2000 Reviews


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Anatomie (Germany - 2000)
Starring: Franka Potente, Benno Fürmann, Sebastian Blomberg
Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Plot: While on an internship in a prestigious research center, a medical student stumbles upon what seems to be an age-old secret society of surgeons that uses live subjects for some frightening research.
Review: Anatomie is a good medical thriller that knows how to play the genre conventions well, and that has an intriguing and well fleshed out story to boot. In fact the film delivers some pretty intelligent entertainment while playing a fine line between drama, humor, intrigue, suspense and body-horror gross-outs. Other films might have collapsed with the mixture of so many different themes, but Anatomie manages to juggle college life, psycho killers, and Masonic-type conspiracies successfully. There's nothing really original in the story, but the script is interesting, well paced, and has some nice twists and will keep you guessing. Potente, last seen by international audiences in Run, Lola, Run takes a different role here and manages to be quite convincing as the plucky heroine. With its creepy atmosphere, good suspense, and high production values, Anatomie deserves to find a wider audience.
Entertainment: 8/10

The Audition (Japan - 1999)
Starring: Ishibashi Ryo, Shiina Eihi, Matsuda Miyuki
Director: Takashi Miike
Plot: A middle-aged widower decides to conduct a fake audition to find a new, young wife but the one he finally falls for seems to have a very mysterious past inconsistent with her resume.
Review: What starts off as a sensitive romantic-drama eventually takes a dark turn and emerges as a tale of physical horror and psychological terror. Miike (Dead or Alive) is known as a director of surprise and excess, and those two attributes are quite in evidence here, keeping the viewers on their toes and showing a great control over both the romantic and suspense aspects of the film. The protagonist goes through a nightmare that is shared with the audience, playing with our own sense of paranoia - can we ever know someone well enough? - and bringing the question from its most benign aspect to its most terrifying. The nonlinear, surreal narrative is very effective in unbalancing the audience. The camera work is impeccable, combined with a very effective use of colors and lighting to provide an interesting visual style that only makes the final moments even more disturbing. The real shocks, though, come during the particularly gruesome scenes where the camera is never allowed to waver, seemingly reveling in the discomfort of the audience. There are some impressive, violent surprises in The Audition, but the most pleasant one is that the film avoids the casual predictability of the Hollywood genre and provides a film that is engaging, intelligent, clever, and very well executed.
Entertainment: 8/10

Blood: The Last Vampire (Japan - 2000)
Voices: Youki Kudoh
Director: Hiroyuki Kitakubo 
Plot: In 1966 Japan, a young girl, relying only on her sword and skills, must disguise herself as a student to weed out vampires who have infiltrated the U.S. Army base's local high-school.
Review: Entertaining, well produced, well designed and with some interesting characters, Blood: The Last Vampire is a new breed of Japanese anime. Using a mixture of 2D and 3D computer animation, this completely "digital" animated film is a real feast for the eyes, with a final style that is similar to the team's last effort, Jin-Roh. The careful attention to detail, colors and backgrounds is also quite impressive. The story is intense and exciting, and has so much going for it and so much background information that is only alluded to, that all of it can't be given justice at the film's short running time (only 48 minutes!). In fact, the film is basically a single large action sequence, one that seems quite influenced by Hollywood-type vampire / action films and their cinematic style, with its dark, brooding lighting schemes, terrible monsters and violent blood-lettings. With so many questions left unanswered, Blood: The Last Vampire just screams for a sequel, or at least an extended version of this one.
Entertainment: 8/10

Chaos (Japan - 1999)
Starring: Masato Hagiwara, Miki Nakatani
Director: Hideo Nakata
Plot: A handy-man helps a businessman's wife mastermind her own kidnapping but when he finds her dead he soon discovers that things aren't as simple as they first appeared.
Review: Chaos promises a tale of obsession, devilish schemes, and violence but fails to really engage the viewer, offering instead a banal, low-key effort. From an interesting premise and good first half-hour, the film soon starts to drag on, seeming to step back from any possible tension and suspense inherent in the plot to give a tepid, predictable tale of murder and double-cross. There are reminders of other films here, including Kurosawa's High and Low, but without any of the mastery or sense of cohesion that other crime dramas have offered. Maybe it's just the original material that doesn't have enough twists and turns, or enough characters (limiting the cast to three uninteresting, barely sympathetic characters) to allow for the "chaos" promised by the title. Whatever the case, Chaos is a simple, decently made film with some good ideas and some interesting play with the narrative timeframe, but a major disappointment from director Hideo Nakata whose amazing Ring and Ring 2 ushered a new era of Japanese Horror. 
Entertainment: 4/10

Dead or Alive (Japan - 1999)
Starring: Riki Takeuchi, Show Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi
Director: Takashi Miike
Plot: While a major Yakuza-Chinese drug alliance is being formed, a tough Japanese cop goes up against a brutal Chinese killer in the streets of Tokyo.
Review: The first five hyper-kinetic minutes of Dead or Alive will floor even the most jaded viewer with its mind-numbing attack of quick edits, extreme violence and exploitive excess. From then on, the film switches to a more standard pacing, offering up a veritable collage of all of the crime genre conventions and plot twists taken to the extreme. Everything here is meant to be quite predictable, but it's all done with an absolutely marvelous sense of style and amazing camera work, dishing out even a couple of bloody gunfights that would put even the best Hong Kong or U.S. action productions to shame. Even the characters are amalgams of the one-dimensional tough cop and even tougher gangster distilled to their most basic traits. But the film goes so far beyond the simple depiction of just about every one of the standard clichés that it becomes a parody of the genre. Takashi Miike keeps his reputation of a "bad boy" director by also including some scenes that are deliberately placed to shock and amuse his audience by going way beyond any sense of good taste with his own take on weird sex, drug use and gore. With its incredible excesses in both violence and situations, and its unbelievable, jaw-dropping climax, Dead or Alive wants to be the last word on the type of action film that has swarmed the movie market. It may be too over-the-top for a typical mainstream audience, but anyone willing to take a chance will be amply rewarded.
Entertainment: 9/10

I.K.U. (Japan - 2000)
Starring: Tokito Ayumu, Zachery Nataf
Director: Shu Lea Cheang
Plot: In a future where cybernetic corporations rule, an android is programmed to travel the city in search of sexual input.
Review: Director Cheang aims high with her film I.K.U., deeming it an experimental erotic adventure that continues where Ridley Scott's Blade Runner lets off. Done on a low budget with desktop-type computer effects, the production values are surprisingly interesting with lots of stylized cinematography and slick editing. There are also some good scenes here, the best of which is a sex sequence filmed through a water tank filled with a variety of fish (!). Cheang obviously has something to say here and wants to surprise, shock, and excite her audience. Unfortunately what starts off as an interesting premise, and a promise of an entertaining breakdown of modern-day sexual politics, just ends up muddled, repetitive, and often amateurish. To be fair, a director's cut was shown at Sundance to some good reviews, but the present producer's version may have tried to satisfy U.S. and Japanese censors, as well as more commercial needs, and so fails in its original aspiration. Still, I.K.U. is an interesting failure, if one that ends up being neither radical, erotic, or artistic enough. 
Entertainment / Art (?): 3/10

L'Invasion Silencieuse (Quebec - 2000)
Starring: Jean-Sébastien Durocher, Martine Losier, Martin Sauvageau
Director: Eric Lavoie
Plot: Santos, the masked ex-wrestler crime-fighter, must team up with police to stop an invasion of undead zombies and save a young woman abducted by a UFO.
Review: Mixing a huge variety of genres and B-movie icons, L'Invasion Silencieuse is the ultimate homage to the bad films of our youth. Starring the Mexican serials-star Santos, and running the gamut from Buster Keaton and the Key-stone cops to Hong Kong films and Plan 9 From Outer Space, with a plot that tries to include every zany idea and every theme ever presented in these types of film, it is a bad-movie buff's dream of film references. True, it is the epitome of cheesy, but what it lacks in production values it more than makes up in sheer spunk, chutzpah and imagination and it's obvious the whole cast and crew had great fun making it. The editing, camera-work, and good use of the black-and-white, silent media (often imitating various film styles along with the bad acting) cleverly hides the fact that the whole endeavor was made on a sub-basement budget. Imaginative, entertaining, witty, L'Invasion Silencieuse is a charming spoof of Hollywood '20s and '50s films, and is a great B-movie in its own right.
Entertainment: 7/10

Juliet in Love (Hong Kong - 2000)
Starring: Sandra Ng, Francis Ng, Simon Yam
Director: Wilson Yip
Plot: Two strangers, a scarred restaurant hostess and a small-time thug, are brought together by circumstances to take care of a gangster's illegitimate infant.
Review: Part crime drama, part romantic comedy and all melodrama, Juliet in Love manages to skirt this fine line to provide a charming story of two solitary souls whose forced closeness, under absurd circumstances, develops into a naive, platonic relationship, one based on longings and dreams. Simon Yam does a great turn as the gangster stealing some of the funniest moment of the film, but it's the two appealing main characters and their interaction, with their affable and understated manner, that is the focus and the heart of the film. Intertwining scenes of violence, conjugal bliss (including some very amusing moments when the two mismatched "parents" must figure out how to take care of their new charge), and silent desperation, director Yip manages to keep us guessing and amused by the proceedings with some good camera work and a tight script. But while the body of the film is both sentimental and life-affirming, the final outcome brings us back to a harsher reality, where personal fate plays an unwelcome role. Sentimental, funny, and tragic, Juliet in Love is a pleasant surprise.
Drama: 7/10

Legend of the Sacred Stone (Taiwan - 2000)
Voices: Vincent Huang
Director: Chris Huang
Plot: While trying to rid their world of other-worldly demons, two swords masters come to battle each other after an evil martial-arts expert fools them into getting a magical stone that will grant him any wish.
Review: A huge hit in its Native Taiwan, the action-fantasy epic Legend of the Sacred Stone is a marvelous display of classic puppet artistry and the best of modern filmmaking. The editing, cinematography, and huge array of special effects are all very reminiscent of the best of Hong Kong sword and sorcery films such as Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain and Swordsman 2. The use of traditional puppets may seem a bit disconcerting at first, but the complex plot moves so quickly, the film-makers so adept and the puppeteers so controlled that one is quickly taken in by the hyper-dynamic proceedings. Indeed, the sword-wielding characters jump in the air, spin about and fight like the best of them. The story itself is a complex tale of love, revenge, and honor incorporating all the hallmarks of the genre. Some interesting bits include the use of teenage American slang for the evil demons (obviously a stab at the U.S.), and the traditional use of a single performer for all the characters' voices (including the women's'). A spell-binding achievement that's also great entertainment.
Entertainment: 9/10

The Mission (Hong Kong - 1999)
Starring: Francis Ng, Anthony Wong
Director: Johnnie To
Plot: Five professional gunmen succeed in protecting a crime boss from unknown killers, but when one of them makes a fatal mistake, they must turn the guns on each other.
Review: The Mission, the latest offering from acclaimed director To (A Hero Never Dies, Running Out of Time) is an exercise in pure style and minimalist film-making. The story is simple, and brief. To has kept only the very basic of elements here and manages, in broad strokes, to define the characters, the setting, their interaction, and the events while playing on the themes of honor and loyalty. Part of its success is the use of five actors with wonderful screen presence, especially the under-appreciated Ng. Taking the adage that actions speak louder than words, there's little dialogue here, relying instead on looks, hints, and slick cinematography to keep the story moving. Despite the subject matter, this isn't an action film. The gunfights seem to have been shot in the Sergio Leone style, with many frozen moments, camera pans, and character shots to increase the tension. But though the action may seem quite static, in no way does it lose any of its power. Well-paced, violent, very well shot, and oozing coolness, The Mission distills the '90s Hong Kong crime / drama films to their purest form, and is, for the moment, the culmination of the genre.
Entertainment: 8/10

Muthu (India - 1995)
Starring: Rajinikanth, Meena, Sarat Babu
Director: K. S. Ravikumar
Plot: A loyal feudal lord tries to support his master in finding a wife, but chaos ensues when both end up falling in love with the same woman which raises the ire of the master's uncle who had intentions on his nephew's riches.
Review: Bollywood, the Indian counterpart to Hollywood, is famous for its lavish, epic-length, action / romance / musicals and none more so than Muthu, starring Rajinikanth, India's answer to Jackie Chan. The story is an intricate romantic farce, where confusion and innuendo abound, and secrets and surprises are about as unoriginal as it gets. But the filmmakers aren't trying to provide depth or originality, but popular entertainment, and do provide all the expected elements to make it a crowd-pleasing success: the villains are villainous, the characters amusing, the sets and costumes impressive, the story entertaining, and everyone breaks out into very catchy songs and colorful dance numbers at a moment's notice. The action scenes, and there are quite a few ranging from martial arts fights to a chariot race, are quite silly but work well with the style of the film. What it lacks in visual style and cinematography it more than makes up in kitsch, pomp, and charm. Taken individually, the elements of Muthu may not seem too impressive, but taken as a whole it is a different, fun, and quite joyous experience.
Entertainment: 8/10

The Nameless (Los Sin Nombre) (Spain - 1999)
Starring: Emma Vilarasau, Karra Elejalde, Tristan Ulloa
Director: Jaume Balaguero 
Plot: A woman seeks the help of a journalist and a burned-out cop to unravel the events of her daughter's kidnapping and death at the hands of a mysterious, evil cult.
Review: Based on the novel by Ramsey Campbell, The Nameless starts off as a thriller, reminiscent in both cinematography, editing and pacing to David Finch's Seven (even including the same type of realistic, stomach-churning body horror), and then veers into the horrific, increasing the tension and the oppressive atmosphere that surrounds the characters. But though there's an excellent build-up throughout the film, the actual, abrupt, pay-off isn't worth the effort and just doesn't leave you convinced. Still, first-time director Balaguero's shows an assurance with the subject and the genre conventions, and gets some fine, convincing performances from all the actors. Though the plot and twists may be a tad unoriginal and even predictable, The Nameless is an always creepy, and often even disturbing, experience that will definitely leave you glued to the screen. Winner of the Meliès D'Or for best European Fantasy Film of 1999.
Entertainment / Horror: 7/10

Nang Nak (Thailand - 1999)
Starring: Intira Jaroenpura, Winai Kraibutr
Director: Nonzee Nimibutr
Plot: After being injured in war, a Thai peasant comes back to his wife and child after a long absence, only to have his neighbors insist they perished and that he is now living with ghosts.
Review: Based on a popular Thai legend, Nang Nak is a good old-fashioned ghost story where special effects take second place to an involving tale. This is a simple film that never steers away from its narrative folk-tale roots, the main focus being on the romantic aspect, the theme of great personal loss, and how love can overcome death. The pacing may seem a little slow for audiences used to more in-your-face type of horror, but Nang Nak knows its Thai audience is more interested in the retelling of the story and provides some gorgeous cinematography and good camera work along with the expected melodramatic elements. There are also some gruesome moments, though, interspersed with the scenes of easy, happy family life. The Buddhist take on exorcisms makes for an interesting contrast to the ones North American viewers are used to, though the Hollywood influence on these sequences is unmistakable. The story elements may be familiar, but thanks to a fine cast, the exotic countryside and the use of local culture and religion, Nang Nak is an interesting change to the typical horror film.
Entertainment / Horror: 6/10

Ring 0: The Birthday (Japan - 2000)
Starring: Yukie Nakama, Seiichi Tanabe, Kumiko Aso
Director: Norio Tsuruta
Plot: A young actress displays violent, uncontrollable paranormal powers as an evil, shadowy force starts murdering the theatre troupe around her.
Review: Taking place 30 years before the terrifying events of Ring and Ring 2, Ring 0, contrary to what the title may imply, does not detail the birth of the "monster", but rather the events leading up to the the birth of the Sadako curse. The story takes a startling turn right from the start, bringing up a not altogether successful change to the mythology of the Ring series by creating a new Sadako, one that has never been alluded to in the originals. Apart from the more subdued style of new director Tsuruta, the film also wants to be a different sort of experience that its predecessors, with a more linear story and more straightforward horror pacing. By doing so, it loses much of the series' drawing power which was entrenched in the intensity, the creepy atmosphere, the startling editing and camera work so impressive in the first two. The use of the theatre troupe environment, used to make some mostly banal artistic play with the narrative, also diminishes the connection between the audience and the already unsympathetic characters. The last half-hour, though, does provide some good horror sequences, but not enough to make up for the rest of the film. The mythology of the Ring series is still evident and is still eerie, but Ring 0 is not nearly as chilling as its predecessors. A decent horror picture, but a disappointing installment of the series.
Entertainment / Horror: 6/10

Uzumaki (Japan - 2000)
Starring: Eriko Hatsune, Fhi Fan, Hinako Saeki
Director: Higuchinsky
Plot: A young schoolgirl and her boyfriend try to make heads or tails of strange events as their town becomes more and more obsessed with spirals, and something dark and alien starts affecting the physical world around them.
Review: Based on a popular Japanese Manga, Uzumaki (or "spiral") is an entertaining, cynically humorous and beautifully shot dark fantasy piece with shades of the horrific. First-time director Higuchinsky deftly combines the sense of creepiness and oppressive atmosphere that has been so popular with Japanese cinema of late. But the real attraction is the addition of some frightening and wonderfully bizarre single shots of the affected reality, from subtle twitches of the captured frame to bizarre artistic imagery and inventive, superbly set gross-outs. Playing with the genre, the film also switches often from comedy to the weird, managing to bring its comic-book origins and sensibilities alive on the screen. All this is melded together with a solid script and impressive cinematography, making Uzumaki a must see for fans of any genre.
Entertainment / Horror: 8/10

Vampire Hunter D (Japan - 2000)
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Plot: In the far future, in a time when the vampires that had subjugated humanity are slowly dying out, a half-breed vampire hunter is paid handsomely to recover a woman kidnapped by a powerful vampire lord.
Review: More than a remake of the 1985 anime, this version of Vampire Hunter D stands head and shoulders above the original. The animation is absolutely spell-binding, with some incredible detailed backdrops. Produced by the people behind another fine anime title, Ninja Scroll, the film has many of the same touches but is even darker, very Gothic, one could say even Tim Burton-ish in its style. Apart from the title character as the mysterious anti-hero, the interesting fictional universe is also populated by many other mythological-type characters, monsters and heroes all well portrayed and efficiently presented. The basic plot structure is that of a quest, but the story soon take on twists and turns to end up being much more exciting than one would expect. Relying on only occasional melodrama, the script is top-notch, intelligent and satisfying, combining sci-fi with the horror / vampire genre, and even a touch of Sergio Leone type western to good effect. In fact, Vampire Hunter D is that rarest of breeds - a stylish, inventive anime for mature audiences that delivers a good combination of thrills and chills. One of the best anime films of recent years.
Entertainment: 8/10

Previously Reviewed Films, Playing at the FantAsia 2000 Festival:

2000 A.D. Running Out of Time Victim

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