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01 August 2009 @ 02:13 am
MIFF 2009: Mommo, Action Boys, Chocolate  
It's Film Festival time in Melbourne again. It snuck up on me as I had the flu and had felt flat about the festival by the end of last year. But the line up this year is far more interesting to me (though the Festival at a whole has been plagued by political controversies and several movies have been pulled--thankfully none that I really minded about!).

So far I've seen three movies.

Mommo
A simple, poignant tale of a Turkish brother and sister abandoned by their father. After the death of their mother, their father remarries and his new wife doesn't want the kids, who remain with an elderly grandfather. The aging grandfather can't look after them so various solutions are sought. Meanwhile, the children largely fend for themselves, with the older boy looking after and entertaining his sister. The relationship between the two is the heart of the movie, and I found it touching, but there wasn't a lot to be got out of this simple tale if you weren't up for that. The feckless father was hideously unlikeable, but there's a lovely character in the local grocery store guy who watches out for the kids and sneaks them chocolates. Fairly predictably, there's no happy ending in this tale. The cinematography was simple but striking, and overall I enjoyed it though it's not one I'd watch again.

Action Boys
Oh, man! I LOVED this. Korean documentary by and about stuntmen working in the Korean movie industry. Quirky narration and absolutely hysterical. I don't think the movie went over very well at the festival. I felt like I was the only one laughing in the whole cinema. But it was so funny! Basically it follows the stories of five guys that get into an elite stunt training school in Korea in order to try and break into the big industry of action and martial-arts based flicks and TV there. I do think the fact that I watch and enjoy a lot of Korean movies was a big help, as I would be squeeing when they mentioned what they were working on (e.g. 'The Host'/'The Good, The Bad and the Ugly') or who they doubled for. This was very much an insider look as it was made by one of the stunt guys in question and narrated by his girlfriend. The guys themselves are the focus, not the stunts, but I found it therefore built to a really moving place about them. I was quite happy for it to be just lightweight but by the end it was also really touching!

Things I took away from it:
- People that are attracted to stunt work are crazy. Some of the most hysterical sequences were from the audition tapes for the stunt school--which itself seemed crazy in that its selection criteria were pretty much 'if we like you'. In Australian terms, it seemed like they were mainly concerned with keeping out wankers. This made for a hilarious exposition on who got in (e.g. a dude with a weird stare and a 'unique way of looking at life') and who didn't (e.g. a martial artist who meditated for five minutes at the start of his audition, and an aerobics instructor with a cheesy smile).
- It is unbelievably hard to get a break into the industry but even harder to stay there. Out of a year level of 32, by the end of the documentary only one is still in regular work (though he seemed to be really big--the go-to guy for car crashes). They do, however, find other paths. Even if that path is to become a power ranger in a live-action stage show. ;)
- Stuntmen have a really short life. This is brought home tragically by the death of stunt choreographer Doo-Hong Jung during the filming of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. His death shakes everyone--especially as he was a really influential figure in establishing the Korean, rough realistic style of martial arts work.
- Being a stunt guy is lonely. The insane hours, being at the beck and call of directors, being an obsessive-compulsive, it all adds up... (one guy tells how he ignored his phone ringing 30 times while he was shooting only to find out afterwards it was because his father had passed away).
- It's every bit as hardcore as you would expect. Friends tell of the stunt guys being 'more often in hospital than at home', and there is a hilarious sequence where someone who was temporarily paralysed and bed-ridden is visited by a sequence of bandaged and broken co-workers.
- There's no glory. Good stunt guys are invisible. It's all about the actors. It sounds obvious, but seeing it from the inside out is interesting--I didn't find their occasionally voiced anger with the actors (e.g. at an actor delaying shooting for hours, or an actor's bruise stopping shooting for an hour, where concussion of a stunt guy didn't warrant a ten minute break) surprising. I found their TOLERANCE surprising! I would be really really shitty.
- They're film nerds themselves. The narration style is really snarky and sarcastic but it's got some cute sequences at the start explaining that they had OD'd on martial arts flicks. This comes together in a film they shoot themselves purely to show off their stunt work (bits of it are shown in the doco). Also (and I found this really interesting!) they have to know basic film editing! They showed them editing (timelines and all!) in the doco! And explained how this often leads into stunt guys moving into being the stunt choreographers. (Aha!) And how they know about what shots to get and why. Cool!
- They massively underestimate their own awesome. There is a beautiful sequence at the end where the guys get invited to a girls high school to give a presentation to the final year students. They have no idea what to say so instead decide to show a small film and stage some actual stunts. The result is a frenzy of enthusiasm from the girls, who are blown away by how talented the guys are and are glamoured by how close they work to the big name actors. (It's funny that the guys themelves don't seem to expect this, even though they're glamoured themselves (in a non-sexual way) by the industry.) Suddenly they are the stars, the (normally unsung) 'action heroes', and seeing them shift into thinking of themselves that way, however briefly, was really adorable. They're used to being so humble, so apologetic if they're not anything but perfect (even at the expense of their own bodies).

At the end of this movie I found myself really heart-warmed about them. I fangirl them! As a martial arts nerd, I'm definitely interested in the guys that actually make the stunts work. But unlike the high school girls, I also related to them and could see that they are actually all quirky, lonely nut-jobs. It's kind of like... geek boys with really really kickass martial arts skills, but no better social or life skills than the most reclusive nerds. And therefore there was some interesting subtext about perceptions of masculinity and machismo and the unforgivingly looks-centric film industry. It was, for instance, surprisingly jarring to see a really ordinary looking guy pull up his shirt to reveal perfect abs (indeed they stand in for many a big star's!). The film industry sells us an 'all or nothing' illusion. Some of the stunt guys were very attractive but didn't have the personality or acting skills to be actors. More than that, they weren't interested in it--being attracted to the hardcore actual stunt work. Mmph, I'm rambling. But it was really interesting material to me!

Unexpectedly adorable moment: one guy's four year old niece watching his movies on camera and unerringly seeing her uncle in them (even when adults couldn't spot him) and crying 'uncle, don't die!'

Plus the snarky narrator chick was FTW.

Chocolate
Thai martial arts flick about a chocolate-scoffing autistic girl kicking a whole lot of gangster ass to pay for her mother's chemotherapy. SO MUCH LOVE. Ok, before I squee, let me be clear up front: this has very D-grade production value. Do not expect a slick even B-grade quality movie if you end up seeing this. The cinematography was disconcertingly erratic (random colour changes, grainy, etc), but honestly, if you can look past that--and the horrible acting--it was fab. So I guess this is one for the 'bad movie' fans.

That said, it really had 'something'. Firstly I loved the whole autistic girl martial-arts hero premise. I mean, just look at her: http://www.imdb.com/media/rm403606016/tt1183252
Is she not fab? She ran around in those pjs the entire movie and was completely not in any way sexualised. That's BLOODY REFRESHING. This was a pure martial arts flick in the old-school sense. The intro that sets up the premise (she's the daughter of two gangsters, her mother left that world when she fell pregnant) is really clunky, laughably so. Think early Bruce Lee in terms of the level of dialogue.

The movie really takes off when Zen starts to pick up on sounds as a young child, becomes phobic of flies because she can't track their movement the same way she can a ball (she has super-fast reflexes) and starts bashing posts with her legs because she and her mother live at the back of a muai thai training hall and she watches the guys train. Oh, and chocolate calms her down. ;)

Yup, it's far-fetched. It's completely not PC. The final 'boss' fighter is an epileptic boxer! With the character name 'Epileptic Boxer' no less! So the last fight is a 'special needs' showdown (can you see that getting made in the West?!), but man is it good fun...

Zen's mum gets cancer, she's looked after by a friend who doesn't know her mother's background but who finds a book detailing people that owed her money, so they off to see if they can get it back... predictably they get beat on, until the point where Zen clicks (in an unexpected animation sequence) that she can kick their butts.

Then the fight sequences come in and they are GREAT. The lead girl has fantastic presence as a fighter while sticking in character, and there are lots of great set pieces--in an ice factory, a meat factory, a dojo and finally on scaffolding. Personal favourite for me was seeing her fight at a crouch under some pipes. She takes advantage of her tiny size to slip under there and still whips out elbows and legs to eliminate opponents. Cute!

Fave martial-arts humour moment: her dad rocks up (from Japan) when he learns the plight of mother and daughter and walks into the dojo where Zen's been beating on the local gangsters. Instantly 30 minions reach for their swords! (Dad being the big gangster, and all all!) You think 'ahh, here comes Dad's big sequence'. And then... he whips a gun and shoots 'em. HEE. Such a nice little in-joke on the way weaponry is always conveniently controlled--guns versus guns, swords versus swords. That said, Dad still needs Zen to kick ass for him--he gets knocked down and she takes over again. I can think of hardly any action flicks that allow their female start to remain totally uneclipsed by any men in any way. Her central relationship is with her mum, so she's not even exploitable emotionally (thanks too to the convenient autism). Bless!

Plus she's powered by CHOCOLATE! :D :D :D

If I was a film director I would SERIOUSLY LOVE to remake this film. It was such a fantastic straight up martial arts premise--such that you don't see so much any more, but had so much room for humour and touching moments as well.
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(no subject) - bloodygoodgirl on August 1st, 2009 03:54 am (UTC) (Expand)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Blair yelloqbop_radar on August 1st, 2009 07:06 am (UTC)
I think it's been doing the film festival circuit, isn't out on DVD yet. It's definitely very cool. I mean, check out this dude from it...
http://www.koreanmovie.com/Action_Boys_pmovie_photo_69883_635/