I Saw the Devil

I Saw the Devil

Format: Cinema

Release date: 29 April 2011

Venues: tbc

DVD, Bluray + EST release: 9 May 2011

Distributor: Optimum Releasing

Director: Kim Jee-woon

Writer: Park Hoon-jung

Original title: Akmareul boatda

Cast: Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik, Jeon Gook-hwan

South Korea 2010

141 mins

When it comes to revenge, the punishment should not only fit the crime but it should re-enact it. William Wallace’s execution in Braveheart (1995) is a re-enactment of the crimes of which he has been found guilty. He inspires internal rebellion, so his own intestines are ripped out; he wishes to separate the kingdom, then his limbs are racked; he disobeys the head of state, his own head must come off. This is a principle of the law as vengeance, on which public executions used to be based, and which in turn inspired a whole spate of Jacobean revenge dramas, most famously Hamlet. In Kim Jee-Woon‘s new film, I Saw the Devil, vengeance is all, in a full-throated, blood-soaked revenge opera.

The initial murder and the subsequent investigation occupy a slim part of the film and are slickly despatched. The pregnant fiancée of National Security agent Soo-hyun is captured, tortured and murdered by Kyung-chul (played by the Oldboy himself, Choi Min-sik). Soo-hyun tracks him down with relative ease and, unhampered by the niceties of due process, sets about his revenge. It is here the film takes a genuinely perverse turn. Reckoning killing’s too good for this psycho, Soo-hyun sets about a game not so much of cat and mouse as rabid cat and rabid cat, torturing Kyung-chul only to release him so he can be hunted again. Soo-hyun goes about his task with a steely-eyed determination and grimly funny verve, which wins reluctant admiration from the serial killers he comes across even as it risks losing audience sympathy. But who cares about sympathy? This is a world of banal and ubiquitous evil, populated by school children, defenceless women (with one exception), ineptly woeful cops and predatory sadists of whom Kyung-chul seems like a charismatic leader. An old pal speaks of him as if he were a guru from the 60s: ‘We were going to turn the world upside down.’ The ordinariness of Kyung-chul is disconcerting. As in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), this is a banal evil. Kyung-chul has a disapproving father, an abandoned son and a day job (school bus driver, I know, I know). His victims are despatched with whatever comes to hand, a piece of pipe, a screwdriver, and souvenirs are kept in filing cabinets, rather than a Seven-like shrine.

Soo-hyun’s revenge is grimly witty, but the film, despite the extremity of the violence, never gets bogged down in torture porn. Soo-hyun’s main dilemma is not so much concerned with the morality of vengeance, but rather a technical question: how can the revenger truly replicate the crime to be avenged? How can the pain and fear of the innocent victim be inflicted on the guilty? Surely, if you care enough to want it, you’ve already lost. Soo-hyun’s solution is both blackly hilarious and tragically absurd.

John Bleasdale

Long Weekend

Long Weekend

Director: Colin Eggleston

Writer: Everett De Roche

Cast: John Hargreaves, Briony Behets, Mike McEwen

Australia 1978

92 mins

Christopher Eggleston’s cult Ozploitation shocker Long Weekend (1978), released at the height of the Australian New Wave, is an eco-horror movie portraying all aspects of Mother Nature as being interconnected and humanity as a pollutant to be eradicated. Scripted by Everett De Roche, whose other screenplays include Patrick (Richard Franklin, 1978) and Razorback (Russell Mulcahy, 1984), Long Weekend offers up a sinister vision of the planet’s collective ‘immune system’ closing ranks and fighting back against unwelcome foreign bodies. With a tag line reading ‘their crime was against nature… and nature found them guilty’, De Roche’s plot sees crass, macho Peter (John Hargreaves) and cold, neurotic Marcia (Briony Behets), a closeted, selfish and unhappily married urban couple, descend on an untamed coastal area rich in flora, fauna and wildlife for a weekend camping trip arranged to help save their failing marriage. Out of their ‘natural’ city environment and showing ignorant, callous disregard for their new surroundings, the wholly unsympathetic couple upset the rhythm and equilibrium of the area with fatal consequences. Their ‘crimes’ include running down a kangaroo, blindly ignoring a ‘Private - keep out’ sign, destroying plant life, taking an axe to a tree for fun and shooting a harmless sea cow. The ensuing clash, as plant life, wildlife and land, sea and air fight back against the man-made guns, axes and insecticides, dominates the unfolding events and the ostensibly beautiful ancient surroundings turn ugly, a reflected physical manifestation of the couple’s contemporary inner torments. Peter and Marcia, symbolic of mankind’s self-indulgent and rapacious appetites, are watched, judged, rejected and finally coughed up and spat out like an unwanted furball.

Reminiscent of Saul Bass’s woefully under-appreciated ant invasion chiller Phase IV (1974), Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) and William Girdler’s The Day of the Animals (1977), among other loosely related man-against-nature films, Eggleston and De Roche’s imagined scenario has a strong subversive streak running through it. Audience expectations are constantly challenged: the titular break, that cherished extended weekend, becomes a drawn out, tortuous descent into marital breakdown, paranoia and death, the lead characters are the invaders to be repelled and audience sympathy is squarely aligned with Mother Nature’s vicious retribution. By alternately having the camera at ground level among the plants and insects, circling the incessantly argumentative and unlikeable couple in a predatory fashion or assuming the God-like position among the treetops, the director leads the audience to become omnipotent, judgmental and complicit. A combination of striking imagery, tight narrative structuring and impressive use of sound creates an ultra-weird and increasingly delirious sense of paranoia, which the couple simultaneously suffer and are accused of causing. The soundtrack, a mixture of cacophonous, discordant electronica, primal, guttural animal sounds and moments of eerie deathly silence, is an essential factor in creating the tension, off-kilter atmosphere and sense of symbiosis in the film. A repeated aural motif is used to link the differing elements - when one creature or plant is hurt or destroyed an anguished howl of pain/rage is heard coming from elsewhere in the environment. The supposedly dead sea cow exemplifies the disturbing and uncanny events, dragging itself incrementally up the beach and into the couple’s campsite, invading their territory as they have invaded nature’s.

Film critics at the time claimed that Hargreaves, described as ‘the quintessential Australian man’, and Behets, a regular in television soaps, were miscast in their roles, but it is precisely because they seem ill at ease that their unnatural status within the narrative is strengthened. Long Weekend, while not without flaws, succeeds in its exploitation and twisting of genre conventions, with its eco-horror themes and re-positioning of mankind as an alien threat creating an effective, unsettling experience. Eggleston’s film, the subject of an inferior 2008 remake starring Jim Caviezel by fellow Australian director Jamie Blanks, is an enduringly bizarre example of reversed psycho-geography, where the effects of mankind on environment produces extreme and unforgettable results.

Neil Mitchell

Adele Blanc-Sec

Luc Besson’s adaptation of Jacques Tardi’s famous comic follows the adventures of a beautiful and daring young reporter at the beginning of the 20th century. Adele Blanc-Sec is released on April 22 in UK cinemas by Optimum Releasing.

Luc Besson’s adaptation of Jacques Tardi’s famous comic follows the adventures of a beautiful and daring young reporter at the beginning of the 20th century. Adele Blanc-Sec is released on April 22 in UK cinemas by Optimum Releasing.

Comic review by Dan Lester
For more information on Dan Lester, go to monkeysmightpuke.com.
For more information on Dan Lester, go to monkeysmightpuke.com.

The Dybbuk

The Dybbuk

Format: Cinema

Screened at: Kinoteka on 5 April 2011

Director: Michal Waszynski

Writers: S.A. Kacyzna, Andrzej Marek, Anatol Stern

Based on the play by: S. Ansky

Original title: Der Dibuk

Cast: Abraham Morewski, Ajzyk Samberg, Mojzesz Lipman

Poland 1937

108 mins

Now here‘s exotica: a supernatural drama filmed in Poland, on the brink of the Holocaust, entirely in Yiddish, in 1937. You won’t see many like this. Two good friends make a solemn vow that when their as-yet-unborn offspring are grown, they will be wed (assuming they are a son and a daughter). But the mother of Leyele dies in childbirth. The father of Khonnen dies trying to get to his son’s birth and the oath is forgotten. Leyele’s father Sender prospers over the years, while young Khonnen becomes a devout, mystically minded scholar. When the fated couple meet they feel an instant bond, but Sender, unaware of this, sets up his daughter’s marriage to another. In a desperate bid to thwart this union Khonnen tries to summon Satan, but dies in the attempt, and the distraught Leyele, in the middle of a traditional ‘dance with the poor’ before her union with a man she does not love, becomes possessed with Khonnen’s restless spirit. It is left to an ageing Rabbi to try to sort out the rights and wrongs of this mess, in a trial attended by Khonnen’s long-deceased father, and to send Khonnen’s soul to its rightful place in the universe…

All very odd, but those are just the bare bones of the tale. Michal Waszynski’s The Dybbuk is as rich and strange an artefact as any aficionado of fantastic cinema could hope for. It overflows with esoteric rituals, customs and superstitions, some of which seem unfamiliar even to the characters on screen: there’s numerology, bits of Kabbalah, odd bursts of song and poetic turns of phrase, mannered acting, and vaudeville schtick. It is based on a popular play by S. Ansky, which clearly leaned heavily on folklore and fable, and you can still see its roots as a night in the theatre with something for everyone: a little physical and character comedy, a love story, the occasional tune, all manner of unflattering hairstyles and a large helping of tragedy. But seeing the rituals and customs of Judaism acted out on the big screen was apparently a big draw in and of itself. In the first few minutes, the developing narrative is brought to a halt as Sender sings the Song of Songs: ‘Your ointments yield a sweet fragrance, …give me the kisses of your mouth…’

This sets a pattern for a drama that always finds space for poetry and parable (even the wedding has to accommodate the musings of a ‘Wedding Bard’). Most of the film’s best moments are verbal, even in a subtitled translation: Leyele’s lament for ‘unborn children, never mine, lost forever, lost in time’, the churchyard summoning of the dead to trial beginning ‘blameless departed’, and Khonnen’s last, mournful coda, ‘I left your body to return to your soul’.

The filmmaking is pretty creaky in places, a little like an old Universal feature, but with less elaborate sets and more location photography. Camera movement is largely restricted to the odd pan or dolly shot, music is sporadic and the special effects extend only as far as fades, double exposures and dissolves. This doesn’t stop The Dybbuk creating a heady supernatural atmosphere from the start, in which the spiritual and natural worlds blend and overlap. Especially in the figure of a wandering messenger from elsewhere, who, bearded, heavy-lidded and humourless, appears unbidden into this realm to deliver wisdom and warning to the cast, who seem aware, and accepting, of his otherworldliness. We don’t, unfortunately, get a guest appearance from Satan when Khonnen calls him (boo!), which leaves Leyele’s ‘dance with the poor’ as the film’s standout moment of the fantastique, and a great sequence it is too, as her despair and anguish seem to take physical form in a moment of whirling disorientation and delirium, and she finds herself literally dancing with death.

To a decided non-believer, this comes across as a weird little bubble of cinema, both familiar and strange, a film overlaid with real tragedy, created by artists long disappeared, dispersed and destroyed, but one still brimming with life and soul and artistry.

Mark Stafford

How I Ended this Summer

How I Ended This Summer

Format: Cinema

Release date: 22 April 2011

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: New Wave Films

Director: Alexei Propogrebsky

Writer: Alexei Propogrebsky

Original title: Kak ya provyol etim letom

Cast: Grigory Dobrygin, Sergei Puskepalis, Igor Chernevich

Russia 2010

130 mins

Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin) and Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis) are clearly already getting on each other’s nerves from the outset of Alexei Popopgrebsky’s fine Russian film. This would be no big deal, if they weren’t the only human inhabitants of a meteorological station on a remote island somewhere within the Arctic Circle. The walrus meat diet, solitude and repetition would test most relationships, but dilettante college graduate Pavel and taciturn veteran Sergei were never going to see eye to eye, and, we are reminded, this is an environment where personality clashes can get you killed….

While Sergei has disappeared for a few days on an impromptu fishing trip Pavel accepts an emergency message concerning the older man’s family. But when Sergei returns, Pavel, through some combination of fear and weakness, avoids passing on the bad news, setting up a time bomb that will eventually result in conflict between the two, a war in which, typically, no war is declared, escalating into desperate and murderous behaviour on both sides.

Pavel’s inability to simply relay the bad news seems at once baffling and completely understandable. Living in the moment, listening to sludgy Russian rock through his headphones, playing video games, he is clearly used to a world where you can run away from your problems until they blow over; he has not realised where he is and what that means. The landscape, the polar bears and weather are more of a threat to life and limb than Sergei, who seems at one with the territory, who thinks in the long, long term, having adjusted to the island’s patterns years ago. The island is most definitely the third character in this drama. Popobgrebsky used the possibilities of digital cameras to shoot loooong takes of changing weather and light in real time throughout, and has captured a mysterious and inhospitable place, of solid fog banks, mountains of loose rock, frozen seas, and everywhere the remains of long-abandoned attempts at human habitation and relics from the cold war, a graveyard of human ambition.

How I Ended this Summer has all the makings of a more conventional cat-and-mouse thriller, and may disappoint anybody who wants, or has been led to expect that kind of film, but it’s a subtler, more surprising and nuanced piece of work than that. It’s a film about character where dialogue has been stripped to the bone, where body language and gesture speak volumes, and the fractious relationship of distrust and lousy communication rings wholly true. It’s a film about temperament and time and territory, clearly shot in arduous conditions in a bleak and breathtaking landscape.

Mark Stafford

In an Alien Fashion

The Curve of Forgotten Things

Fashion blogs terrify me. For every super-detailed analysis of why it’s important to kiss buttons in thrift stores I scroll through page after page of ‘shoe enthusiasm‘. Compare and contrast: old vs new, in vs out; these blogs work in casually distinguished binaries. And they throw up the strangest gems.

Aanteni by fashion brand Rodarte and director Tod Cole is a twisted film. Showcasing ancient (it’s a year old now) fashion, the film strives to look like the final traces of humankind in soft focus.

Star Guinevere van Seenus carries the film with a heavy, ungainly motion. In running she seems to tumble, all clipped thrusts and contorted features, her clothes appearing to disintegrate, as if her skin were reacting violently with our too-human atmosphere. She sprints through blasted pockets of LA, frightened and exhausted, behind her a pursuer we’ll never understand. And between her skips and stumbles we cut to factories and test-sites.

Through all, van Seenus never quite seems human. Human frailties are captured, but they seem too raw, too keenly experienced to be genuine.

This film sounds like doom. Fuzzes and spits of sound make sense of the scanners tracking van Seenus’s body; of her neck lolling sideways in agony; of a rocket taking flight. The soundtrack is made up of the compressed, clipped sounds of mission control, sputtering to get a message to the moon. It fits the debris floating around Los Angeles just as well as the debris floating miles above the earth.

Rodarte is the brand name of fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy, sisters, so it’s fitting that Aanteni has a sister too. The Mulleavys and Cole released a new film in February, The Curve of Forgotten Things, showcasing a new collection. Again making use of the schizophrenic landscape of LA, this film follows actress Elle Fanning as she explores an empty house on a hill.

Fanning too seems unnatural, but the alien fear in van Seenus’s eyes isn’t here at all; Fanning is shot with the face of a nymph. She seems to get younger and younger as each frame passes, while her soundtrack twinkles and glitters.

The yellow light of the film and the aged wood surrounding Fanning serve to emphasise how little of her has frayed. Where the fashion of Aateni is ragged and torn The Curve of Forgotten Things presents something whole and wholesome, full of blocks and sleeves, more of the prairie than of the future.

In each, these lonely women explore enough emotional range that it becomes impossible to see what they wear as anything but costumes. Watching both films alongside another slew of fashion weeks makes the thought of such clothes being worn by people - human people - about as impossible to grasp as the concept of interstellar travel.

More so in fact; the grainy footage of STS-133 (Space Shuttle Discovery’s final mission) streaking above the cloud line, shot by a cameraphone from a plane window no less, suddenly placed the concept of space within my grasp; I never feel that scrolling through fashion blogs.

Matthew Sheret

Blood Simple

Blood Simple

Format: DVD

Date: 18 April 2011

Distributor: Momentum Pictures

Director: Zhang Yimou

Writers: Jianquan Shi, Jing Shang

Original title: San qiang pai an jing qi

Alternative title: A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop

Based on the film Blood Simple by: Ethan and Joel Coen

Cast: Dahong Ni, Ni Yan, Xiao Shen-Yang

China 2009

95 mins

Undeniably one of the most colourful films on offer this month, Zhang Yimou’s Blood Simple is a remake of sorts of the Coen Brothers’ 1984 debut. Moving the action to northern China in the imperial age, the film follows Ni Dahong, the owner of a noodle shop in the middle of the desert, who pays a killer to murder both his unfaithful wife and her squeamish lover. It’s a shame that the banal slapstick and oddball jokes that Zhang decided to employ instead of the black humour of the original inevitably turn his ambitious venture into a comic farce as the plot rolls on, and it is only in the film’s showdown that he manages to get back on solid ground. There are plenty of things wrong with this film, including the wildly varied and exaggerated acting on display, but Blood Simple is nonetheless a visual treat throughout, from the luridly coloured landscapes and floral costumes to the film’s deft cinematography that are clear reminders of Zhang’s earlier work.

Pamela Jahn



Format: Cinema

Release date: 15 April 2011

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Terracotta Distribution

Director: Johnnie To

Writers: Kin Chun Chan, Chi Keung Fung

Original title: Man jeuk

Cast: Simon Yam, Kelly Lin, Law Wing Cheong, Ka Tung Lam

UK 2008

87 mins

It’s clear from the opening scene of Sparrow that this isn’t a typical Johnnie To film. Simon Yam gets dressed in his tailored suit amid the impossibly chic retro furniture of his Technicolor apartment when a sparrow flits in through the open window. You half-expect Yam to start whistling Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. It’s a world away from the gritty gangster lands of To’s Election or Exiled, but then, as shown by the bonkers Mad Detective, To isn’t one for playing it safe.

Sparrow is all about lightness of touch and easy charm. So it’s fitting that Yam plays a quick-fingered pickpocket named Kei who, along with his three brothers, gads about old Hong Kong making an easy buck before riding about on his bike and taking photos with his cool antique camera. Yam takes to the playboy persona with ease, in a role akin to Cary Grant’s in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, and, inevitably, it’s a striking woman who knocks him off balance.

The brothers all have a chance meeting with the beautiful Chung Chun Lei (Kelly Lin), who’s desperate to escape the clutches of a rival pickpocket, the cigar-chomping Mr Fu (Hoi-Pang Lo). What ensues is a breezy collection of pickpocket ‘showdowns’ that test the various skills of the players. There’s little substance to these episodes, but To’s worked hard on some deft camera movements to capture the balletic nature of the pickpocket at work. It’s all highly romanticised, as if the protagonists were in a make-believe 60s Paris where such a crime is seen as an art form, but it’s a joy to watch thanks to the vintage cinematography and jazzy soundtrack.

There’s an element of screwball comedy to the proceedings, with To relying on slapstick comedy and visuals to move the story on, as if he was worried that any heavy expositional dialogue might stop it dead. And it largely works; the brothers don’t really talk to each other but their actions drive things forward. At first, they try to help Chung Chun Lei without Kei but end up in hot water, so they turn to their leader to sort things out. Things culminate in a largely wordless stand-off involving umbrellas and rain that To draws out with the confidence and flair he has become famous for.

While Sparrow has done without the realism and darkness of To’s previous movies, it still excites and engages in different ways. It’s something unique, a fusion of styles and cultures that you rarely find in cinema. Luckily there’s directors like To out there, who experiment with the different filmic languages they’ve been exposed to, and with Sparrow he’s put together a marvellous blend of hip European cool and offbeat Asian storytelling.

Richard Badley

The Detective

The Detective

Format: DVD

Release date: 11 April 2011

Distributor: Terracotta Distribution

Director: Oxide Pang Chun

Writers: Oxide Pang Chun, Thomas Pang

Original title: C+ jing taam

Cast: Aaron Kwok, Kai Chi Liu and Tak-bun Wong

UK 2007

109 mins

As the Pang Brothers, Oxide and Danny have been frustrating filmmakers. For every Bangkok Dangerous or The Eye, there’s been a silly Bangkok Dangerous Nic Cage remake or The Eye: Infinity. So it’s refreshing to see Oxide go it alone and taking on a more adult, complex genre in this downbeat tale of a lonely gumshoe on the trail of a missing girl through the sweaty streets of Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Kwok plays the detective-for-hire Tam, not the smartest tool in the box (in fact, the film’s original title grades him as C+ Detective), but an enthusiastic character who hopes to get by with just a notepad and a camera phone. His case leads him stumbling blindly into apparent suicides that he quickly claims to be murders, much to the annoyance of his weary policeman buddy Chak (Kai Chi Liu).

The story is nothing new; as expected, Tam gets drawn deeper into a tangle of money and betrayal, but Kwok’s charisma pulls you along. He gives Tam a boyishness, a taste for adventure, that leads him down some dark alleyways as he struggles to crack the case despite his own shortcomings. This is where Pang really nails the genre; being a detective isn’t all guns and dames, but constantly going over the scant evidence until something clicks, or you get beaten up.

For Pang, the film is an exercise in evocative visuals combined with sticky tension, punctuated with the odd car chase or surreal comedic moment. Tam even gets a jaunty ‘theme song’ during the opening scenes. Although it goes down the supernatural route during the second half, the focus is always on the detective story, which plays out to a satisfying, if over-explained, conclusion. Thankfully, Pang has resisted breaking out the jump cuts and easy scares and has started an engrossing, mature franchise. In the forthcoming sequel, Tam is even promoted to B+.

Richard Badley



Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Date: 11 April 2011

Distributor: Optimum Releasing

Director: Quentin Dupieux

Writer: Quentin Dupieux

Cast: Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser

France 2010

79 mins

Quentin ‘Mr Oizo’ Dupieux’s gamble of making a serial-killer thriller with a tyre in the role of the psychopath had Electric Sheep salivating in anticipation. It starts well, opening with a US cop in the desert warning spectators armed with binoculars that sometimes there is ‘no reason’ for what happens in films. Their entertainment programme begins when a tyre thrown away in the desert comes back to life and starts exterminating the animals in its path, blowing them up with the sheer force of its evil vibrations. So far so good, but all the deaths follow exactly the same pattern, so that it soon becomes very repetitive. Inventive cruelty is one of the essential ingredients of a good horror film and it is sorely lacking here. The tension and terror one could hope for fail to materialise, and it isn’t imaginatively surreal enough to hold the audience’s attention. A great idea, but ultimately a disappointingly underwhelming experience.

Rubber screens at Sheffield Showroom Cinema presented by Celluloid Screams on Tuesday 5 April and at The Ritzy (London) presented by Midnight Movies and Culture Shock on Friday 8 April.

Virginie Sélavy