Sawasdee Bangkok (Wisit Sasanatieng, Aditya Assarat, Kongdej Jaturanrasmee, Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Thailand, 2009)
A great four-film anthology about the city of Bangkok, each one built around a song. In Wisit Sasanatieng’s “Sightseeing,” a blind homeless girl selling lottery tickets on the street is accompanied by a mysterious companion who claims to be a literal guardian angel. In Aditya Assarat’s “Bangkok Blues,” a young man, who has broken up with his girlfriend, and his soundman best friend are the crux of an amusing tale about relationships. Kongdej Jaturanrasmee’s “Pi Makham,” about a heartbroken, solitary man and the prostitute he picks up, morphs into an unusual ghost story. In Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s “Silence,” a woman driving home after a wild night of partying learns a painful lesson on the perils of judging by appearance. Four appealing miniatures from four of Thailand’s most accomplished young directors.
Break Away (Lee Song Hee-il, South Korea, 2009)
The second film from Lee Song, one of Korea’s very few openly gay filmmakers, and my first disappointment. Essentially a road movie consisting of two AWOL soldiers and the girlfriend of one of the men who accompanies them, the film has a thin, undeveloped scenario. It is based on a true story of soldiers who attempted to escape sexual abuse of the hands of their commanding officer. There’s really not much more to it than the above description, and Break Away is strangely inert, lacking the intensely passionate nature of his first film, No Regret.
I Am Looking For A Wife (Ha Kil-chong, South Korea, 1976)
I Am Looking For A Wife is a typically weird entry in this year’s retrospective of filmmaker and critic Ha Kil-chong. It’s not a particularly good film, but it is a divertingly eccentric portrait of Pal-soo (Ha Jae-young), a horny young man who strolls around the streets outside Ewha Womans University in Seoul ogling the college girls and fantasizing about being with them. He works as a debt collector for a loan-shark, and through his boss’ machinations, Pal-soo ends up sharing a house with a collection of nubile young women. Meanwhile, his farmer father has arranged a more traditional bridal prospect for him, which Pal-soo assiduously resists. Presented in a bizarre visual style with anarchic humor, this film is an interesting example of the unusual films released in Korea in the 1970’s, belying this period’s undeserved reputation as a cinematic wasteland.
Magma (Pierre Vinour, France, 2009)
The second feature by experimental filmmaker Vinour extends that aesthetic into this story about Paul (Mehdi Nebbou), an agoraphobic software engineer who very reluctantly travels to a conference to pitch a video surveillance program to an American company. He speaks to his wife Christie (Natacha Régnier) by video conference, where he has installed the surveillance program in his own house. Christie feels neglected and alienated from her husband, both by his extreme workaholic ways and his various personal issues. Paul, initially restricting himself to his room, is persuaded to venture into the outside world as the result of an affair he embarks on with a mysterious woman in the hotel room next door. Employing the titular substance as a metaphor for the buried evil of the main character, Magma impressively elevates its rather standard plot with some interesting visual flourishes.