Tim Matheson’s not beating around the bush: “I’m telling you: Asian cinema is the most creative cultural cinematic group on the planet right now. I think what’s happening over there is on a par with Europe in the 1960s. You know what I mean? Like Godard and Truffaut and Fellini.” That the actor, director, and longtime friend of SBIFF has a passionate commitment to contemporary films from China, Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam is borne out by the year-round attention he gives the topic, scouring festivals and Web sites. “Whenever I’m jetlagged in an airport I’m looking up this stuff, asking myself, ‘What the hell is going in Thailand right now?'” he laughed.
Nothing quite like it is created over here, said Matheson, who routinely drubs Hollywood for its formulaic outputs and over-concern with blockbusters. But Matheson, who got his start on Leave It to Beaver as an actor and is now wending his way into more directorial work, understands the range of filmic entertainment: His appreciation of big epic and folkloric tales seems equal to his enthusiasm for grisly ghost and cop stories.
“It’s a really good smorgasbord and you should really dive in,” he laughed. Under pressure, Matheson cites The Divine Weapon as a must-see film for festgoers. “A big costume drama from Korea, by Eugene Kim, it mixes a disquisition on the fire arrow with warfare; and love story with more swords and arrows.” Matheson is a big booster of Korea as the emerging cinema, citing last year’s stunning monster movie, The Host. “Korean filmmaking is the most imaginative in the world right now. I love their humor and their fresh perspectives,” he said.
But Japan actually dominates this year, and Matheson is particularly proud that Suspect X, the story of two scientists turning their craft to crime, will screen with director Hiroshi Nishitani (Jan. 29, 7:15pm) present for an interview. Likewise, Hajime Kadoi will be in the house when his more introspective crime drama Vacation is shown (Jan. 24, 1:15pm). While he’s a big fan of the Ryoichi Kimizuka cop drama Nobody to Watch over Me, probably the biggest catch from Nissei is Evangelion 1.0, a title familiar to anime-lovers around the world. “Essentially it’s a movie remake of a popular television show, just like we do over here,” said Matheson. Other big offerings include 20th Century Boys, an action-adventure world premiere from Yukihiko Tsutsumi, and K20: Legend of the Mask, which shows the world after a different outcome to World War II. Matheson’s sentimental favorite-he appreciates the lowly-is The Chasing World by Issei Shibata. “It’s a great B-movie science fiction story about a boy transported to a parallel planet, where people with certain names are pursued by the government. It’s also wacky.”
That leaves only two more great films, and one is an omnibus of terror. Fans of Thai horror films know that jangly nerves are all the more expected because the “rules” of conventional scare films observed silently here are disregarded in Asia in general, and Thailand specifically. 4Bia is a U.S. premiere of four short films by Thai directors. The award for the most self-consciously inwardly wound genre film probably goes to the South Korean movie Our Town, which is not a revival of the Thornton Wilder play. “It’s about a horror writer who inadvertently commits a murder and, in the act of covering it up, discovers a serial killer,” said Matheson, now sounding more like the kid in a candy shop this annual job for SBIFF enables him to be. “It’s always great to see fresh faces and hear new voices,” explained Matheson. “And I always try to entertain people, too.”