PIFF Report: Assembly, Appleseed Ex Machina

One of the coolest things about the PIFF festival is that the participating theaters are located in some of the best parts of Busan. So you get to be a bit of a tourist as you check out some really nice films. I’d been to the outdoor theater in Haeundae, and our thriving Shire, KyungSung Dae. Last night I made the journey across town to Nampo-dong, a shopping and restaurant mecca, and home of the Jagalchi Fish Market.

Even though Haeundae is the location of the red carpet ceremony and visitor’s center, Nampo-dong seems more like the center of the action. Or rather, the place where it’s not about the glitz, but is about film. It was definitely festive last night. The place was swarming with cinephiles, there was a band, and one robot.

Here’s Wim Wenders’ handprint in their walk of fame. (I hear Ennio Morricone’s is being added this weekend.)

OK, enough still pictures, on to the moving variety… I saw two films yesterday, with a enough of a gap to have an espresso break in between.

Assembly (dir. Feng Xiaogang)

This was the opening film, and is said to be China’s first blockbuster war movie. I can’t quite describe the plot, because it would ruin the story. But it begins in the later years of the Chinese Civil War and moves through the Korean War and beyond. Naturally, it’s extremely violent and intense. It’s emotionally heavy, but the main character has enough of a sense of humor that we get some light moments in all the darkness. He carries the entire film, and is a magnetic presense from start to finish.

The visual effects were done by a team of Koreans who worked on TaeGukGi, a similarly intense movie about the Korean War that I saw before I moved here. The war choreography was very impressive. Since Saving Private Ryan, the benchmark has changed and to a certain degree we can’t be as shocked by the bleak, frenzied aesthetic we now get in war movies. Our eyes are used to it. But this film had a certain beauty all its own to the shots and the way things were structured and arranged. Not to get overly morbid, but things like blood trails, bullet impacts, and dismemberments had a certain poetry to them, almost like moving paintings. I don’t know, I can’t quite describe it, but it was awe-inspiring.

There was a funny little bit involving a couple of American tanks moving past the Chinese soldiers dressed in captured South Korean uniforms. They start talking in a hilarious Chinese-Korean jibberish that the American soldier of course can’t figure out. I could have been offended if I wanted to. The American actor was a full-on dumb-soldier stereotype, but the audience got a kick out of it, and it was pretty funny.

Appleseed EX MACHINA (dir. Shinji Aramaki)

When this movie started I said to myself “Shit, I’ve seen this already.” But I was thinking of the original Appleseed that came out in 2004. The two main characters are the same. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was an entirely different movie. This sequel is produced by John Woo, and it was cool to get a chance to see it before the official release later this month in Japan.

The setting is your typical post-apocalyptic Earth, but the story worked. There was an odd love triangle, and, of course, a warning for the future—don’t concentrate all your technological power into one place, and don’t get too attached to your toys.

The animation technique was pretty incredible. I don’t know if it was motion capture or not (I suppose I could do a little research were I not so lazy). It’s tough to do 3D character movements. Normally people become these odd bipedal, human-like things that seem to be floating an inch off the ground. But these movements were so human and so natural—people in the background breathed and occasionally relaxed their shoulders… nice touches like that. If it wasn’t motion capture, then they’ve finally gotten it right. And the look was very nice—with a beautiful classic anime look, some truly stunning backgrounds, and not too gaudy or saturated.

And with that, I think my PIFF experience is done. I was planning on going to the closing film, another anime at the outdoor theater, but I can’t brave that mad crowd again. I saw 5 films in all, three dramas and two animes. That’s really not enough—one friend here saw 17 films!—but school obligations kept me from doing more. What I lacked in quantity, I got in quality—all these films were outstanding, and I hope they’re able to get distribution to larger audiences.

And now, it’s Friday night… I’m off to eat BBQ with friends.

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