Possibly no film festival suits our Sordid Cinema section better than Fantasia. Held every year in Montreal, this four-week showcase for imaginative indie genre films is like a wonderland for those who love their cinema of the late-night variety. What can we say? This festival just gets us, and this year we’re happy to be once again in attendance, seeing some of the craziest, most unique films from around the world.
Here are three more we recently caught as the festival wrapped up:
The sequel to Lowell Dean’s 2014 crowd pleaser continues Fantasia’s love affair with Lou Garou, a small-town cop cursed with lycanthropy, but not cured of his thirst for justice….and beer. Another Wolfcop takes everything that made its predecessor a festival favorite and turns it up to eleven. There’s more action, more gore, more full-frontal male wolf nudity, and more absurdist laughs.
The plot picks up right where Wolfcop left off, which may leave new audiences (or those who have forgotten the details of the first one) a bit confused. After contriving a way to bring back Jonathan Cherry as Willie, Wolfcop’s trusty sidekick (and thank goodness they do, as his performance is easily the highlight of both films), the story drops us right back into the action, with Lou and associates having to save their small (and now explicitly Canadian) town from a reptoid conspiracy straight out of Infowars. There is ribald humor and gross-outs to spare, with highlights including an extended man-on-were-cat sex scene, and a talking phallus that emerges from Willie’s abdomen (at least we hope it was his abdomen).
It’s low-brow in the extreme, but why complain when that’s what it’s trying to be? Another Wolfcop is pure Fantasia fun, as long as you’re willing to laugh along with its excessively juvenile humor. (Thomas O’Connor)
Lu Over the Wall
Masaaki Yuasa is one of the freshest and most exciting voices in anime right now, with a unique style and perspective that wonderfully breaks up the monotony with a wild and energetic fervor. This makes it rather disappointing that his voice seems rather lacking in Lu Over the Wall, one of his two 2017 efforts. While his other outing this year, the delightful The Night is Short, Walk on Girl almost bursts at the seams with Yuasa’s energy and wit, Lu Over the Wall has to make do with a delicious but all-too-meager Yuasa filling in an otherwise bland anime cookie.
In the small seaside town of Hinashi, an isolated boy named Kai starts to come out of his shell when he joins a band and meets a tiny mermaid named Lu on the same day. Merfolk are feared and hated by the superstitious older townspeople, but Lu’s love of music and J-pop-distortion singing endear her to Kai and the other local kids. From there things go into the usual rites-de-passage/inter-generational feud/anti-corporate message you might expect, hitting all the bases for a fairly generic kids/young adult anime film. None of that makes it bad – just rather average.
The spots of Yuasa’s wonderful visual style, which favors simple compositions and bold colors, are highlights of the film, and one can almost feel Yuasa’s energy lurking under the surface, just waiting to burst free. However, these moments feel few and far between. Fans of Yuasa’s work may be harsher on this film than newcomers, as for those looking for another fix of the up-and-coming talent’s signature energy, this one may fall short. (Thomas O’Connor)
Following in the footsteps of Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand, Cambodia has now made its mark on the martial arts scene with the high-speed, hard-knuckle, demolition derby Jailbreak (also known as Cambodia’s answer to The Raid). The crowd-pleasing mix of high-class martial arts and slapstick comedy comes courtesy of Italian-born director Jimmy Henderson, and stars the country’s top martial artists (among them national female professional MMA champion Tharoth “Little Frog” Sam, best known for her stunt work in Lucy and Doctor Strange) and a unit of highly-trained police officers that includes martial arts experts Dara Our, Dara Phang and Jean-Paul Ly.
The story in Jailbreak is very straight forward, and by that I mean the entire script could be written on the back of a paper napkin. The plot revolves around a mob boss of the Butterfly Gang (named Playboy) who is escorted to a high-security penitentiary by a group of Special Task Force Officers. Upon arriving, the prisoners manage to break free and our heroes find themselves trapped in the midst of a prison riot. They must move from one cell block to the next, protecting both themselves and the prisoner they are paid to guard. Varying levels of threats arise, from large mobs, armed gangs, a resident cannibal and even a samurai sword-swinging leader of an all-female Butterfly gang played by former French adult star Céline Tran (better known as Katsuni).
Working with a minuscule budget and shot mainly in one location, Henderson and Co. get a lot of mileage out of what little they have to work around. Henderson (himself a cinematographer) and his director of photography, G. Ryckewaert, take us back to the basics of martial arts cinema, and for almost its entire running time, this high-octane prison thriller delivers exactly what it promises – an endless barrage of hard-hitting, painful-to-watch fight sequences. Rid of wire work and with little CGI use, Jailbreak is at times a marvel to watch. It’s claustrophobic, tense, and a great showcase for Bokator (Cambodia’s very own martial arts style) thanks to its long takes and fluid camerawork. Whether the fights take place in long narrow hallways, tiny prison cells, or in the prison cafeteria, the director and his team manage to capture most of the action with only one camera at their disposal, relying on well-timed long takes switching from one character to another, and following the action around crowded rooms as hundreds of extras swoop in. The filmmaking crew also find creative ways to keep things fresh, constantly challenging themselves with innovative shots, such as the camera spinning a full 360 degrees and switching to the point of view of an inmate as he is being beaten to a bloody pulp. If you’re looking for ninety minutes filled with relentless, bloody, expertly-executed fight scenes, look no further.
Those looking for more, however, may find themselves disappointed. As mentioned above, there is little-to-no story here, and while the action is very well staged, it’s no substitute for genuine suspense. The slapstick comedy wears off pretty quickly, and the inclusion of the all-female samurai gang feels tacked on for no reason. Jailbreak isn’t so much a movie as a series of martial-arts duels, and even fans of the genre may start feeling numb by the last half hour. That said, Jailbreak is still an important film for Cambodia, and one that showcases the talent and technical expertise Cambodian cinema has to offer. Hopefully next time the filmmaking team will have a bigger budget and a better script to work with. (Ricky D)
Our coverage will be continuing all throughout July, so be sure to get your genre kicks with even more Fantasia 2017 features and reviews right here!