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Culture

Two lacklustre Asian entries blight Cannes' momentum

Video by Jérôme BONNARD

Text by Jon FROSCH

Latest update : 2010-05-19

Asian films are often among the most hotly awaited, but the continent's first two competition offerings in Cannes - "Chongqing Blues" by Xiaoshuai Wang and "The Housemaid" by Im Sang-soo - left hungry cinephiles feeling distinctly underfed.

After a buoyant start with Mathieu Amalric's "Tournée" (On Tour), the brakes were slammed on the main line-up's momentum on Thursday and Friday by Chinese melodrama Chongqing Blues and South Korean thriller The Housemaid.

Chongqing Blues' trailer
Chongqing Blues, a film by Xiaoshuai Wang was originally slated for the Un Certain Regard selection - and probably should have stayed there.
 
It's a mopey, sentimental drama about a man who returns home after his estranged son’s death and essentially harasses everyone in sight for information about how it happened.
 
Those expecting an illuminating investigation of a tragedy in modern-day China, or an insightful look into the destructive potential of strained family ties, will be disappointed.
 
The director takes a promising starting point and squanders it on endless shots of the back of the protagonist’s head as he roams the streets in search of information, and serves up a hearty helping of platitudes about father-son relationships and the ravages of regret.

Wang made the vastly superior Beijing Bicycle several years back (which won the Silver Bear in Berlin's 2001 Festival)*, and there's enough visual skill and melancholy atmosphere on display in Chongqing Blues to keep you hoping that it will deepen into something more interesting. Those hopes, alas, are dashed by the films midway point.
 
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Sex and violence trump character development
 
More compelling, though a letdown in its own way, was Im Sang-soo's The Housemaid, a remake of a classic South Korean thriller from 1960.
 
The film has a premise that will sound familiar to anyone who has ever seen a movie, read a novel, or turned on the television for that matter: a young housekeeper gets a new job with a rich, glamorous couple, is promptly seduced by the husband, and ends up being pulled into a treacherous game of cat-and-mouse with the wife.

The Housemaid's trailer
Director Im - who featured in the Cannes 2005 Director's Fortnight with The President’s Last Bang - juices up the style, his camera swooping through the giant, eerily pristine mansion and zooming in close on naked bodies interlocked in forbidden embrace.
 
But Im doesn’t develop the by-now predictable plot, and the film’s sedate pace stifles any suspense from this love triangle tinged with class anxiety.
 
And while the actors, especially leading lady Jeon do-Yeon (who took home the best actress prize at Cannes three years ago), throw themselves into their roles with relish, the characters nevertheless lack the subtle shading that would give viewers those shivers of dread and ambiguity that should have been the hallmark of this film.
 
Im pushes the more lurid elements of his story - the sex, the violence - to the extreme; too bad he forgot to make the rest of it matter.
 
*and also Shanghai Dreams, Cannes Jury Prize in 2005.

 

Date created : 2010-05-14

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