Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jason goes to Asianfest--Day 6

Two more movies last night, starting with the latest by Royston Tan, who was described as "the bad boy of Singaporean cinema." I am actually not that familiar with his work, but the festival is doing a tribute to him and retrospective of his work. However, I think this is the only one of his films I fit into my schedule.

OLD ROMANCES is a sequel to his documentary OLD PLACES (he revealed he has been approached to make a third, that he might call OLD FRIENDS.) It's a simple concept--about 45 different places in Singapore that are under threat of being destroyed (actually, about half have been destroyed by now to make way for new construction.) Restaurants, hospitals, train stations, etc. that are being kicked out with the old to make way for the new. And to accompany the view of the places, voice-overs by people who have loved these places. Maybe it's where someone fell in love. Or where met friends for years. Or where they worked. Anywhere people made memories that will last far beyond the building's physical existence. It can't help make me think back on the places I've loved and missed. There was a little burrito shop near my old work that went out of business rather suddenly. Or then there's the Red Vic, that closed recently. Or many other movie houses in the Bay Area that have closed or are in danger of closing. Or the house at my alma mater that I hear isn't in danger of actual physical destruction, but will soon irrevocably change in character. Or places that I'd be heartbroken if they disappeared, like the Roxie, or the Niles Film Museum, or the Castro, or the Stanford, or...hey, I'm noticing a theme. Anyway, the movie isn't a diatribe, more of a loving reminder that every place that gets torn down has or had people who loved it, just the same as your favorite places.

And then I ended the night with JISEUL, a visual poem on the absurdity of war. I had known nothing about the 1948 Jeju Massacre, but apparently the occupying American forces issued a "shoot to kill" order on anyone within a 5 km border of the peninsula, on the assumption that those who didn't leave were communist infiltrators. In this movie, a small group of villagers (representative of the ~120 in the true event it's based on) hole up in a cave hiding from the army. There's no politics here, just a will to survive. And what they first thought would be a couple of days drags on for two months. Starvation, fear, death. But it's shot with a black-and-white elegance and beauty that conflicts with the gritty subject matter. And the soldiers hunting them...well they're absurd nearly to the point of slapstick. Somehow neither villainized nor humanized, just absurd. A scene where an officer makes a soldier strip and stand naked in the snow for a long time because he hasn't caught any commies is kind of funny. Then it actually gets more absurd when the commanding officer intervenes and smacks the lower officer around telling him not to worry so much  and that there are plenty of commies out there to kill. And then there are just beautifully sad scenes, of course. And really, it's beauty that is the dominant theme here, even more than the absurdity of war. Which, in itself, is pretty absurd for a movie about civilians trapped and hunted in a war.

Total Running Time: 185 minutes
My Total Minutes: 322,514

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