Although the festival has always had a strong Asian content, the influence of guest programmer Roger Garcia, late of the Hong Kong Film Festival, has brought a reassuringly strong mix of Asian films this year. Genuinely interesting works fight alongside silly-ass bullet ballets for your good money.
You could say that most Asian films are about the nobility of futile struggle, and my favorite, the grand Korean epic Musa the Warrior, emblematizes this in the best CinemaScope tradition. In coherence if not in sound quality, Wang Guangli's second feature, Go for Broke, is an improvement over his 1998 Maiden Work, as it turns from the latter's Beijing slackers to laid-off state workers who start a private remodeling business against the sci-fi skyline of Shanghai. The six principals play their nonfiction selves as if to add one more commandment to the Dogme tablets, and the result is so authentic and so heartening that the line between documentary and drama is erased. The briefer-titled Go, which took No. 1 in Japan's Kinema Junpomagazine's Best Ten for 2001, is important simply for dealing with being second-generation Korean in Japan, but it ultimately wimps out by treating its hero's status as a badge of cool.
For silliness taken to extremes, Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai's Fulltime Killer is a Japanese vs. Chinese hit-man saga starring Andy Lau as a jealous, epileptic, Clinton-masked exhibitionist who won't settle for less than a gold medal in murder. The two competing assassins bounce around every conceivable Asian capital as it slowly dawns on a dim young woman that she loves both hit men -- but can she keep them from killing each other? Japanese tales of hit-man hegemony include the too-prolific Miike Takashi's Ichi the Killer, which uses imaginatively gruesome means of clearing a room of living beings.
The materialistic desires of an implausibly sweet Bangkok whore and her drug-dealing lover in One Take Only, the festival's only Thai entry, doom them to that "one last job and we're out of here" syndrome. I'm not spoiling anything for you, since their fate is witlessly foreordained. Another entry brain-dead on arrival is The Princess Blade, a live-action story (based on a manga) set in a future North Koreanized Japan, where a lethal young princess avenges her noble mother against a power-hungry group of government collaborators. The sword-fighting scenes (choreographed by Blade II's Donnie Yen) are great fun when you can't see the obvious male doubling of the princess' stunts, but the action is halted midfilm by a simpering romance from an alien genre.
Subtler films reward patience (and maybe a little coffee). The 40-ish couple in Ann Hui's July Rhapsody haltingly attempts to make up for an old decision that now threatens their marriage. As for more obvious bids for your tears and money, the Korean Failan can't seem to decide whether to make you cry for its love story or exasperate you for the record number of beatings inflicted upon its unkempt thug hero. The latest Zhang Yimou, Happy Times, is definitely worth seeing for its ensemble engaged in fanatical endeavor, and a hilarious gag involving a massage table.
Musa the Warrior: Wednesday, April 24, 4:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Friday, April 26, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Go for Broke: Thursday, April 25, 6:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 28, 1:15 p.m., Park
Go: Tuesday, April 30, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, May 2, 9:15 p.m., PFA
Fulltime Killer: Saturday, April 27, 2 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 28, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Ichi the Killer: Friday, April 26, 4:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki
One Take Only: Tuesday, April 30, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, May 2, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki
The Princess Blade: Friday, April 26, midnight, AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 29, 9:15 p.m., Park
July Rhapsody: Friday, April 26, 7:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 29, 3:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Failan: Sunday, April 28, 6:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 29, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Happy Times: Saturday, April 27, 6 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 28, 12:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki
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