Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Three Films Make A Post: Prepare yourself for the HORROR of PSYCHO! The TERROR of EXORCIST!

War of the Arrows aka Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon (2011): I was all pumped to enjoy this South Korean historical action blockbuster thing, hoping for some hot archery action. And, as long as the film spends its time with scenes of people hitting each other with sharp and pointy objects and (even better) shooting each other with other sharp and pointy objects, all is well. Alas, writer/director Kim Han-min also feels the need to make very, very clear how cardboard cartoon villain evil the Mongol enemies of his hero are, so about half of the film consists of one scene of Mongols behaving demonstratively shitty after the other. So, as if one early scene of rape and throwing a baby into a well weren't more than enough to make that point clear, there's a never-ending - and after the second time or so, actually pretty boring on a narrative level - series of "OMG! Mongols are bad!" moments. Clearly, the Mongols weren't nice, civilized people, but it's one thing knowing and showing that, and quite another being as much of a racist prick about it as the director of War of the Arrows is. And while we're talking of being evil, what about the way women and the lower classes were treated in Korea during the Joseon era, Mister Kim?

I Wake Up Screaming (1941): This murder mystery is often cited as an important step on the way to the genre later interpreted as film noir, and yes, I can clearly see why that's the case. Many of the tropes of the non-genre are already here, as well as the narrative techniques that would dominate it. Unfortunately, I Wake Up Screaming is not yet willing to actually delve into the darkness the true noir would make its home in, and is made more frustrating to watch by it than a movie that didn't show all the enticing elements would have been. Despite its awesome title, I Wake Up Screaming just isn't ready to hit its audience where it would truly hurt or excite.

Un Flic (1972): Being outwardly exciting isn't anything you'd accuse the late period movies of Jean-Pierre Melville of, either, but where I Wake Up Screaming pretends not to know about inner abysses, Melville's characters know them so well they have internalized them, and been outwardly frozen in the process, leaving them as the living dead going through motions that could be interpreted as "cool" if trying to be cool weren't too outwardly emotional. In the wrong mood, one could surely argue that Melville overstretches this aspect of his worldview in Un Flic to the point where it could be read as self parody, but in the right mood it's just as possible to see the whole project of Melville's late films, and of Un Flic especially, as a way to make a state of mind people who have suffered from depression know just too well visible and relatable through the lens of an abstract crime film.

As a bonus, Un Flic, which happens to be Melville's last movie, is also the one where the latent homosexual undercurrents in the director's body of work get so close to the surface one would have to be blind not to see them; not surprisingly, the film already delivers its own backlash by making its main character (Alain Delon, of course) the sort of homophobe who really protests too much.

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