Online ticketing worked like a charm, the fest was packed with friendly people, the t-shirts were colorful, and the day ended with my Fantastic Fest Bumper playing before the midnight screenings!  Oh, and I got to see four movies, too.

The Yellow Sea – Have you ever thought about the cultural intersection of China, North Korea, and South Korea and the kind of unique stories that can be told out of that space? Yeah, me neither, which is one reason that The Yellow Sea was so interesting. In the first five minutes I was already fascinated by this world of illegal commerce, boat people, and culture warfare. But beyond that, The Yellow Sea didn’t grip me as much as I was hoping that it would.

The Yellow Sea Poster

My theory about Hong-jin Na and guns was proven pretty clearly in this film, his follow up to The Chaser. When I wrote about The Chaser a couple of months back, I was struck by how the presence of a single handgun would have changed the whole dynamic of the film. In fact, if one character would have had a gun in that movie, it could have been a short. The same is true in The Yellow Sea, only there’s actually a scene here where some inept, bumpkin cops demonstrate the uselessness of guns, leading me to believe that the director just prefers his crime movies without bullets.  Fine.

In the absence of gunplay, The Yellow Sea simply adds the next logical thing: knife and hatchet fights! I haven’t seen this many knife wounds since The Stool Pigeon! Unfortunately, there are so many outrageously bloody knife and hatchet fights in The Yellow Sea that they all started to feel a little perfunctory. The handheld camera didn’t help either, as most of the fights lost a sense of geography to shaky close-ups of people stabbing each other in the kidneys.

All in all I didn’t love this one, but it had some fun action and some great practical car stunts so it was worth a look.

Underwater Love – I caught Shinji Imaoka’s film Uncle’s Paradise at Fantastic Fest several years back and it served as my introduction to Pink Films. I’m so glad that the director was here to share his latest creation, the goofy and lovable Pink Musical Fantasy – Underwater Love. Like Uncle’s Paradise, this isn’t a film just about the handful of sex scenes. Sex and love play a part in the film, but sex in particular isn’t exactly the thrust of the plot.

Shinji Imaoka at Fantastic Fest 2011

Underwater Love director Shinji Imaoka takes questions

The film introduces a fairly plain, 35-year old woman who works in a fish processing factory of some sort and is engaged to the boss who is probably a little too square. When she runs into a deceased friend from high school who has been reincarnated as a kappa, things start getting weird. The movie features a handful of absurd musical numbers where the actors drop everything and bust out into song, and the kappa is so lovingly low budget that it recalls the cheapest of z-grade movies where spaceships are made of out plastic plates and the zippers on the gorilla suits are their most prominent feature. There are a lot of sleazy and even grotesque Pink films out there but this one is sweet and almost impossibly upbeat.

Summerland - From Japan I traveled to Iceland for Summerland, a small film about an Icelandic village and the elves and ghosts who live there. The film is about a family suffering through that most typical of all TV sitcom and 1980’s movie crises: they need to come up with the cash to save their property from greedy developers! Father Oskar runs a haunted house operation that doesn’t bring in enough money to keep the family going while mother Lara is a medium who conducts readings, seances, and impromptu meetings with the elves who live in stones around town.

There’s enough comedy in the script and enough meat to the characters to make Summerland an effective family dramedy. The fact that it features a medium and a haunted house cast it into the Fantastic Fest arena, though only slightly. I enjoyed Summerland as a change of pace from hatchet butchery, but it felt like what the Icelandic version of ABC Family might put on TV. It’s got plenty of decent laughs and is worth a look.

New Kids Turbo – It’s been a weird year for foreign films, I guess. Sex and Zen 3D broke all kinds of box office records in Hong Kong, and now a completely moronic, foul-mouthed, comedy-sketch turned feature has become a cinematic phenomenon in Holland. I wonder what people there think about shit like Avatar?

Make no mistake, New Kids Turbo is full of reprehensible morons who call everyone “cunt” and “homo” while they pound cheap beer and inadvertently kill people. It feels very much like the hard-R, European version of an SNL movie, and that means that parts of it drag and don’t work. But for every stretch of tedious cunt-calling, there is a moment of absolutely ludicrous humor (usually at someone’s expense) that keeps the movie plowing along. If Begbie, Spud, and Ali-G somehow mated and produced five inbred children, those children would grow up to be the New Kids and they would probably make many more movies like this.