Eastern Exposure

The Cult Asian Sidebar

“I love the Cult Asian stuff,” said SBIFF program manager Cevin Cathell, who had a former life as a real film producer. “Maybe it’s because it comes out of cultures,” she said, picking her words carefully, “where the accent is on trying to be so homogenous and mannerly. Whatever it is, these are very strange films and almost all of them are beautiful.”

Cathell knows whereof she speaks, having had an active hand in producing films as varied as Eve’s Bayou and Texas Chainsaw Massacre IV. She most appreciates the fact that filmmakers can negotiate the logistics of hanging bodies on meathooks and yet have production values that soar. “One of the best things was that last year when we did this, I had to look for films. This year we had submissions,” she said.

Among them, Cathell is particularly happy with D (Yoh Komaya), which many have described as a Japanese version of The Grifters. Another, which she merrily terms “really bizarre,” is School Daze (Kentarô Moriya), the story of a child star who leaves the biz because of untrue rumors spread about his parents. Later in life he becomes associated with a television series loosely based on his own life. Don’t you hate when that happens?

Asian cinema, as fans of Ju-On and Ringu know, has a slightly different take on the ghost story, partly because they integrate spirits into daily life. Both R-Point (Su-chang Kong) and Vital (Shinya Tsukumoto) tell stories that veer into the ghostly and are not so dependent on special effects to work their eeriness, Cathell said. For my part, I can attest to two films in this very worthy series. The Hidden Blade (Yamada) begins slowly, as the story of a samurai living in the age where bullets have begun to do the work of blades. Both a love story and a tragic tale of choice, the shocking conclusion offers an elegy to an era as well.

But perhaps the most-awaited film is Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, by the now-esteemed Korean director Chan-wook Park. Far from being a sequel to either Oldboy or Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, this is a stand-alone film of almost wrenching emotions, though sadly it will only be shown on Super Bowl Sunday. There is a rawness to revenge, but there can be an almost overwhelmingly subtle army of justifications. I’m pretty sure you will root for the mayhem-bringer while you sit in awe of the beauty slipped in between the strange unmannerly visions.

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