At any film festival you are bound to run into the infuriating phenomenon called “seat saving.” AFI Fest has a numbering system that cuts down on line-jumping, but no one can really prevent a rude person from saving seats for people that may or may not show up once inside the theater. Whenever directly affected by such inconsiderate fools, I can at least take solace in the fact that I am not one of them. I know the type of person I am. Or at least I did – up until the point when I became the very person I hated: a seat-saver.
For some reason I don’t know many people who are attending AFI Fest. It is baffling because the whole thing is free. Sure you have to wait in some lines, but it’s worth it to see some really interesting stuff. But I did run into one friend – the very same young man who directed that short I participated in back in June. Our schedules have differed most of the time, but we both planned to attend the South Korean action picture A Hard Day this afternoon. I was late, but he was later – putting me in the unenviable position of being “that guy.” All of a sudden I was torn between my responsibility to my friend and my own desire not to be an obstacle to festival enjoyment. It ended up not really being an issue, but the whole situation really made me question who I am.
The protagonist in A Hard Day experiences a little of this phenomenon himself. Go Geon-soo (Lee Sun-kyun) is a high-level homicide detective, who also happens to be a bad man. He uses the law to suit his selfish purposes, so it is not out of character when he attempts to cover up a crime in the opening moments of the film. He doesn’t quite get away with it, however, as a mystery caller (Cho Jin-woong) begins blackmailing the detective, threatening to expose him for what he has done. Go has no choice but to go along, forced to stare his injustices in the face as he attempts to get to the bottom of his self-inflicted nightmare.
There isn’t much depth to A Hard Day, but the superficial thriller is really fun for what it is. Additionally, this feature, written and directed by Kim Seong-hun, has a really sharp sense of humor. Cho’s villainous turn is akin to Michael Shannon’s fantastic Premium Rush antagonist, while Lee’s incredulous reactions to all of the craziness that keeps piling up on him sell the absurdities of the situations, without undermining the film’s stakes.
Detective Go grapples with the man he has become, which is something the main characters in the mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows are always attempting to avoid. Viago (Taika Waititi), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) are all vampires of various origins and ages living together in a house in New Zealand. A camera crew documents their eveyday lives leading up to an annual ball for New Zealand’s undead community.
The three men take differing approaches to vampirism, but the ultimate commonality is that none of them seem to realize just how culturally impotent they’ve been for the last hundred years or so. These are sad people trying to idealize themselves for the camera. Apart from heavy plot and a clothing montage, What We Do in the Shadows could easily slot in to the observational oeuvre of the Maysles brothers, akin to something like Grey Gardens. Writers-directors Waititi and Clement manage to perform all of this referential filmmaker while crafting a really funny piece that proves the mockumentary form may not be dead yet. Or maybe it’s undead.
So while the boys of What We Do lie to themselves about their place in the world, infamous Japanese provocateur Takashi Miike makes the audience themselves question the identities of the characters in his new film Over Your Dead Body. The film is about the relationship between two actors (Ichikawa Ebizō XI and Kō Shibasaki) and the relationship between the characters they play onstage. Miike spends as much time in the world of the play (a feudal-era drama) as he does in the real world – perhaps more – and the story begins to blend both. It becomes easy to forget whether Ichikawa is playing the actor or the character, but an interesting continuity exists between the two, so it almost doesn’t matter.
Miike is responsible for Audition, which is the type of film that will make you second-guess leaving your home, so it is a forgone conclusion that Over Your Dead Body will head in some messed up directions. That expectation kind of colors the rest of the film, which is pretty straightforward up to a point. Couple that with the fact that Miike doesn’t do much to help place stakes in the play within the movie, and you’re left with one of the more disappointing AFI Fest experiences. There are still things to like in the film though, even if it doesn’t make a totally satisfying whole.
This is going to be the case nine times out of ten. It’s because the programmers know exactly what AFI Fest is – it’s a best-of-the-other-festivals Fest. Not everyone can be as sure of themselves as this personified version of the film festival, but that’s okay. If the movies teach us anything it is that there’s nothing wrong with a little personal identification fluctuation. It might even be encouraged.