The Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival (Nov. 8 -16) has ended yet another successful run, continuing to offer filmmakers and storytellers an integral platform to connect with audiences. I was fortunate enough to catch a couple of the feature films programmed at this year’s Reel Asian Film Festival but, unfortunately, I was left feeling underwhelmed by my selections.
One Cut of the Dead (DIR. Shinichiro Ueda)
One Cut of the Dead has a lot in common with Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell?. Both Japanese films have cult appeal as they spin yarns about horror filmmaking and the gruelling, absurd behind-the-scenes experience. The films have also won audience awards (WDYPIH? won the 2013 Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award at TIFF, One Cut of the Dead won the Menkes Audience Award at this year’s Reel Asian International Film Festival), leaving me in the minority both times. While I didn’t hate One Cut of the Dead like I did with Sono’s excruciating fanboy pandering, I still found Shinichiro Ueda’s ambitious film to be annoying and smug.
Unconventionally structured to a deceiving degree, One Cut of the Dead begins with a 37-minute short film that’s been choreographed as a single uninterrupted shot. The short is about a shoestring film crew making a zombie movie, who are then plagued by a real undead outbreak. As soon as the film is finished, audiences are whisked away to a month prior to the short’s production, where movie goers learn of the scandalous events leading up to the infamous shoot in the form of a scripted farce.
While One Cut of the Dead swings for the fences, it doesn’t works as a horror, a comedy, a homage, or a satire. The one-shot short, while initially impressive on a technical level, is stilted and stale. The generic tendencies may be intentional, but Ueda has turned this segment into an uninteresting cliché. When the film becomes foolish, it undercuts its cleverness with desperate crude humour. Meanwhile, the satirical angle fails since Ueda is refusing to comment on the genre, the craft of moviemaking, audience manipulation, or on-set personalities.
One Cut of the Dead could’ve been Bowfinger for horror hounds, but it drops dead instead.
Tomorrow is Another Day (DIR. Tai-Lee Chan)
The actors in Tomorrow is Another Day wear their emotions on their sleeves while miraculously keeping up with Tai-Lee Chan’s inconsistent film, a movie that rests on their shoulders. While Tomorrow is Another Day is problematic, you can’t help but walk away from the movie with respect for the cast.
Teresa Mo plays Mrs. Wong, a meek woman who is soon abandoned by her unfaithful husband (Ray Lui) and left to take care of her autistic adult son (Ling Man Lung). Writer/director Chan uses the framework of this family drama to juggle different stories, including a revenge plot about Wong tracking down her husband’s much-younger seductress. The revenge plot is interesting at first since Mo plays Mrs. Wong with determination and fear as the angry mother includes her unassuming son on the construction of her vengeance. Unfortunately, Chan controls the movie like a conductor handling the direction of a runaway train as the film abruptly changes its tone frequently; creating a broken connection between the story and the audience.
At its heart, Tomorrow is Another Day is a thick melodrama that uses family drama tropes to score the right emotional beats. While that isn’t entirely original, its generic enough to please the masses, and audiences end up being forgiving due to the talented cast. However, the film suffers immensely from Tai-Lee Chan’s spotty screenwriting and indecisive direction. The filmmaker is not nearly as committed to the project as his wonderful performers.
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