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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