It has been two whole weeks since the 16th Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival wrapped in South Korea, but it has taken this long for the soju and red meat to work its way out of our systems and our sleep derived bodies to recover from 10 full days and nights of intense movie-watching and even more gruelling all-night karaoke sessions. Now that our bodies, minds and cholesterol levels have returned to something vaguely approaching normal, Pierce and I have had time to look back over the incredible programme of over 200 international genre films and shorts, reflect on those we were able to consume and highlight five films each that we deemed to be our favourites and worthy of recognition on these pages.
Pierce Conran's Top 5 Films of PiFan 2012:
Super Virgin (Baek Seung Kee - South Korea - 2012)
My best surprise of the fest was this ultra low-budget Korean comedy from first time director Baek Seung-kee. The story, which follows the time-honored tradition of rooting for a sweet but awkward young man to pop his cherry, was both clever and endearing. What gladdened me most about it was how it succeeded in positing numerous questions regarding contemporary life without ever drawing attention to itself. A subtle, uproarious and warm feature that should find an audience on the festival circuit: and hopefully beyond.
Young Gun in the Time (Oh Young Doo - South Korea - 2012)
Probably the most fun I had all week. I count myself among those that liked Oh Young-doo's previous work Invasion of Alien Bikini, but that is a film that I am hesitant to recommend to others. It is a clever, fun and very crafty but also evidences a certain penchant for violence, especially towards women, that gave me pause at times. I am thrilled to say than any such reservations were put aside following Young Gun in the Time which, for a measly $50,000, looks incredible and can rival the majority of big-budget sci-fi and thriller films on their action quotient. The film breezes by on the sheer energy of its filmmakers. It's creative, pulpy and ambitious at the same time. For me it was also an indication that director Oh is a major future talent to watch out for.
Ace Attorney (Miike Takashi - Japan - 2012)
Two Takashi Miike films played at this year's PiFan. Sadly, I missed his most recent offering, For Love's Sake, which premiered at Cannes and served as the closing film for this event, but the response to it was ecstatic. However, I did see Ace Attorney and it is, for my money's worth, one of Miike's best films in years, not to mention most accessible and crowd-pleasing. Ace Attorney, which is based on a video game and was a huge hit in its native Japan was a hilarious and lightning fast courtroom thriller. Full of twists and turns, outrageous hairstyles, even more bizarre characters and a number of unexplainably bizarre quirks, it was at times exhausting, especially given its 135 minute running time, but never boring. One of the most fun films of the fest.
Lee's Adventure (Frant Gwo, Li Yang - China - 2011)
This time-jumping Chinese romance/action/animation was released with little fanfare in its native market last November. PiFan was its festival premiere and it is difficult to see why this hasn't been tearing a path through the festival circuit. It is messy at times but it is also a truly innovative, grand and beautiful film that anchors itself with the story of a love with survives through the ages. Jaycee Chan plays a young man with a temporal disorder. He experiences time differently from others and when he loses his girlfriend (who suffers from the same disorder) he will do anything to get her back, even if it means traveling through time. Filled with dizzying animation sequences, far-fetched plot devices and a cornucopia of vivid supporting characters, Lee's Adventure is an ambitious mind-bender of a film that deserves to be seen.
Citadel (Ciaran Foy - Ireland, UK - 2012)
Ciaran Foy's highly personal debut follows an agoraphobic single father who fears a pack of feral children are out to snatch his daughter. Citadel works both as a genre piece and as an autobiographical memoir of the director's own experience with agoraphobia. His fears come through so clearly in the feature that it becomes unsettling at times. The character's journey also becomes the director's as he coped with his own trauma during the making of this film. A highly accomplished debut that is a great portent of things to come, Citadel has been amply and justly awarded on the festival circuit. See it if you get a chance!
Here are Pierce's in-the-moment thoughts on everything he saw via Twitter (@pierceconran):
James Marsh's Top 5 Films of PiFan 2012
For Love's Sake (Miike Takashi - Japan - 2012)
Few films have been so visually exciting, stylistically ambitious or unashamedly entertaining as Miike's full-blown manga-inspired high school musical. Think Crows: Zero meets West Side Story, For Love's Sake is the story of rich girl Ai who falls for street punk Makoto and does everything in her power to win him over, despite the fact he couldn't care less about her. Brimming with gang fights, teenage romance and insanely catchy musical numbers there is so much to admire and enjoy in Miike's film, from the eye-popping art direction to the delightfully over-the-top performances. Knowing, witty and with its tongue crammed firmly in its cheek, For Love's Sake is a one-of-a-kind delight.
Sound Of My Voice (Zal Batmanglij - USA - 2012
Certain to draw comparisons with Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene, Zal Batmanglij's feature debut approaches the subject of secret cults from the opposite end, following an ambitious journalist (Christopher Denham) and his girlfriend (Nicole Vicius) as they attempt to infiltrate an underground society, devoted to a mysterious young woman known as Maggie (Brit Marling). Predictably it's far from a smooth ride for the two impostors as the powers of the cult and its magnetic leader work their sinister magic, and thanks to strong, naturalistic performances, taut direction and a fabulously executed script, Sound Of My Voice proves an exhilarating and hugely rewarding little drama.
Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow - USA - 2012)A strong contender for feel-good film of the year, Trevorrow's quirky sci-fi tinged rom-com sees journalist Jake Johnson and interns Aubrey Plaza and Karan Soni head out to small-town Washington in search of a man who claims he has time travelled. On meeting Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the general concensus is that he may be a few cans short of a six-pack, but Darius (Plaza) is nevertheless sent in undercover, responding to his classified ad looking for a travelling companion. Where the plot goes from there is not wholly unpredictable, but the way its characters are handled, respected and allowed to grow is a rare and rewarding treat, and while the question of Kenneth's sanity hangs prominently over the proceedings, Trevorrow ensures we are also asking ourselves, "Does it even matter?"
Room 237 (Rodney Ascher - USA - 2012)Far and away the most enthralling, baffling and potentially ridiculous documentary of the year, Ascher's oddball dissection of Stanley Kubrick's seminal The Shining is a film that cannot be unseen. Rounding up five dedicated, but quite possibly off their rocker, conspiracy theorists and self-proclaimed Shining experts, Ascher presents a series of reinterpretations of this big screen Stephen King adaptation that contend the film is everything from a condemnation of the plight of Native Americans to a grand confessional from Kubrick himself to his own wife. Using extracts from the film, as well as many other works from Kubrick's oeuvre to illustrate these fascinating theories, Ascher has created a true one-off, but one that will may enhance, but could possibly ruin your simple enjoyment of The Shining forever.
Lee's Adventure (Frant Gwo, Li Yang - China - 2011)
This was a delightful surprise, about which I heard nothing going into the festival. Jaycee Chan stars as a young man suffering from a rare condition called ATD, which means he experiences time at fluctuating speeds compared to the rest of us. Seconds can feel like hours, years like minutes. When he meets a beautiful girl with the same condition he determines to track her down - through space and time, with the help of a computer game that helps him harness his powers. This wildly ambitious film at times echoes Jaco Van Dormael's Mr. Nobody or even Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits and employs a wild array of visual quirks, including a number of dazzling animated sequences, to tell its shamelessly romantic story. Without a doubt one of the finds of the year.
Here are my in-the-moment tweets on everything I saw (@Marshy00):
And that just about wraps up our coverage of PiFan 2012. Expect to see a few more reviews trickling through in the next couple of weeks, and perhaps even an interview or two that Pierce and I were able to snag while we were in town. Use the PiFan 2012 tab at the top of the page to navigate quickly to the rest of our coverage. Otherwise, until next year, we bid Bucheon City a fond farewell. 감사합니다 and 작별 인사.