Tuesday 12 May 2009

Far East Film: Udine 11 2009

Last week, a few days in the lovely Italian city of Udine (pronounced “OO-DIN-AY”), where the Far East Film Festival has just finished its 11th edition. This is a great showcase for films from Japan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, China, Thailand etc; and, unlike other festivals where it’s the biggest or most prestigious films on display, Udine tends to spice up the mix with films that were either local hits or overlooked in the rush. Popular films rather than arthouse fare. So you get Taiwanese comedies rubbing shoulders with Filipino social dramas while a Japanese blockbuster waits in the wings. An eclectic bill that gives a great taste of the variety and strengths of Asian popular cinema.

Every year there is a “horror day”. This one featured movies from Korea, Thailand and Indonesia, in fact, if there was a theme to the festival this year, it was Indonesia. For the first time there was a broad range of films from a country that had not really featured in the line up before in any major way. This was great news for us at Mondo Macabro as it provided a chance to link up with one of Indonesian cinema’s rising stars – and a great friend to Mondo – Joko Anwar.

I first came across Joko’s name when I was researching the recent career of Barry Prima to write the liner notes for our release of The Devil’s Sword a few years back. I was amazed to see that, after many years away from the big screen, Barry had made a new film – Joni’s Promise – in which he had a cameo as a taxi driver. The film was a hip, fun, romantic comedy and, most importantly, it was imbued with a love for and deep knowledge of popular cinema, in particular, Indonesian popular cinema – a subject close to our heart. We kept checking out the film’s writer and director, and it got more and more interesting. Not only was he scriptwriter behind one of the best recent Indonesian comedies – Quickie Express – but he was also the creator of the truly mind blowing (and unclassifiable) 2007 film called Kala: Dead Time. This was a film that showed how far Indonesian cinema had come in a few short years.

At the beginning of the decade, after years of economic mismanagement and political corruption, there really was no Indonesian cinema, let alone genre cinema. Then, in 2001, came Jelangkung and, for better or worse, the floodgates were opened for a veritable deluge of horror movies. Most of these were of the “cheap shag” variety but their success with audiences paved the way for more adventurous fare like Kala and, now, Joko’s latest film The Forbidden Door, the centrepiece of Udine’s traditional “Horror Day”.

After the film we got together with Joko, the drop dead gorgeous Marsha Timothy - the film’s female lead - and Fachry Albar, who gives a stunning performance as Gambir, the disturbed sculptor whose existential quest is at the centre of the film’s plot… Or is it? This is one of those films you’ll have to see for yourself. I don’t want to spoil it by giving too much away. And see it, you very definitely should.

Talking about movies to Joko Anwar was so much fun, it should probably be illegal. I guess we could have spent the entire festival jawing away, But sadly, he had other commitments and I had a plane to catch back to the UK. There’s not enough space here to go into the details of our discussion, but believe me there’s a whole host of great films on their way. Not just from Joko, but from the other young bloods of the new Indonesian cinema which has risen, phoenix like, from the ashes of political and commercial indifference to be one of the most vibrant and exciting cinemas in the world today.


K-20, Japan

A modern reinterpretation of several themes from the famous Japanese mystery writer Edogawa Rampo. A big budget extravaganza with all the usual attributes of a summer blockbuster. I liked it a lot. It’s in the mould of the recent Batman/Zorro adaptations, so if that sounds appealing, you’ll probably like it too.

A high octane version of the 2004 US film Cellular. It grips from the get go and doesn’t let up. Classic Hong Kong action cinema.

A quirky and bitter sweet character study that I really liked, although I felt it outstayed its welcome by about 20 minutes – but I feel that about most every film I see these days. Great performances, particularly by Jung-woo Ha as the likeable rogue.

Sort of Chinese version of Sex and the City. The stories of five women and the men in (and out of) their lives. Great performances from Qiu Yuen and Vivian Wu just about make it work. Lu Lu Li (Blood Brothers) has to be one of the most gorgeous women on the planet.

Perfectly directed piece of low key social realism from veteran (in the career sense, not age-wise) HK film maker Ann Hui whose TV work was the subject of a retrospective at Udine this year. Amazingly, this subtly nuanced portrayal of everyday life for a group of high rise dwellers was produced by Wong Jing of Naked Killer fame.

Not bad. Twenty minutes too long, but enjoyable. An actor famed for his portrayals of gangsters on film finds himself acting alongside a real life hoodlum. Based on a story by Kim Ki-duk.


Promoted as a return to the good old days of Category 3, and an obvious cash in on the Sex and Zen franchise. Started off pretty good with some great masturbation jokes, but after about half an hour, I got a bit fed up with it. Maybe it’s just me, but the fact that the girls were all imported Japanese AV stars somehow spoiled the fun.

A slickly directed but ultimately rather annoying horror film from Singaporean director Kelvin Tong (The Maid), now relocated to Hong Kong. A sort of variation on the US film Fallen where an evil spirit is transferred from victim to victim by touch. Felt I’d seen it all before too many times. Would have been better without the tricksy ending.

Part three in the ongoing Rahtree franchise about the vengeful ghost of a dead girl. This was one of the most politically incorrect (and one of the most incoherent) films I’ve seen for a while. Some liked it a LOT… Me, I’m still unconvinced. But I did laugh more than I expected, sometimes in disbelief.

Brian Yuzna, now relocated to Jakarta, yokes together six recent(ish) shorts into a horror compilation. The stand out entry is the Mo Brothers’ Dara. Everyone should see this great little slice of grand guignol. The lead girl, Shareefa Daanish, has a great face for horror – and I mean that in a good way; she could be the local Barbara Steele. The good news is that the Mo Bros have now signed her up for a feature length spin off called Macabre.


The new film from Joko Anwar. A complex but playful series of cinematic games that once again confirms his position in the forefront of the Indonesian new wave. Great performance by Fachry Albar is the linking thread in a movie that has more twists and turns than a runaway roller coaster. A film that truly explores the possibilities of cinema and does so with wit and style to spare.

4BIA, Thailand

A compendium of 4 stories (hence the title) from Thailand. All were good. The first and last being perhaps the most fun for me.

FICTION, Indonesia
Written by the ubiquitous Joko Anwar and directed by first timer Mouly Surya, this was a superbly scripted and subtly directed story about obsession and (as with most of Joko Anwar’s work) the interplay between truth and fiction. Highly recommended.

A typical mainland Chinese melodrama. Actually started off quite well with a superb performance against type from Xun Zhou as a potty mouthed, chain smoking taxi driver. A tense carjack story ensues… and then all the good will is blown as the film limps to a feeble conclusion during its last 40 interminable minutes. A ridiculous series of coincidences strains plot credibility beyond breaking point.

Classic Udine. Where else would you see a Chinese social drama where a flushing toilet is a metaphor for social change and the rise of the middle classes? First half good, second half poor as the metaphor runs of steam, or whatever it is metaphors are powered by.

Monday 11 May 2009

Down Terrace: shoot wraps and press release

We've wrapped shooting on our new movie...Down Terrace.... and very fine it's going to be too.... here's the first teaser poster and press release blurb to give you more of an idea of where we're heading with this one.....

Press Release - please feel free to distribute!

Mondo Macabro Movies announce new original feature – kitchen sink slasher “Down Terrace”

Mondo Macabro Movies – the feature film wing of cult dvd label Mondo Macabro have announced the follow up to their acclaimed debut movie – Pakistani slasher “Zibahkhana” – with a project based closer to home.

“Down Terrace” is the debut feature from the UK’s Ben Wheatley and is described as a “kitchen sink slasher film – with lots of tea & solpedine. Sort of Mike Leigh directing a re-write of Performance by Joe Orton…. with tea and solpedine” Created with long time collaborator Robin Hill, who also stars in the movie, the film draws a dirty black line under Ben’s web based creations of the last ten years and is a dark, disturbing and very funny black comedy telling the story of the disintegration and demise of a family of small time drug dealers. The New Wave of Kitchen Sink starts here….

Says Wheatley: “The idea was to write as bleak a screenplay as possible, and then make it with a load of comedians!” The cast features many of the UK’s finest new comedy & dramatic talent, including Julia Deakin (Shaun of the Dead, Spaced), Dave Schaal (The Office), Tony Way (Extras, Titty Bang Bang) and Michael Smiley (Outpost, Wrong Door).

Ben has won numerous awards, including Gold and Bronze Lions at Cannes Advertising Festival, for his viral and TV ads. Wheatley is an established comedy director with two series of acclaimed show Modern Toss and the latest season of the Johnny Vegas Sick-Com “Ideal”, under his belt. He has written for sketch shows (including Armando Iannucci’s Time Trumpet), and has been nominated for a UK Bafta award for his UK BBC3 hit comedy show The Wrong Door.

Apart from his directing skills, Ben has a deep knowledge of animation and cgi effects production. He has spent the last ten years honing his darkly comic creations and comedy writing in the bear pit of the internet. His MrandMrsWheatley branded animations, films, and virals have an international audience and have been seen by over 20 million people.

MM’s Andy Starke says “We’ve known Ben for over twenty years and it was only a matter of time before we worked together officially – his dark, warped sense of humour fits the Mondo Macabro world view perfectly…”

The film is now in post production and will be released in 2010 following festival screenings.

Bill and Karl have just got out of jail free but all is not well at Down Terrace. The family business just isn't working out and Karl's had more than he can take of his old man's philosophising and preaching. Karl's girlfriend is pregnant - by him? Who knows... But its definitely time for a spring clean. By any means necessary.

A dark, disturbing and deeply funny family saga.