Vancouver International Film Festival Round Six: Mumblecore Mysteries & Geriatric Kung-Fu

Gallants. Directed by Derek Kwok Chi-Kin & Chement Cheng Sze-Kit

My wife likes martial arts movies like Sarah Palin likes crazy. It’s one of the things I love most about her, and so when I was selecting the films we’d go to at VIFF this year, I knew I had to throw in at least one “kicking movie”, as she calls them.

Though there are other films we saw this year that have martial arts in them, the one that focused on them the most was Gallants. Depending on how you look at it, It’s either a parody of, or an homage to, 1970’s Hong Kong Kung-Fu movies, as popularized by the Shaw Brothers and others.

It’s the story of Cheung (played by Wong Yau-Nam), a disenchanted dreamer who is sent to a remote town by his boss to secure an old rundown building for new development. Only problem is, the building used to be a famous martial arts studio named “The Gates Of Law.”, run by the legendary kung fu master Master Law. The studio has fallen into disrepair in recent years, since Law has been in a coma for the past 32 years, and it’s currently being used as a teahouse by two of Law’s retired students, Tiger & Dragon, played by legendary Shaw Brothers veterans Chen Kuan-Tai & Lo Meng.

When Tiger & Dragon discover that their master’s studio is in jeopardy, they attempt to fight back, but it’s not until Law finally wakes up that they can truly defend themselves against the corporate villains. And so three senior citizens attempt to win back their dignity through kung-fu, and also noodles. There’s also a rotting duck that seems to have more screen time than some of the lead actors.

If this sounds goofy, it’s because it absolutely is. What I liked about this movie is unlike more western homages to the Shaw Brothers (Cough…Kill Bill….Cough),  Gallants embraces some of the more silly and comedic aspects of ’70’s Hong Kong Kung Fu films, though it still manages to remain an action-packed kung-fu movie.

There are so many Shaw Brothers homages in this movie that it’s almost impossible to list them all: Sweeping camera zooms, the texts announcing each cast member, freeze-frames at pivotal moments – They’re all here.

It also has some touchy-feely bits, and focuses quite a bit on the relationship between Master Law & his students, and likewise their relationship with their new student, Cheung. Like many of the more famous Shaw Brothers films (Five Deadly Venoms, 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, etc.), Gallant is a movie about brotherhood, loyalty, and friendship. Also like a lot of Shaw Brothers movies, it has some really horrible sound effects and at times some pretty unrealistic kung-fu. Still, getting to see old veterans like Lo Meng kick some kung-fu butt one last like makes all of the goofy worth it.

Like many genre movies, this one is for fans only. If you love 1970’s kung-fu films and slapstick comedy, this one’s unmissable. If you don’t, this definitely won’t change your mind.

Rating: C+

Cold Weather. Directed by Aaron Katz.

Out of all the films I’ve seen at VIFF this year, Cold Weather is probably the one that’s going to stick in my head the longest. At first I thought I hated it. Then I thought I loved it. Now I think I’m somewhere in the middle, but my opinion of it continues to change the more I think about it. So it’s basically the cinematic version of global warming.

It’s the story of Doug, a forensic medicine school dropout/hipster slacker who has moved back to Portland, Oregon to live with his sister. Most of the first half of the movie is dedicated to the intricate details of his new life: Doug moves in with his sister. Doug cooks dinner with his sister. Doug builds Ikea furniture with his sister. The reason this sounds terribly boring is that it is.

However, at the exact minute that you think you’re going to have to cut out your own eyeballs with a rusty spoon just to kill the monotony, a mystery unfolds. I won’t say much about it other than it involves Doug’s ex-girlfiriend, baseball stats, and porn.

The rest of the movie deals with Doug trying to solve the mystery. Initially his partner in un-crime is Carlos, a buddy he met while working at the ice factory. Carlos factors into the first half of the movie quite a bit. We see him actually bring the mystery to Doug, and at first attempts to be the Watson to Doug’s Sherlock. But then inexplicably Carlos goes away. Apparently working at the ice factory was a better gig than being a crime fighter. So Doug’s sister Gail gets involved, and the rest of the film is the two of them trying to solve a mystery that might not even need solving.

While the mystery might be the most interesting part of the movie, it’s not actually what the film is about. It’s really about two siblings that have reconnected after years apart. In this film they bond over fighting crime, but it could have been while making risotto.

Like many independent mumblecore films, the temptation is to scream “GET TO THE FRAKKIN” POINT!” at the screen during much of the movie. If you’re looking for a fast paced thriller, this ain’t it. In fact, if you’re looking for a slow paced thriller, this ain’t it. But if you’re looking for a slow, sweet, and entertaining family dialogue, with a bit of Encyclopedia Brown thrown in, this is your movie.

Rating: B-

(Originally posted at http://www.futureshopforums.ca/t5/Tech-Blog/Vancouver-International-Film-Festival-Round-Six-Mumblecore/ba-p/230676)

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