Fantasia International Film Festival kicks off three weeks of weirdness with a four-film opening night

ScreenerBlog

Running from July 13-August 2, the Fantasia International Film Festival provides Montreal moviegoers a solid three weeks of sci-fi, horror and action madness. There are weird Turkish ‘80s movies and critically acclaimed genre films winging their way through the festival circuit and something called Vampire Cleanup Department. More importantly: a man with a braid mullet. As in, a mullet so long that it has been braided.

That particular bit of follicular mayhem was on display in the excellently titled Joio’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable - Chapter 1, one of four films that screened on Fantasia’s opening night. Two of the others, Super Dark Times and Tilt, I wrote about when they screened at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year. Both are horror films lacking big budgets and big stars; both are intelligent, tense, well-acted and more than worth your time.

Joio’s Bizarre Adventure is not horror. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is just… well, bizarre. Directed by auteur of weird Takashi Miike, Jojo is an adaptation of a popular Japanese manga and anime about… you know? I sat through this whole movie and I’m still not really sure. There’s a teenage boy with superpowers who will wail on you if you insult his spaceship-shaped hair (“If my sweet-ass ‘do gets dissed, I get mighty pissed.”). There’s the aforementioned Mullet Braid Man. No one in this movie has remotely normal hair. It’s one of its charms.

Another one of its charms: nothing in this movie makes any damn sense. Which wouldn’t normally be a positive, but Miike somehow pulls it off. Characters disappear for long stretches of time without explanation, leaving me to wonder whether I fell asleep and missed a death scene without noticing. An army of tiny tanks just… shows up at one point. There’s a very dramatic scene that involves a character waving around a rubber glove, and another one where someone is punched into a rock. As in… he is punched so hard that he becomes a rock. The music is over the top. Ditto the acting. Ditto the everything. Miike liberally introduces elements from the comics—presumably they’re from the comics, anyway, given the vocal audience reaction they garnered—and then just… leaves them there, not deigning to explain anything. The whole thing feels very true to its manga roots, with a new story starting every 15 minutes. That can make proceedings a bit tedious—when you’re in-bewteen Jojo’s bouts of “wait, what the…?” insanity, there’s not really an engaging story or engaging characters to hold your attention. The pacing’s all whacked out. Luckily, there’s enough craziness to keep things moving.

And boy-oh-boy, did the audience respond to it. Fantasia attracts famously, er, enthusiastic crowds, and you could tell there were a lot of Jojo fans in attendance from the things my audience erupted at. New character is introduced, seen blurilly in the background? Audience freaks out! Main character’s mother mentions a particular Italian restaurant? Audience freaks out! I still had no clue what the hell what was going on, but it made the experience very enjoyable. Jojo is a very earnest film. Miike just wants to throw all this random stuff—family melodrama and slapstick comedy and outrageous wigs—onto the screen because he likes it and the Jojo fans like it, with no consideration to whether it all comes together in a way that can be traditionally identified as a “movie.” Honestly, it’s endearing. This is one to see with a crowd and some alcohol in your system, if at all possible.

Fantasia’s official Opening Night film also rocks a heavy experimental vibe, through the “experimental” applies to its style of filming and not its determined indifference to being coherent. The Villainess is the third feature from Korean director Jung Byung-gil, who started off as a stuntman before earning widespread critical acclaim for his 2012 narrative feature debut Confession of Murder. Director Jung keeps his action chops in fine form with his latest film, about an assassin (Kim Ok-bin) pressed into 10 years of service by the South Korean government in exchange for her freedom. An undercover operation develops a few new wrinkles when a figure from Sook-hee’s past resurfaces.

All pretty standard stuff, plotwise, though the first third or so of The Villainess unfolds in a non-linear fashion that requires a bit of extra attention to keep track of what’s going on. What sets The Villainess apart from any movie I’ve ever seen is its singular cinematographic style. The movie’s first scene, where Sook-hee charges down a corridor laying waste to dozens of henchmen, unfolds like a first-person shooter videogame. An uncommon tactic for a movie to use, but not an unheard-of one: 2015’s Hardcore Henry was shot entirely in from its main character’s perspective. It was beaten to the punch by several decades by the 1947 noir Lady in the Lake.

But then, in the middle of Sook-hee’s bloodbath, she moves from a corridor to a gym. She smashes into a mirror; it’s the first time we see her face. And it marks a shift in the film from first-person to third-person. From there, the camera is a hyperkinetic whirligig, spinning through its many action scenes in almost constant motion. Most impressive are the many seamless transitions from first to third person. Slick and bold, The Villainess should please action fans looking for fight scenes that aren’t just boring “put the camera in close-up and use a lot of cuts” nonsense. Luckily for those fans, The Villainess has already secured a theatrical release, slated to kick off courtesy of Well Go USA on August 25 of this year.