Fantastic Fest Day Six: The Asian Cinema Trifecta

With a very sore shoulder from firing round after round from automatic weapons, Day Six began slowly. After just a few hours of lugging and firing those things, I can't imagine what it's like toting around tons of gear, a flak jacket, and still being coherent over in Iraq or Afghanistan. Plus, we had relatively cool temperatures and even a little rain. My hat is off to our servicemen overseas.

And what better way to celebrate spent rounds of ammo than taking a cinematic tour through the Orient?

We visited Korea, South Korea, and China all in one day, complete with an Asian feast to top the journey off. The Asian Odyssey meant missing Secret Screening #4, but it was worth it. Especially the "all you could drink" wine and champagne selection. Am I easily swayed by free food and drink? Yes.


This Korean period piece feels like a Sherlock Holmes detective story that just happens to be set in another country with a couple of different players. Set in 1910, Jin-ho is a low-rent private eye who specializes in finding cheating wives. He's trying to save up enough money to buy a cruise ticket to America, where he's sure there must be tons of cheating spouses. Enter medical student Gwang Su, who has just been told he needs to start studying human bodies instead of animals. When he finds a dead body in the woods, he thinks it's his lucky day. However, when the body turns out to be the missing son of a local gangster, he panics. Knowing that if he's found with the body he'll be killed, he decides to hire Jin-ho to try and find the real killer so he can clear his name.

Of course the pair fall into an enormous web of connected crimes. With a detective and a doctor teaming up, you get the Sherlock Holmes angle (despite being comedic at times, Jin-ho is also a very accomplished detective), and when you add Jin-ho's love interest, who builds gadgets for him, it's almost James Bondian. Private Eye is a film I highly recommend, and Jeong-min Hwang won Best Next Wave Actor for his portrayal of Jin-ho.


South Korea gives us this story about a common thug named Sang-Hoon Kim, who makes a living roughing up people who owe his boss money, while spewing forth a stream of obscenities. By the end of the flick, you'll almost be cussing secondhand, just because you'll be so used to it by that point. He's not pleasant to anyone he meets, including high school student Yeon-hee Han. However, she shares his attitude and when they butt heads it eventually leads to an unlikely romance.

As the story unfolds, you find out that Sang-Hoon's father accidentally stabbed and killed his daughter (Sang's sister), and while Sang was rushing her to the hospital, his mother was run over by a car as she followed. His father has since served time, but Sang blames him for everything, and visits him from time to time to beat him up. As Sang-Hoon's romance blossoms with Yeon-hee, he has no idea that her rebellious older brother is now working underneath him as a thug in training, and things eventually come to a head as one gangster struggles to make a name for himself, while the other looks back on his life of brutality and wants to get out. It's extremely touching, and Yang Ik-June shines as the terrifically understated Sang-Hoon. Well worth finding and watching.


I was lucky to be invited to Tim and Karrie League's house for a Crazy Racer Feast to cap the day off, where Drafthouse executive chef John Bullington had prepared an amazing Asian feast to accompany the movie. Tables were set up in their front yard, with a massive inflatable screen dominating everything. There was a waitstaff and three courses, along with paired wine and champagne selections, and to start the screening with a bang they sliced the cork off of a bottle of champagne with a sword. Now that's style.

The movie is, as the title suggests, crazy. In fact, it's like a Chinese Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, as the story folds back on itself, jumps forward in time, and ties up multiple plot points. Geng Hao is a cyclist who wins a cycling championship by a hair, and wins an endorsement contract with a sports drink. However, he fails the post-race urine test because of the drink, and is stripped of his title. He later finds out he was set up by his rival, although he lacks the proof. When his coach later dies of a heart attack while pleading with Geng to seek justice, the story is set in motion. There's a madcap, zany collision of plots as hitmen, gangsters, drug dealers, and Geng come together, and the frenetic pace of the movie doesn't stop the entire time. It's goofball and exciting, and a perfect match for dinner.

The only downside of attending the feast was the fact that it made me miss Secret Screening #4, which turned out to be the Coen Bros. new movie A Serious Man. But that opens in Los Angeles this weekend, and I'll be heading back there on Saturday so it wasn't a complete loss. There's one more Secret Screening left, and it is literally anyone's guess as to what it might be. I'm hoping for a complete surprise, so I'm trying to tune out the rumors ... but I've heard that Dolph Lundgren is in town. If that's true, I must break him.

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