Kung-Fu and Child Abduction: Fantasia Day 1

My first words upon waking were, if I recall correctly, “Unhand me you shabby, cartwheeling bastards, you’ll find no gold here!!”

Those in the room at the time most likely thought I was blazing mad. They were completely correct, of course, but in this case my actions made perfect sense.

Some time ago (many months, I’m told) I was commissioned by the fine folks at Forgetthebox to cover an event in the wee hours of a March night. The evening was a harrowing journey, pushing both my sanity and physical endurance to their uttermost peak, and ending with me unconscious in a gutter after wandering into the turf of the Capoeira hobos. I put up a brave fight, but was eventually battered into unconsciousness by their leader, Flip-kick McGee.

So there I lay, gathering rats and dust before some intrepid soul brought be to a hospital, where I lay some more, this time gathering bedsores and most likely lustful glances from nurses.

And then some blithering bastard woke me up. Because July is upon us again, and Fantasia has come.

So I swung my feet over the bed, smothered the closest nurse in an amorous kiss which she enjoyed so much she lost muscle control and smacked me across the face, and went back out into the world. Because I’ll be damned if you’re doing this without me around.

Day one at Fantasia was a bewildering affair. Like ‘Nam, or Woodstock, but with more weirdos. The halls of Montreal’s Concordia University were alight with fanboys, freaks, film buffs and fruit loops. My kind of people, in other words.

Eschewing the crowds, whose occasional manic flailing were giving me nasty flashbacks to spinning, great-bearded bandits, and quickly settled in to my first film. Unfortunately in my absence my name has lost some meaning, and I was denied entry into the proper opening film, Takashi Miike’s musical For Love’s Sake. Made a mental note to put a snake in someone’s nightdress and went to plan B, a horror film called The Tall Man.

But before the film began, my world and sense of privacy was shattered as I beheld my own words plastered up on the great looming screen. “On the way to #Fantasiafest with the #Gokaiger theme playing, I feel adventure and spandex are in my future.,” it said. I did a quick mental check for any recently imbibed hallucinogens and realized I was frighteningly lucid. The tricky buggers were on to me.

They knew I was there, and were taunting me with my own words. I settled deeper in to my seat, desperately formulating a plan of action as the lights went down. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that they employed some devious system that showed every tweet with #fantasiafest on a loop. What will the crafty buggers think of next?

Of course, the film distracted me from any thoughts of retaliation. As a horror film, The Tall Man more or less succeeds at creating a tense atmosphere and driving anticipation. The story is set in a small middle-America town beset by a string of child abductions supposedly perpetrated by a mythic “tall man. ”Jessica Biel plays the town nurse, whose child becomes the latest victim.

Biel is a decent lead, and I suspect that on second viewing her performance may seem more layered and intricate than initially believed. There are twists here, my friends. Interesting ones, at that. But therein lies the problem.

The movie is almost a filmic Icarus. Built on sturdy and solid ideas, but overly ambitious. What should have been the shocking climactic twist of the thing ends up only as the middle, and the film continues on needlessly and introduces more turns which succeed only in bogging the whole thing down, like a fat bastard in a canoe, bringing doom and wet socks to all else involved, no matter how good their intentions.

There are other problems of course. The occasional bit if distracting stock music, one or two weak performances form minor characters.

But ultimately the film flew too close to the sun, and a promising start ended up in flaming ruin.

“Fuck” I thought. “Off to a fine start, aren’t we?”

Luckily the follow-up was leagues more satisfying, if only by the presence of righteous kung-fu vengeance. Dragon is the latest film by Donnie Yen, a bright star in the Hong Kong action scene who continues to win acclaim with the Ip Man series.

Dragon is another period piece with Yen playing a humble paper-maker with a hidden past. The film plays out almost like a martial arts version of A History of Violence, with an averted robbery shedding light on Yen’s aptitude for inflicting catastrophic bodily harm, and bringing his new life into turmoil as his old life comes back to haunt him.

The first half of the film is equal parts comedy and action, with a definite turning point midway through, after which laughs could only be found by someone who finds severe head injuries funny. Naturally, I was suppressing giggles.

Of course, the best part of any Donny Yen film is the Part Where Donnie Yen Ceases to Fuck Around. Dragon has an excellent Part Where Donnie Yen Ceases to Fuck Around, which brought roars of approval from the audience. Calls were made for blood, cheers rang out at every blow. It reminded me hauntingly of my fourth grade spelling bee.

The evening at a close, I staggered off into the night, my eyes watching the rooftops for spinning vagrants in search of vengeance. Seeing none, I made my way home, smiling ruefully at the three weeks of amusement that lay in my future. Just another movie buff, in movie buff land.

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