Thursday, November 22, 2007

Watched October 15 - 21, 2007: To and Kim

Wu wei shen tan / Loving You (Johnnie To, 1995)

LAU Ching Wan creates one of his best roles for Johnnie To in this tale of a policeman pursuing (and pursued by) a vicious drug dealer (CHUNG Hua Tou). The film starts with a drug bust gone awry (due in part to shoddy equipment) that results in the execution of an undercover policewoman by Chung. Lau, as it turns out, is a reasonably dedicated police team leader -- but a total jerk on the personal level, both to his subordinates and his wife (Carman Lee). His indifference (and philandering) have pushed her into the arms of one of her colleagues at work. Just as she makes up her mind to leave Lau, he is shot in the head by his nemesis (though he captures Chung nevertheless). While Lau survives the shooting, he is incapacitated for a long while and -- when he is well enough to notice -- he discovers he has lost his senses of taste and smell. His wife, impelled by a sense of a duty, has helped care for him during his recovery, putting off her plan to leave him. Reconciliation is still not a sure thing, as Lau resents the fact that she plans to bear a child that turns out not to be his. After he returns to work, Chung escapes and takes Lau's wife (now due to deliver her baby any day) hostage. Lau and Chung then proceed to battle it out in an abandoned office building.

Surprisingly enough, the central premise here is based on a real story of a policeman who miraculously survived being shot in the head. But the details are all courtesy of To and script writer YAU Nai Hoi. As usual, even in early To, the film is remarkably visually imaginative and stylish. A number of visual motifs help tie the film together, the most notable is the imagery of sliding (in all sorts of forms). Yet another highly recommendable To film (and the new re-mastered HK DVD looks pretty good).

More pictures:

Juyuso seubgyuksageun / Attack the Gas Station (KIM Sang-jin, 1999)

I acquired my DVD of this film several years ago as an unavoidable freebie. Consequently I was in no rush to see it. But when my stack on unwatched DVDs sank low enough, I gave it a try -- and was pleasantly surprised to find this far better than I had expected. Of course, this film about of punks taking over a gas station, because the till wasn't full enough (and they want to keep collecting cash from customers until they get a respectable bundle) is hardly an Ozu-esque character study. Nonetheless it manages to give the characters more depth than one initially expects -- and develops a little bit of poignancy -- and it is imaginative and canny in its "dumb" humor.

There once was a good subbed Korean DVD, but I didn't get my lower-quality Hong Kong freebie DVD (panned and scanned, alas) until after the Korean version was out of print. Consequently, for now, if I want to re-watch this film, I have to settle for an impaired viewing experience. All I can do for now, is hope for a release someday of a subbed widescreen DVD. Nonetheless, if you can find a cheap enough (or free) copy of the extant DVD version, do what I did -- give this film a chance.

A few more screen shots:

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