Friday, April 6, 2012

Film Pairings — Stylish, Violent, Quirky Assault On Your Senses

I love crime films with tightly constructed stories, clever plots twists and surprise endings. The other night I saw a film, Love, Cheat and Steal, with talented actors. Interesting plot, clever twists all the way to the end. But it was boring. Flat. I wanted to throttle the director. No mood, bad editing, absolutely mediocre cinematography. This is a moving picture, I wanted to say to someone. “It is supposed to move. The so-called action had the energy of a puddle.

Happily, I’ll excuse a slightly sloppy plot, maybe some unnecessary quirks, even a little self-indulgence if the film moves in such a way that I can’t take my eyes off the screen, that even if I am confused at times, I’m never bored — that my senses of sight and sound are fully engaged. These two films move. They have the energy of lightning storms.

We go to the Far East.

Hong Kong: Wong Kar-wai is one of China’s most famous directors (In The Mood For Love, 2046). In Fallen Angels he tackles two stories, a violent one of a hit man, the other a nearly absurd tale of a young man who makes himself so obnoxious people pay him to go away, an interesting scam. The humor of the second story intertwines nicely, playing off the cold harsh, but violence of the first. It all seems absurd, futile. Yet such futility and such violence are so stylishly portrayed, one simply gives in to the artist’s vision. You’ll also get a street-wise view of Hong Kong in 1995. In the end the director provides masterful sound and cinematography. The film is sometimes paired with the director’s Chunking Express and is part of a long list of mind-bending films from this talented, eccentric director, including the multiple award-winning Happy Together.

Bangkok: Though I don’t know for a fact, it’s hard to imagine that director Oxide Pang Chun wasn’t immensely influenced by Wong Kar-Wai. But even if that were true that doesn’t mean one is less than the other, merely that neither seems to be constrained by conventional story telling or standard cinematography. The movie, Tesseract (2003), based on Alex Garland’s underrated novel, is also underrated. Great book. Great movie. We get glimpses of four residents of a dumpy hotel in Bangkok. There is a drugged-out hippie trying to get a few bucks by transporting a highly valued, highly illicit product out of Thailand, an English psychologist researching Bangkok’s street kids, a hit-woman trying to heal her wounds after a botched assassination and a kid doing his best to survive in a corrupt, adult world. As it happens, all four of their worlds collide in a film that is almost hallucinogenically expressive. The cast is incredibly good, particularly Alexander Rendel as the kid. Western viewers will recognize and appreciate Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the young drug courier.

We’re not traveling among the rich and famous in these films, so let’s make it a beer night again. Though I’m told China’s best, if not most, exported beer is Snow Beer, I’ve not found it. Tsingtao is ubiquitous, however. When you switch to the Bangkok setting, go for Thai beer. The conventional wisdom is Sing Ha. For me it’s Chang. The label has elephants on it. But don’t let that put you off.

Then again, in terms of violence, these are hardcore films. If you want alternatives to beer, but a sense of place, maybe Maotai, a Chinese hard liquor distilled from sorghum. Strong. For the Thai movie, some Mekhong (or Mekong) Whiskey (more like rum), made from sugar cane or molasses and rice. Also strong.

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