It's been a real pleasure previewing the films on offer at this years Firecracker Showcase and movies like Pattaya Maniac are one of the reasons why.
Thai cinema has been sadly overshadowed until very recently with a few runaway arthouse hits, but with a little luck more films like this slacker comedy will make a western audience hungry for more of the same. It's a hard film to describe, featuring as it does a rogues gallery of characters, all seemingly addicted to karaoke. The film centres around the friendship of Tun and Somchai Kemglad (an actor and pop star in Thailand), one an amulet expert, the other a DVD pirate who makes (and loses) most of his money betting on Manchester United. Kemglad’s money woes come into direct conflict not only with the local bookmakers but his friend's love life after he falls for the last girl on earth that he should in the form of the gorgeous Nok. Hilarity follows as the two men try their best to help each other out resulting in a couple of kidnappings, a run in with armed transsexuals, a diminutive deadly hit-woman and the most over the top karaoke set pieces Londonist has ever had the pleasure to laugh and bob along with.
The shooting style is in turn frantic and restrained depending on who is punching who or what super soft Thai pop song is being crooned by which inexplicably dressed gangster. Add a horny kidnapped schoolgirl, a severed finger and a 'hero' with a love for bad taste heavy metal karaoke and you're in for quite a time at the Genesis Whitechapel this evening. The film starts at 7pm but shows again on the 15th at the Curzon Soho.
After the jump we'll bring you our tips for a Firecracking weekend of gangsters, ghosts, sheep, samurai and soldiers.
The kind of story that made Hong Kong cinema so involving back in the early 90's Green Fish kicks down a lot of the same doors as A Moment of Romance or As Tears Go By. After being discharged from the army Moon Sung-keun returns home to find the place redeveloped and his family falling apart and at odds with each other. He sets about making enough money to realise his dream of bringing his brothers and sister back into line by setting up a family run restaurant. Before he even arrives home his head has been turned by one of those beautiful girls that always spell trouble - a nightclub singer involved with a Seoul mobster. After proving his worth (but failing to learn a lesson from being kicked about the head every time he crosses the girl's path) he begins to be drawn deeper into the underworld that she inhabits with tragic results.
Funny and violent, but with a real emotional punch Green Fish is an excellent introduction to Korean cinema for those wanting to catch up on the classics that have been overlooked by UK distributors until now. It plays tonight at 6.30 at the Curzon Mayfair.
Two Great Sheep
Far removed from the rest of the weekend's festival highlights is this heart warming yet satirical tale of rural China. Where last night's opener Nuan settled itself in the lush rich landscapes of Yellow Mountain, Two Great Sheep is set in the windswept and rather desolate Chinese plains. Life is tough for farmer Deshan, but it's about to get a lot tougher when he suddenly finds himself responsible for two expensive 'foreign' sheep on which the hopes of the entire village rest. As the community becomes jealous of his 'good fortune' the unlucky Deshan struggles to keep the sheep happy - first moving them inside his home and offering them his jacket when the wind picks up, but later charged with ensuring that the sheep produce offspring resulting in visits to drunken vets, coercing doctors, finding sheep aphrodisiacs, becoming a local celebrity when the press get hold of the story and a LOT of running from village to town and back again.
Another film that will not immediately drag the punters in perhaps but it's such a touching movie and quite unlike anything else that you're likely to see in London this year we hope it finds the audience it deserves. You can see tomorrow at 4.30pm at the Curzon Mayfair and again on the 16th at the Genesis Whitechapel.
A samurai movie with real heart. This isn't a Kurosawa epic nor a 'Baby-Cart' style Tarantino bloodfest - instead it's the closest thing that Japan has to a period drama to rival that crapbucket Pride and Prejudice due to smear itself over London screens. It's a slow burn of a movie following the romance between a low caste samurai (Masatoshi Nagase) and his maid, still too low on the social ladder for their relationship to be anything ever more than that of master and servant. Set in an era when Western thinking was beginning to erode the samurai culture there's plenty going on here beside the romance as the protagonist comes to grips with modern warfare (some of the film's standout funny moments) and deal with the far reaching effects of his friend's rebel nature. The script is a combination of Shuhei Fujisawa's stories and provides a thoroughly realistic setting with brilliant attention to period detail.
The whole thing builds up to a perfect finish featuring a bout of sword play all the more pleasing because of what's at stake and the final revelation of what the hidden blade of the title exactly is. If you were a fan of Yoji Yamada's previous Twilight Samurai then you know what to expect here, but everything is raised to a slightly higher level - especially in the acting stakes as the the principals are pushed together by circumstances that demand they be pulled apart. Simply brilliant. See it tomorrow at 8.30 at the Genesis Whitechapel.
Billed as China's first ever thriller this has a lot of horror overtones as a Hitchcock like plot develops visually into something like a cross between David Lynch and Jacob's Ladder. Moving away from the recent successful formula of Japanese and Korean horrorfests like Ringu and The Eye, Suffocation builds up a not-surprising atmosphere of claustrophobia as a husband begins to see the missing wife that he may or may not have killed. A film that actually makes cello cases creepy with an emphasis on aural shocks as well as ghostly CCTV footage and morgue gurneys. Perhaps ultimately it's a little guilty of style over substance, but as a chance to see a first-time director make his mark it's well recommended. Tomorrow night at the Curzon Soho at 9pm and again on Monday at 9pm at the Genesis Whitechapel.
The makers of Hidden Blade definitely didn't have this time twisting action romp in mind when it came to make their own movie but interestingly it has just been (sort of) remade in Japan. This is something of a classic in the Londonist office. For years (until DVD saved us) the only copy we had of this film was one that was spliced together from two slightly different edited and horribly dubbed copies that deteriorated each time we loaded up the dusty VCR. Now we all have a chance to see it on the big screen and we couldn't be more excited. Sonny Chiba (a legend) plays the commander of a territorial army unit that is slapped back in time along with a tank, a helicopter and enough firepower to give the local Samurai warlords a run for their money. As Chiba becomes more embroiled in the nature of Samurai honour so too do the feudal lords become mesmerised by machine guns and the flying metal 'dragon'. We're not talking Kurosawa here but we are talking arrows through the necks and face offs between M-16s and dotanuki swords. Bring it on. If that wasn't enough it's part of a Sonny Chiba triple bill showing with The Killing Machine and Gologo 13 on Sunday at noon at the Curzon Soho.
Other films we'd point you towards but don't have room to get into detail with are Howl's Moving Castle ( the no introduction necessary follow up to Spirited Away from Studio Ghibli), the revenge driven Samaritan Girl, Scorsese riffed Perth and the Johnnie To double bill of Running out of Time I & II along with a few others. All details can be found right here on the Firecracker website along with what you've got to look forward to next week.