Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Fan: A Boy Goes on a Journey

THE FAN -- So...this happened: A Boy Goes on a Journey
By Carole McDonnell

Hello, all:

One of the chief joys of journeys is the joy of simply zoning out from one’s own mind and entering into the swiftly (or slowly) moving passing present. The joy of being in the happening, especially if the happening is new, emotionally involving, and promises a fulfilling destination. Here now are the latest fan journeys from the Fan, a collection of squees definitely come from a fan girl’s heart.

Train to Busan, Korean, 2016, horror-thriller.  Directed by Yeon Sang-ho, Produced by Lee Dong-ha, Written by Park Joo-suk; Starring Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok running time: 2 hours.

The first thing you oughta know is that Korean films and TV shows are very spiritual. Even films that are revenge thrillers are bound to have a redemption arc or two. You can’t escape it. The second thing you ought to know is that this is a film about a zombie outbreak on a bullet train. A sudden zombie outbreak. I say this because your typical American film about an outbreak of zombieism tends to concern itself with the day after. In Train to Busan, the survivors are suddenly overwhelmed by sudden disaster. Maybe it’s the effect of living in the fearful shadow of North Korea but the film gives off a great siege mentality, sudden psychic trauma vibe.

So, our story begins with Fund Manager, Seok Woo who pretty much represents greed and selfishness. Korean films, of late have been way concerned with greed and greediness. Seok Woo has plans for himself and his daughter Su-An. They end up on a train with Sang-hwa and his wife Sung-kyung, who is pregnant, two older women who are sisters, a rich guy, a high school baseball team, two lovers, and a mysterious homeless man. These folks all represent different levels and permutations of selfishness, altruism, and self-sacrifice. And then, the zombie rage and neck-biting begins.

And the munchies have not only affected zombies on the train, but it’s all over. Why? You may ask. Well, pay attention to the first ten or so minutes and you’ll get an idea of why things in Seoul and the rest of Korea have come to such a pass. (I can’t say anymore; I only write spoilers when there is absolutely no chance you’ll be watching a film.) So..upshot? The train can’t just stop anywhere. Coz, ya know: zombie roamers, zombie rioting. And right now the only place that seems safe is Busan, the other big city in Korea. (Oh yes, something else about Busan that we Korean dramaphiles know: Busan is a bit like the anti-Seoul..and often equated with country folks and the working class but also with gangsters. So much so that gangsters from all over Korea routinely train themselves to speak in a Busan accent. But who is the real lowlife? The sophisticated Seoulite or the working class guy? Who is the better person? And who is the useless person? Does money truly make the man?

Of course part of the fun of a horror movie is seeing the different kinds of kills and wondering if your favorite characters will make it. I won’t tell you who all makes it to the end, but I’ll warn you that since this is a Korean movie and Korean directors love devastating viewers, it’s best you don’t get too attached to most of our main characters. Just saying: Korean women seem to like crying. So, yeah, there’s that.

Let me tell you, Dear Reader and Cinema-phile, this is a great two-hour thrill-ride popcorn flick. (There’s an animated sequel called Seoul Survivors which I didn’t get a chance to watch which is probably just as much fun...and more so because, yeah...animation. Animated bodies in horror can do mega-more interesting stuff. Yeah, I really should find that film and watch it as well.)

We have redemption arc, we have guilt, we have bromance, we have moral and immoral decisions, bonds broken and made, we have unexpected deaths (okay, they’re only unexpected if you don’t know Korean thrillers, and the last two minutes of the film really had me wondering if nihilism or optimism would triumph. I won’t tell you what wins.) There are two villains, one more overtly villainous than the other. Incredibly nasty-villain comes to an appropriately nasty ending, and not-so-overtly-nasty villain has his moment of redemption. And yes, we have zombies on a train.

What I liked about this flick -- other than being able to see a couple of my fave actors in Korea’s first zombie flick-- is the simple but great worldbuilding. We need to understand only a couple of facts about zombie life and our main characters. Once the audience understands how your typical zombie behaves under certain situations and who is selfish and altruistic, we’re off and running. And yes...I do mean “running.” Because not only are the survivors running but this is one extremely fast-paced flick. Highly recommended.

Kubo and the Two Strings -- Written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler. Directed by Travis Knight. Produced by Laika Studios, 102 minutes, United States, August 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings is a stop-action animation film with one of the most engaging characters I’ve seen in a while. To begin with, he is a very loving and caring child….with one eye. What a sweetie! I can’t remember the last time I saw a film about a loving, caring, little boy. I know this might seem like a strange reason to love a movie but think of it...we don’t see care-giving little boys in films nowadays where caregiving is the child’s major role. And we certainly don’t see it in animated films. Of course the typical hero of old is often selfless, filial, and noble, but he’s usually busy on his hero’s journey; his caring qualities is part of his subtext and only arise when he needs those weaker than himself.

But not Kubo. Kubo’s sole, selfless, purpose in life is to care for his mother -- a mother who is not entirely emotionally-present….unlike the totally absent-but-perfectly-healthy doting moms in the typical fairytale or Disney films.  That alone makes Kubo unique. He’s a sweet kid and we simply love being with him on his journey. And what a sweet, lovely, magical journey it is! This is a beautiful, fanciful story. And “fanciful” is always fun.

The Poet Emily Dickinson wrote, “A poem should not mean, but be.” Sometimes being and mere experience are all that’s needed; meaning can be unnecessary --or worse-- an intrusion. Kubo and the Two Strings is a storytelling experience about stories. Or maybe it’s about journeys. Or maybe it’s about memories. But, wonderful little film that it is, it would probably have excelled to awesomeness if the screenwriter had not tried to wrestle meaning into it. I have no problem with meaning. Let me be clear about that. What I have a problem with is the sudden infiltration of an attempt at meaning which feels tacked on, awkward, preachy, and over-reaching. An example: some night-time dreams are clear, others are utterly incomprehensible yet they still manage to touch the deepest part of the dreamer’s soul and make the dreamer feel as if she has touched the numinous. Kubo’s beauty comes from its characters, its matter-of-fact fantasy, its mundane otherworldliness, and its depiction of emotions as powerful as love and grief.  So, yeah, I kinda wish the storyteller had not felt the need to tie so much of his story into a neat little bow.  I suppose the “creative powers that were” felt that a good children’s story should have its meaning stated explicitly. I’m not sure, though, that meaning --explicitly stated or otherwise-- is all that necessary. Kids tend to be more interested in characters...and their journeys..than they are in the meaning. One of my favorite stories, The Day Boy and the Night Girl by George MacDonald, is downright inscrutable. But it haunts me still….But “still” Kubo is haunting in its own way. Just not as haunting as it should be.

Now, We’re Alive (Et Maintenant, nous sommes en vie)  2014, French, Thibault Arbre (Writer, Director, Producer).  Giles Daoust, Producer. Amazon Prime.

I happened upon this movie either by sheer luck or by trained intuition. Give me a film synopsis, and I can pretty much tell (most of the time) what I’m in for. Well, imagine my surprise when I found myself being flummoxed as I watched this little French spec-fic indie. Like all my fave films, it’s a slow burn and folks will either love it or hate it. I loved it. Why? You may ask.

Because it’s a great example of a writer taking a speculative premise and running through its various ramifications. When the story begins, we are presented with Tom. Tom is twenty-five and as tradition dictates, he must find his wife. Or, rather, the voice of his soul. This is done by being blindfolded and placed in a room and listening to women (also born on the same day he was, fifteen years ago) speak. The voice of his soul, his true wife, will captivate him and he will know who he is to marry. He will, after that, go in search for her.

So, Tom does all this. He even has visions of the woman’s face. But, woe betide, he cannot find her and when a woman presents herself as the voice he has heard, he simply does not connect with her. This is seriously bad, culturally and familially speaking. An affront to sensible people, an offense to his father and to the girl’s family. But alas, Tom has to soldier on.

But he doesn’t necessarily do that. He becomes more and more attached to the vision of the woman --named Jeanne, perhaps-- whom he knows is the true voice of his soul. All the while, he ignores, sweet patient Lea. Question is: Is Jeanne a figment of his imagination? Is she some inner aspect of Lea? Is the tradition right or wrong? Should Tom just give up on his ideal and accept the woman in his bed? Is there such a thing as the perfect true love...or not?

I loved this movie. Why? Because Tom is so obsessive and so sure and I love an obsessed hero who believes in that one personal truth that no one else believes.

41, Director Glenn Triggs, Writer: Glenn Triggs, Science fiction, UK, 2012

So, there I was trying to resist my love of time travel movies. (For your benefit, Dear Reader.)  Then this film caught my attention. Nay, I dare say it jumped out at me. From my youtube screen. Let me add that for some strange cosmic reason there are a heck of a lot of movies out there with the title 41. So if you go searching for this flick, look for the indie-looking one made in 2012.

If you like indie scifi films, this might be up your alley as well. I suppose I should say --off-handedly-- that it is a bit like Primer. Bur seriously, what indie time travel film isn’t like Primer?  

Our story begins with Hayden in his philosophy class listening to the lecture ask those deep questions hip philosophy teachers always ask at the beginning of indie flicks. Our premise subtly (or not so subtly) placed before us, we next see Hayden meeting himself. He warns himself not to go to a certain motel and not to go to room 41. But, do I even need to say that he ends up there? Of course not. People never heed the advice given to them by their time-travelling selves. Turns out there is a hole in the floor of a certain hotel room which leads to “the day before.” The next thing we know, Hayden’s ex-girlfriend --whom he bumped into at the motel he wasn’t supposed to go to-- ends up dead. Problematical. One: because the cops blame him for it. And two: because try as he might to prevent the death, his former girlfriend always ends up dead and he ends up with various versions of himself. What to do? What to do?

Ya know...ya know...this was a fun movie. Hayden’s repeated attempts to repair yesterday of course lead him to the answer to the life-question posed by hip-trendy professor. But it’s not the life question that mattered for me, it was the journey and the people Hayden met along the way.

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