TV Binge: Detention (返校, 2020)

Detention (返校, 2020)

Director: I-Hsuan Su, Shiang-an Chuang, Yi Liu

Cast: Lingwei Li, Ning Han, Guanzhi Huang, Jack Yao, Teng-hung Hsia, David hao, Guanxu Luo, Kunda Wu, Serena Fang, Carol Cheng, Han Chang, Jui-hsueh Tsai, Chih-chien Lin

A tormented student uncovers unsettling secrets at her remote high school as betrayal and a paranormal encounter upend her life. – IMDB

Based on the 2017 point and click horror game of the same name developed by Taiwanese game developers as their debut game, Detention has gone on to a horror movie adaptation in 2019 (review) and followed last year with the release of their Netflix series based on the game but having a different story arc moving into the 90s and using the backdrop of the original source material to create a psychological horror drama.

Running at 8 episodes, Detention is an interesting blend as it starts off in the psychological horror territory and gradually retracts into a more drama-focused direction as the characters come into place while bringing in a sort of time loop element in its finale. Perhaps the best area that this could be considered is more of a gothic drama as nothing is going to really scare you a lot save for a few moments perhaps the opening episode having the most horror-esque scene. It does have a lot of themes revolving more touchy subjects with suicide and mental illness being a big one.

This adaptation, while taking its own liberation in the 90s, still manages to weave in the key plot points of the source material. That being said, the two girls whether its the ghost girl from the 70s, Rui Xin who wants some kind of revenge and is using her pendant to occupy a girl with her own unknown agenda and luring them in by fulfilling their wishes and then pushing them a certain extent versus this latest new to town girl, Yun Xiang with her mental illness and broken family actually draws a strong parallel between the two characters that gradually form the two characters and their dependency and connection as well. The two are probably the more intriguing characters as both the past and the present runs its own course. The focus on the present makes it interesting to see a lot of taboo situations happen whether with messing with spirits or the student-teacher relationship or even the warped values of Greenwood high School.

Other than the two female leads, there are some pretty good characters here and some situations that truly do make for some ethics and morals to come into play. The more villainous type of characters definitely do an impressive job. In reality, the story even has this weird focus of making these men into pretty much horrible people overall from the selfish principal to the controlling Inspector Bai down to the new teacher, Shen Hua. Even the neglectful father of Yun Xiang is pretty much a very unlikeable sort of character. They all do such a great job at making you mostly despise their actions overall. Putting the villains aside, there is one character of note and that is Yun Xiang’s schoolmate Wen Liang who may be pegged as a bad student in school but in reality is one of the more down to earth and genuine character in the whole scenario and truly looking out for Yun Xiang while also being a link to the spirit world and a character linked to the past scenario.

Playing with themes of revenge, school troubles, mental illness, student/teacher relationship, its brings in a lot of different elements that come into play through the 8 episodes. While the pacing isn’t exactly speedy, it still feels well-paced enough to keep things moving constantly and revealing the story gradually. The last 3 episodes add in a really good element that gives the series a nice twist that manages to pull the past and present situation together that definitely adds to the whole end game. Overall, an impressive little Taiwanese series that involves the supernatural but also shows the bad side of some people.

BITS 2020: For The Sake Of Vicious (2020)

For The Sake Of Vicious (2020)

Directors (and writers): Gabriel Carrer & Reese Eveneshene

Cast: Lora Burke, Nick Smyth, Colin Paradine, T. J. Kennedy, James Fler

An innocent nurse, a tortured maniac and a suspicious hostage face off against a wave of violent intruders as they descend upon their place of refuge on Halloween night. – IMDB

Running at a swift (rare) 80 minutes, For The Sake of Vicious is a revenge action thriller more than a horror movie. Its more of the former than the latter. It starts off quickly with the three character, a nurse playing out like a mediator controlling the situation between two men: a father seeking revenge for his daughter on the man who raped her and the man who he suspects is responsible but evaded his sentence. The tension in the conversation reveals the personality of these characters. Before its resolved, a swarm of masked men come in under command by the man that was seemingly asked by the hostage to come to help. Its unclear how all of this comes into play together. Packed in its single setting and a turn to survival sort of action film, it turns into a non-stop heart-pounding fight scene moving throughout the house as more masked men come in one batch after another. The revenge plot gets a little lost in the action as it loses sight of that angle but turns more towards why these men are asked to attack them.

The single setting of the nurse’s house is a little house with some tight rooms and narrow hallways which gives it a bigger sense of dangerous as the fight scenes moving from one room to the next. The use of the space is explored really well as it uses the items broken to their full purpose and there are some nifty attacks with the tools/weapons that they use. It also helps that the cast did all the stunt themselves which makes it so much more engaging.

The characters also create their own sort of dynamic. As they fight for survival with the infiltration of masked killers and the helmeted assassin (or what I think he is meant to be), Romina (Lora Burke), Chris (Nick Smyth) and Alan (Colin Paradine) end up having to set their differences aside to work together in order to survive and possibly have some resolution to the previous conversation. Lora Burke delivers a stellar performance as usual. Its a different role from her prior roles in Poor Agnes and Lifechanger but one that drives the plot. She finds her strength but still has a side of her that is shocked by the events as any normal person innocently thrusted into this situation would be. Nick Smyth’s role feels a little overacted although it does deliver how his character is very unhinged and troubled and very desperate to get a confession but still has a fight to survive. Colin Paradine’s character is done fine as Alan gets left hanging on whether he is just a shady man or he also is a shady man that raped a child. The verdict hangs in the air since the discussion never finished before the killers arrived giving it that extra thriller element.

Revenge thrillers are always a tough storyline to tackle. In some ways, venturing off from it and focusing on the action, like a dialed down The Raid gives it a lot of style. It makes the revenge plot change direction into something else unexpectedly, making it more suspenseful than if they pushed further with the rape-revenge that could be more emotionally manipulated. This is definitely a decent way to approach this will giving it a little twist. The story gets a little thin because of the heavy focus on the action but somehow, it really does work out to be a satisfying action-packed effectively executed watch.

FNC 2020: Drowsy City (Thanh Pho Ngu Gat, 2020)

Drowsy City (Thanh Pho Ngu Gat, 2020)

Director (and writer): Dung Luong Dinh

Cast: Hien Le Thuy, Toan Nguyen Quoc, Tue Ta Xuan, Tri Vu Minh

A young man who works as a slaughterman is forced to take revenge on three strangers that brutally attack his simple life. – IMDB

Drowsy City is an interesting Vietnamese film because of the bizarre main character as well as how they choose to have a specific disclaimer at the beginning of the film about its visual effects, post-production as well as the focus of its film being about the humans and not the chickens/ducks. I’m no post-production or visual effects expert and rarely focus too much on it plus the only point I will make is that it wasn’t overly graphic in the chicken slaughtering scenes except for the parts where they pour boiling water over the chicken that gets a little disturbing. In reality, the slaughtering process comes into play with the main character on hand and how the whole revenge plays out in his perspective. My only suggestion for any potential viewers is that if that seems like something that bothers you, then it might be one to avoid. I might not find it graphic but everyone’s tolerance for this is difference.

Drowsy City features some beautiful cinematography. It films the city of Hanoi which bursts with rich colors from its overhead shots that pan over the city as well as the art on the buildings and the pop of color even in the simple apartment that the main character Tao lives, which remains nameless for most of the film. The cinematography highlights the crowdedness of the city as well as the characteristics. In some shots, it almost feels like the camera is angled to be like a surveillance camera much like Tao who spies into three gangsters that hide in an abandoned building that he lives in (or maybe next to) with its upper corner angles in a room.

Drowsy City isn’t a character study but at the same time, Tao is an odd character. It lives alone and everything is a simple routine from slaughtering chickens to using the chicken feathers to create different items of entertainment like darts or clothing on mannequins. He also feels odd because he sleeps in his bathtub filled in water that he would use int he daytime for his job. As his character progresses from being bullied by the three gangsters and being tempted by their prostitute, her simple life is changed and it becomes apparent that his life as a chicken slaughterer is rooted very deep into his mentality and it reflects into this very bizarre revenge plan. It turns into this confusing moment of whether he is a cruel person despite his actions as he seems to also have a great care for a hen that he takes care of and the chicks that eventually hatch. I’m going to say right away that the ending they chose for this one usually is one that would not something that I particularly prefer but somehow in this case, it seems fitting.

Being no expert of Vietnamese movies, Drowsy City is an odd movie experience. The cinematography is outstanding and the character of Tao is very unique in the most bizarre way. The revenge is also executed in an oddly memorable fashion because its very different form what would be expected. Its definitely not for anyone but at the same time, as quiet as the whole experience and even Tao’s character, which has almost no dialogue, the movie runs at a swift 70 minutes. Bizarre and one of a kind: that’s two very important descriptors of this film and to truly expect the unexpected because things get wild.

* Drowsy City is playing virtually on Festival du Nouveau Cinema and is available until October 31st*

FNC 2020: Violation (2020)

Violation (2020)

Violation

Director (and writers): Dusty Mancinelli & Madeleine Sims-Fewer

Cast: Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Anna Maguire, Jesse LaVercombe, Obi Abili

A troubled woman on the edge of divorce returns home to her younger sister after years apart. But when her sister and brother-in-law betray her trust, she embarks on a vicious crusade of revenge. – IMDB

Violation is a revenge thriller. One of the more direct and straight forward stories to be shown at this year’s Festival du Nouveau Cinema. Or at least it would seem that way. Violation executes its story on a double track. On one hand, its set in the present as the main character, Miriam reunites with her sister and her family to help prepare for a family gathering but there is a tension in the sisterhood and an uneasiness that sets between them that quickly comes to light when it also becomes apparent that she has other motives to be there that takes a rather brutal turn of events as her meticulous revenge plan. That’s where the other side comes into play as it flips between the present, the past answers the questions brought forward to what has caused her to go on this revenge streak. Violation is subtle and intense but yet, also brings forth this look at a touchy subject where it brings into question how the situation was interpreted and how she views it and the psyche behind her taking the matters into her own hands.

I still remember watching a short film last year on Shudder (which isn’t there anymore) called The Substitute which I liked a lot starring Madeleine Sims-Fewer who stars and writes the script and it was one that really showed how much potential she had as a writer. Helming both co-director/co-writer and the main actress, Madeleine Sims-Fewer plays Miriam, a woman with a revenge plan both wronged by her sister and her brother-in-law as it navigates between the past relationships with her husband and their failing marriage, the sisterhood and their trust and somewhat shaky foundation as well as the friendship/family connection between the brother-in-law which takes a turn after a night of trusting chat takes a betraying turn. Its a complex role and yet, Madeleine Sims-Fewer gives so much to the character of Miriam that gives her a lot of different sides to the character with the writing and subtle dialogue also building up her character right from the beginning.

Violation is a great film. In fact, there’s a lot of discussion to be had about the character Miriam as well as the situation that she deals with especially stemming from what happens with her brother-in-law who she trusted due to their prior friendship before the relationship with her sister as well as her own relationship with her sister and the fragility that it seems to have. There’s a lot to explore here and yet, its not exactly a character study but the character and the course of events takes on a rather unexpectedly brutal and intense scene at one point that brings this whole movie to a different notch. Its the delicate touch on the execution and pacing that makes this film quite the hidden gem.

Fantasia Festival 2019: No Mercy (2019)

No Mercy (2019)

No Mercy

Director: Lim Kyoung-tack

Cast: Si-Young Lee, Se-Wan Park, Jun-hyuk Lee

No Mercy is a 2019 South Korean action drama film about a woman recently released from prison who takes revenge when her younger sister disappears the next day.

Revenge films definitely have a place in South Korean films especially after the Vengeance trilogy, Oldboy being one of the three that made it huge around the world. No Mercy is an entirely different beast of a film. With a central character Inae being a former security officer with martial arts training and clad in a feminine red dress paired with red heels, the main actress Si-Young Lee, previously known for her more romantic comedy roles shows off the contrast her fighting skills especially as she does almost 95% of all the moves herself without a stunt double. This is always a great point because the action choreography becomes more genuine and less camera cuts, making it a more immersive viewing experience. Adding on the fact that she also uses different weapons and the fact that as she learns more about her sister’s disappearance from one person to the next, her anger escalates causing each person to suffer her wrath just a step more intense  each time.

No Mercy attempts to make its audience feel Inae’s anger and pain with every reveal of her sister’s story. Her younger sister Eunhye, played by Se-wan Park in her debut role, is one that deserves praise as she takes on a intellectually disabled teenager. What starts with school bullies taking advantage of her ends up leading back to what caused Inae to end up in prison in the first place. Every reveal, maybe a little emotionally manipulative, does hit the same painful spot over and over again and its hard as the audience to not feel the same anger and frustration over the abuse of the vulnerable in the society.

No Mercy is not an easy film to watch. Its takes its subject matter far but also manages to balance out impressive action with a dose of thought-provoking drama. It all comes down to an intriguing script and a well-executed movie. It starts off in the middle of the film which sets the pace and what to expect. Unlike other South Korean action films, it has a shorter runtime and therefore has a well-paced script and well-developed contrasting characters: the weak and meek Eunhye, the fierce “heroine” Inae faced against a world of mostly horrible men and the most powerful of them portraying the most despicable.

Packaged as a revenge action thriller, No Mercy does deliver a more profound message. Its how society views its different members as a nuisance and treats them unfairly. Messages of female oppression, abuse of the vulnerable and the unfair treatment of the intellectually disabled are constant reminders in many scenes as some people find justifications through their power or through their ignorance. It is because No Mercy does such a convincing job that Inae’s revenge thriller, taken into her own hands because no one else bothered to care, as extreme as it is, felt more and more satisfying with each person she took down in a ruthless and unforgiving way.