TIFF Dispatch: Asian Extremes and Extremities

12 September, 2013 0 comment

Intruders (Noh Young-seok)

A bounty of intense genre films has splattered across the festival’s various sections. In the mix this year: sexual violence (Kim Ki-duk’s Moebius & Matsumoto Hitoshi’s R100); madness and murder (Yeon Sang-ho’s The Fake, Noh Young-seok’s Intruders & Chung Mong-hong’s Soul); monsters and demons (Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s Real, Juno Mak’s Rigor Mortis & Brillante Mendoza’s Sapi); and yakuza showdowns (Sono Sion’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell?). To cap it off, who could have seen Jia Zhangke stripping his art house sensibilities for a dip in the cool genre waters with his raging actioner A Touch of Sin?

Asian cinema is diverse, but its hip public image is obsessed with perversity, where the smell of violently drawn blood is always in the air. In Western consumer markets, ‘Asian Extreme’ is the branding used to describe this niche, although recent trends at major film festivals (including Toronto’s selection over the years) suggest this taste is more mainstream. With its popular motif of vengeance, South Korean cinema dominates this field with its thrillers and is rivalled in reception only by genre mainstays from Japan and Thailand. Little surprise then that this year’s best genre films have been from South Korea.

Noh Young-seok’s Intruders (pictured above)—his second feature after his acclaimed indie drama Daytime Drinking (2008)—is a riveting yarn that recalls the best winter mayhem thrillers around. A guileless young writer retreats to a mountain pension to work in solitude, but is thwarted at all turns by thuggish strangers who prey on his kindness. Once the first body appears, paranoia flows freely among everyone for relations to snowball toward calamity. Although there’s some needless narrative clutter and political hints, Noh has laced his plot with just enough dark humour to ensure an entertaining ride.

Moebius (Kim Ki-duk)

With Moebius, Kim Ki-duk has made a family film that most families won’t be seeing. Far from the charges of misogyny levelled at many of his works, Kim’s laconic nineteenth feature feels like a fantasy parable enacted against Korean society’s rigid patriarchy. Here’s a cinematic story of the breakdown of a nuclear family, where a deranged mother severs her teenaged son’s penis to spite her cheating husband. But it’s the effect of the boy’s humiliation compounded by his father’s guilt that sends this story spinning cleverly on its head.

Earlier this summer, South Korea’s censors demanded cuts to Moebius to guarantee a theatrical release. The irony of sterilizing a film about emasculation was plainly lost on them. While Kim’s maverick reputation has been forged with a heady mix of applause and attack, he has lately cast himself as an oppressed artist railing against the rot in South Korean society—notably in his smart quasi-autobiography Arirang (2011). Kim’s films are divisive, but while his critics won’t be convinced he’s a master filmmaker, they will continue to watch.

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