Tropical Malady (2004, Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul): Rating 9/10At VIFF last year, I saw Apichatpong up close as he was present to award the Dragons & Tiger Award to John Torres -- Apichatpong was part of a 3 member jury which picked Todo Todo Teros out of 8 nominated films. Tony Rayns remarked that over the years, VIFF has shown all of Apichatpong's films. Unfortunately, I had not seen any of his Thai films because none of them ever made it out to my city. So on a recent trip to Bangkok, I managed to officially buy this much talked about Cannes Winner film. Even though Tropical Malady won the Cannes Jury Prize, Quentin Tarantino (the head of the jury) indicated that not all members were in agreement about this film. But he said that the few that loved the movie's passon convinced the others. After watching the movie, I can understand why people would be conflicted.
On first glance, it appears to be a movie broken up into two acts -- the first a love story (more like a forced seduction) and the second a jungle hunt. However, the two stories are tied closely together and we are even given clues right from the start. Tong (played by Sakda Kaewbuadee) is shown to be an innocent country boy who after being discharged from the army reserves is in need of work. Tong's neighbour Keng (Banlop Lomnoi) is head over heels in love with Tong and tries to woo him at every chance. Tong appears to be conflicted and gives Keng mixed signals yet draws him closer. This aspect of the film is tenderly developed and makes for interesting viewing. We believe we are seeing an innocent boy being trapped. But without any warning, the first part of the film ends.
The second part begins with Keng hunting a tiger which has terrorized the village. But this is no ordinary tiger as we learn from the on screen description. As per legend, a shaman has powers to shift shapes and transform himself into whatever form he desires -- his current form is of the tiger. The hunt is developed at a slow yet beautiful pace. Near the end, we get clues to the identity of the tiger and why Keng is so drawn towards the wild animal. The scene where Keng comes face to face with the Tiger is one of the beautiful scenes I have seen in a while -- Keng is on the jungle ground struggling. In the darkness, he senses a presence. He looks up and we see a tiger hidden in darkness on a tree branch. Keng flashes his torch towards the tree branch. The tiger is now lit up by the flashlight & the camera points directly towards the tiger's magical eyes. We see the tiger slowly breathe and stare sternly towards Keng and are left in awe to his beauty (yes it is a male tiger). Words can't do justice to scene but it was pretty amazing. Which is the same feeling I had of watching the movie. Unlike anything else that I have seen! A true cinematic experience!!!!
Apocalypto (2006, Director: Mel Gibson): Rating 9/10If Mel Gibson's name was removed from this film, then the movie surely would not have been ignored as much as it has been. It is shame that this movie has fallen by the wayside because it is a fabulous effort -- raw, beautiful, rich, violent and absorbing. The only negative I have for this movie is its length of 2 hour 20 minutes. Upto the 100 minute mark, I would have considered this as a perfect film. But then a jungle chase scene goes on longer than it should have. On top of that, quite a few scenes in the jungle are framed in such a way that they seem forced, contrary to the verite feel of the 100 minutes before the chase. How much historical accuracy is there in the film? Not sure but I am willing to bet all the violence is real. Why? Because since the dawn of time, man has been a savage who has been killing and destroying for his own selfish needs -- only his weapons have changed. We are in the year 2007, yet man continues to kill. Even the most civilized nations engage in brutal violence.
The most absorbing sequence in Apocalypto is when the slaves are taken to the city. There is hardly any dialogue in this sequence but one does not even notice the lack of words because the images are so powerful -- slaves working away on the pyramids, women slaves being sold, middle and upper-class tribes observing (or looking down) at the newly arrived captured lower-class slaves, trade & use of money, modern sewer system, laundry, the emergence of clothes. The film's cinematography is top-notch & enriched by usage of digital camera -- we truly are placed in an ancient Mayan land on the cusp of destruction. The Spanish ships are closing in on this virgin land and once the Spanish arrive, the Mayan civilization would destruct forever.
Along with Children of Men, this was the most absorbing movie I saw in a cinema this year!
The Bow (2005, Director: Kim Ki-Duk): Rating 7.5/10Kim Ki-Duk pulls a lot of elements from his previous movies for this 2005 effort. In The Isle a young woman works on a house-boat on a river. Men come to the boat to fish and sometimes for her body. Well, the house boat is replaced by an actual boat in the middle of the ocean in The Bow. A 60 year old man lives with a 16 year old girl on the boat. The man is waiting for the girl to turn 17 so that he can marry her. And if any of the tourists, who come to the boat to fish, try to make a move on the girl, the old man scares them off with his arrows. The girl has not seen land for 10 years, ever since the man found her. One day, a young boy visits the boat and the girl falls in love with him, causing the old man to be jealous. He attempts to drive the boy away with limited success. On top of that, the girl starts to change -- she wants to see a new world and leave the boat, which is becoming a prison for her.
So what is the best solution to satisfy all three people? A touch of an element from Kim Ki-Duk's 3-Iron where an act of invisibility makes for a happy compromise. I am still not sure what to make of the ending sequence -- is it a joke or are we to take it in a serious manner? I would have thought a lot more of the movie if that sequence had not been included because the story could have worked very well without that.
Eklavya (2007, Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra): Rating 6.5/10It has been almost 7 years since Vidhu Vinod Chopra's last directorial effort. In between the years of 2000 and 2007, he was busy producing and co-writing three good and successful films -- Munnabhai M.B.B.S, Parineeta and Lage Raho Munnabhai. I was quite looking forward to this film but I am still in shock as to how bad this movie is. At least the torture does not last long as the movie is only 1 hour 45 minutes in length. The only way this movie could have been good is if it was a 20 minute short. That short length could have removed some of the bad acting & terrible screenplay -- the screenplay recycles some elements from Parineeta with Saif Ali Khan and Vidya Balan acting out similar characters from that movie.
I have to say that it takes some skill to make a powerful actor like Boman Irani look like a fool. It takes even more skill to make Amitabh Bachchan look like a confused person, unsure as to what he is doing in such a movie. That being said, the only positive of the movie is the lavish set and Indian locales. A modern India is shown against the background of traditional Rajasthan. If one looks closely, one can see a DVD of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon among a collection of DVD's in the palace. Also, in a sequence near the movie's end, Vidhu Chopra has scenes from Parinda playing in the background. What was the director thinking there? Whatever his idea for including that scene, the truth is that despite directing the movie in 1989, Parinda still remains as Chopra's last great directed effort.