Teenage Hooker Becomes Killing Machine In Daehakro

Australian critic Adrian Martin has called this no-budget wide-screen video from South Korea a small trash-art masterpiece, arguing that some effects are as dexterously staged as in a Sam Raimi movie but conceding that others fall flat as a pancake. Since fall 2001 it’s been making the rounds of international film festivals, picking up various fans and dissenters en route, and though I’m closer to the former, you should know what to expect: Working the backstreets of Seoul, a Lolita-age hooker in school uniform gets killed by an evil teacher and sliced and diced by a gang, but she returns to wreak vengeance after being stitched back together by a mad scientistall in an hour. If you can accept such a premise, you’re bound to admire director Nam Gee-wong’s energy and resourcefulness with a threadbare budget. In contrast the accompanying three-minute experimental video Ya Private Sky seems like random aggression, though director Stom Sogo reports that he whittled it down from five hours of Super-8 footage. (JR)

Published on 23 Aug 2002 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Secret Ballot

Highly entertaining and deceptively simple, this comic road movie (2001, 105 min.) by Iranian-born writer-director Babak Payami traces the bristling relationship between an idealistic woman collecting votes in the Iranian national election and the suspicious rube of a Turkish-Iranian soldier assigned to chauffeur her. The setting is Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, and the comic clash of personalities sometimes recalls The African Queen. Payami subtly explores just what weAmericans, Iranians, and othersmean by democracy, theoretically as well as practically, and he never forgets that this movie was in production during the Florida recount in 2000. Beautifully assembled in sound as well as image, this employs long takes and both realistic and surrealistic touches to let the audience make up its own mind about the characters and varied situations, yet it’s also a finely crafted entertainment that works better than most current Hollywood movies. In Farsi with subtitles. (JR)

Published on 23 Aug 2002 in Featured Texts, by admin

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One Hour Photo

About a decade ago Robin Williams went through a significant career change, no longer choosing projects that couldn’t be understood by a child of ten. The only way this first feature by music video director Mark Romanek violates this norm is by offering some ambiguity about whether a couple of scenes are real or imaginedthough ten-year-olds who’ve mastered Carrie should sail through them without much difficulty. The tale of a lonely photo-counter worker who becomes obsessed with a family whose snapshots he develops, this watchable if relatively threadbare movie has taken on an undeserved reputation as an art film because of its many festival showings. It’s actually a discreet exploitation effort, the more lurid events being mainly left to the imagination on the apparent assumption that the audience wants to imagine such stuff. The character played by Robin Williams is at best a well-formulated theorem rather than a human being, and the other characters aren’t any more substantial. I was intrigued by the details of how a Kmart-type store is run, but the people in this story could be products on the shelves. With Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Gary Cole (a bit warmer than the other participants), and Erin Daniels. 98 min. (JR)

Published on 23 Aug 2002 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Merci Pour Le Chocolat

Claude Chabrol is seldom more elegant as a stylist than when he’s working with familiar elements, and this 2000 movie has a slew of them: dysfunctional families (this one has two); Isabelle Huppert as a perverse individual smoldering under an appearance of placid normality; scenic settings (in this case Lausanne, in the French part of Switzerland); and the plot of an American thriller transposed to the French bourgeoisie (adapted from Charlotte Armstrong’s novel The Chocolate Cobweb by Chabrol and Caroline Eliacheff, a child psychiatrist who also helped write The Ceremony). New elements include actor Jacques Dutronc, a fair amount of classical music (two of the main characters are pianists), and, unfortunately, a conclusion stuffed with so many improbabilities that it left me gaping in disbelief. Prior to that, this is pretty much fun. In French with subtitles. 99 min. (JR)

Published on 23 Aug 2002 in Featured Texts, by admin

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