Fantasia feels normal to me now. Let me qualify that in multiple ways. First, "normal" does not necessarily mean bad, though in the context of an edgy, mold-breaking film festival it certainly can be taken as a criticism. Second, it may not be Fantasia's fault, given that genre films have become so popular and are pushing so many boundaries (consider that I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left were thoroughly condemned when they came out and both now have fairly mainstream Hollwood remakes, one of which is showing at Fantasia this year). Third, it might simply be me. This will now be our sixth Fantasia and the shininess starts to wear off.
All those qualifications being laid out there, I still do have a distinct feeling at this point that there is nothing really new or mind-blowing for me this year. I feel that I am going to a whole bunch of really good movies in genres that I love with great like-minded crowds (and some friends) at cheap prices ($7 bucks a pop, come on!). But where is the insanity? Am I going to be clenching my muscles so tightly that I'm literally quite sore by the end as I did with Alexandr Aja's Haute Tension in 2004? Am I going to feel the profound, pervasive dread and claustrophobia that I shared with the other audience members at the midnight showing of Neighbourhood Watch (including the guy who passed out and had to be taken out by paramedics, the announcement of which during the post-film Q&A caused the audience to break into applause and cheers) in 2006? How about the body-blow, realistic combat and brutality of last year's The Horseman?
To be fair, I'm not going to go to any of the Serbian films, which do sound like they could be pretty weird and innovative. It's just not an aesthetic that interests me personally and there are some questionable politics in the write-ups (from the write-up for A Serbian Film: "...a country humiliated, denigrated, impoverished, bombed-out, stripped of its territory, labeled genocidal and haunted by the spirits of war crimes both real and constructed"; huh? While I don't deny there must be some unfair fallout, at the same time, this sounds disturbingly close to genocide denial and I'm kind of surprised it made it into the write-up). And Documentaries could have some interesting stuff in it, as real life tends to trump fiction in fuckedupedness. I'll be seeing Marwencol, Lemmy and The Feast of the Assumption so I may revise my perception after that.
So this is all a roundabout way to lead me to Secret Reunion, a thoroughly enjoyable South Korean thriller, decently structured and well-written, beautifully shot but ultimately made a success by the charm and skill of the two male leads. It's about two men on the opposite sides of the North and South Korean divide: a maverick intelligence agent and an undercover North Korean assassin who has misses his young wife and child. Their pathes cross very briefly during a clash between the two sides when the agents interrupt an assassination of a defector, led by the frightening Northern uber-spy, Shadow. The fallout leaves the agent fired and the young assassin aloen and on the run, accused of betrayal. Six years later, they meet up coincidentally and decide to work together in a low-rent detective firm returning runaway brides-for-sale. Each knows who the other actually is, but neither realizes that the other knows. They are spying on each other, but of course, slowly get to see the truth about one another and grow to become friends of a sort.
It has a nice mixture of serious and playful (again, carried by the two leads who really kick ass on the screen), and the opening scene is incredibly tense and brutal, the way Korean cinema can do so well (there is an efficiency with their action scenes that you don't find in the other asian movies). You are carried along for the rest of the way, though there is a bit of flabiness in the storyline around the climax and ultimately it really pulls its punch (which is surprising for Korean cinema; are they getting soft?) but which you kind of welcome.
Here is the thing, though. The only thing that makes this movie any different from a competent Hollywood espionage buddy thriller is that it is from Korea. There is nothing transgressive or shocking here, just solid cinematic entertainment. Again, absolutely nothing wrong with that, but that and the two-thirds full and pretty quiet audience kind of made me feel that I could have been at the ScotiaBank Cineplex. I probably sound like an ungrateful whiner and I am definitely coming from a spoiled position, with the embarrassment of cinematic riches that Fantasia has been and is. I'm not really complaining, though, simply observing. And it's early still, so here's hoping to be proven horribly wrong in the coming weeks.
Now, I have to run to get ready for Gallants!