin-po’s Once Upon a Time in Shanghai will never win points for originality. Fans of Hong Kong action period-pieces have seen this before, what with in China fearing a looming Japanese invasion in the years leading up to the second World War. Spies abound in a country trying to stay true to its heritage all the while embracing some lavishness carried over via Western influences. Its hero, Ma Yongzhen (Philip Ng), finds himself caught in a dangerous game by standing up to a newcomer crime lord (Andy On) and of course hoards of Japanese enemies. Why would a movie with so rote a plot be one’s 3rd favourite film of the festival? For one, the two leads (Ng and On) are extremely charismatic and funny, both when enemies and once they become close friends. Second, and even more importantly, the action comes courtesy of the tireless Yuen Woo-ping, a living legend in the martial arts movie world. At age 69, his work continues to live up to said legend as the fight scenes are simply out of the world. Even seasoned fans will have their socks knocked off.
Written and directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Operating on the premise that the movie making industry is a terribly seedy business, Starry Eyes is a remarkably visceral decent into utter madness for one hapless victim whose goal in life was to become the actress she always knew she could be. Thematically Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s film is a daring portrayal of one person’s resolute desire to invest herself one-hundred percent in a profession she has always longed to practice. This steadfastness proves to be an ill omen for her closest friends whom she must be rid of is she is to devote herself entirely to the alluring limelight of movie magic. Smartly constructed, well acted and shockingly graphic, Starry Eyes is the type witty horror movie rarely witnessed in the modern day and age: it is adept at balancing stomach turning gore with intelligently written characters and themes. When one cares for the protagonists, their fates become all the more discomforting to watch unfold, discomfort being Starry Eyes’ modus operandi. Full review
Written by Cho Ui-seok
Directed by Cho Ui-seok and Kim Byung-seo
South Korea, 2013
The top dog at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival ends up being among the first to get screened. The directing duo of Ui-seok and Kim Bying-seo combine forces to bring audiences a true crowd pleaser with Cold Eyes. Everything about the film has a magical air of familiarity mixed with freshness, from the general plot of having a newcomer surveillance officer (Han Hyo-joo) find her way into a team of veterans, to the villain (Jung Woo-sung) performing elaborate heists all the while slipping between the fingers of oncoming authorities. The filmmakers consistently and effectively put the slightest of spins on each facet to make the entire production feel very special even though in the grander scheme of things there isn’t a plethora of originality on display. The film is incredibly slick for its up tempo and wisely handled editing, features engrossing character dynamics supported by smart and respectful writing and gives viewers want they want with a handful of terrific surveillance and chase sequences to get the adrenaline running. Full review
Once again, a humungous thank you to the tireless crew working at the Fantasia Film Festival to bring fans the best of genre cinema yet again. See you all in 2015!