Fantastic freaks, cinematic geeksOne 850-won (75 cents) subway ticket, followed by a 40-minute train ride, is all it takes to get to the current camp of cinematic heaven -- the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival. The sixth of its kind, the festival takes place in Bucheon, a satellite city southwest of Seoul (also spelled Puchon, so watch out). The show has a reputation for being a rollicking fun arena for offbeat films, and this year is not an exception. Bucheon this year showed more interest in mainstream films, but stil held many seminars and retrospectives on independent films. The festival runs until Saturday, with the closing ceremony Thursday. This weekend features screenings of award-winning films. If you do take the subway, watch the clock, because the last train back to Seoul leaves at about 11 p.m. For those who want to keep the fun going, there are all-night-long screenings on Friday and Saturday nights. Then the first train back to Seoul in the morning leaves at 5:13.
This year's Bucheon film festival has met the expectations of cinephiles hungry for something eccentric and fun. One of its two closing films, "Ten Minutes Older: the Trumpet," is an appealing compilation of seven 10-minute shorts by the acclaimed directors Aki Kaurismaki, Victor Erice, Werner Herzog, Jim Jarmusch, Wim Wenders, Spike Lee and Chen Kaige.
In their assigned 10 minutes each, the directors deal with the topic of time. The film opens with a quote, "Time is a river, irresistible flow of all created things."
The most intriguing segment is "Twelve Miles to Trona," where Wenders presents in a fast-paced style a tale of a driver on an expressway. The blurred and overlapping scenes that stand for the lead character's subconscious are powerful, along with accompanying music. The most minimal and thus the hippest segment, "Int.Trailer.Night," is by Jarmusch, who tells a story of an actress during a break in her small trailer, being interrupted by phone calls, hairchecks, dinner and so on.
Spike Lee's politics drives his segment, "We Wuz Robbed," to be the fastest-paced. Made up of interviews of campaign members from Al Gore's presidential campaign, Lee expresses how unfair the election was. The presentation is stylish, but the substance is dated.
Herzog does the most vivid job with "Ten Thousand Years Older," a documentary about a savage tribe in the Brazilian jungle. That some of the tribe now wear T-shirts and jeans is portrayed from a doleful viewpoint.
Chen Kaige, the only Asian director in the production, tries to paint a fantastic oriental portrait by mixing computerized images of oriental paintings and photos. But the effect comes off as kitschy, making the segment the most disappointing. Kaurismaki depicts a man who just got out of prison who's got 10 minutes to get money from his old workplace, get married and get a new start in Siberia. With the director's sense of black humor, the segment uses its 10 minutes better than any other. Erice fills his segment, "Lifeline," with strange images like a dying baby and a black cat along with cliches of time like old photographs and moving pendulums. "Lifeline" is the most avant-garde yet most monotonous segment.
The bridges between the segments are also impressive. The signature of each director is presented in white on a flowing, dark-blue river, harmonized with the sound of a trumpet.
If this collection of shorts sounds intriguing, be on the lookout for "Ten Minutes Older: the Cello," a similar project that features big names like Jean-Luc Godard and Bernardo Bertolucci.
Blank fills us in on garlic, Herzog
It was one hot day in Berkeley, California, 1979. The underground filmmaker Les Blank received a phone call from his friend and co-worker, Tom Luddy. "Werner Herzog is about to eat his shoes," the voice said, "and I thought you might be interested."
Blank ran off to film the famous director Herzog eating his shoe, cooked in duck fat. Herzog had told Errol Morris that should Morris ever finish a certain film, Herzog would eat his own shoe.
It took a day and a half to shoot the documentary, "Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe" (1980), one of the films being shown at Bucheon this year in the retrospective on the great, if odd, filmmaker.
Blank also created the documentary "Burden of Dreams," about the making of Herzog's "Fitzcarraldo" deep up in the Amazon jungle. Blank not only made documentaries on the outlandish German director, but also is a good friend to Herzog.
At a glance, Blank does not look like an eccentric. Rather, he vaguely resembles a university professor. He has a way of making a joke as if it were some serious matter of life and death. Blank would hardly smile when talking, but he has a lot of fun stories to tell.
It's a pity that Herzog, whom Blank calls a "tenacious bulldog," did not make it, but Blank says he's having a good time. "The festival has a lot of films that Hollywood would never ever make, which is good," he told the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition.
Blank apparently is not on friendly terms with Hollywood. For one thing, Blank made a film on garlic that presented Americans' spiritual decadence through the cooking of the herb. "Hollywood people would never want a film on garlic," he said. "But I made the film anyway."
His films are well-received elsewhere, especially in Germany, one of the few countries on earth that doesn't like garlic. Blank was invited to the Berlin Film Festival, where he cooked some garlic to let his audience sense what garlic is really like. But the temperature in the German oven was in centigrade, not Fahrenheit, so Blank burned all the garlic. "I had to stop my audience who liked the film and wanted to taste the burned garlic after the screening," he said.
But for this festival, Blank's here for his Herzog connection.
Does Herzog like Blank's documentaries on himself? "Well, he likes them now," Blank said.
One thing is clear -- Herzog's films are as outlandish as the director himself, and Blank is the one who knows best how to present both in his own way.
A passion for movies dashed his study plans
For Koreans, the 1950s meant poverty and despair after the war. But for Oh Soon-tek, an ambitious college student, the decade was a new era of hope. In 1959, after having majored in political science at Yonsei University, he flew off to Los Angeles to study international relations, where he was supposed to meet the high expectations of his parents. But once in California, Oh changed his study plans. Eventually, he found life on the other side of the Pacific Ocean more than agreeable, and didn't come back to Korea for four decades. Now a professor at the Korean National University of Arts, Oh is a jury member for the Bucheon film festival.
Taking some time to sit and talk with the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition, Oh said, "I just loved movies too much to study international relations." He majored in acting and playwriting at the University of California at Los Angeles and went on to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater in New York, where Paul Newman cut his acting teeth. Oh was the first Korean actor to go global, making appearances in more than 100 Hollywood movies, TV series and Broadway musicals. Oh appeared in the 1974 James Bond movie "The Man With the Golden Gun" as Lieutenant Hip, helping the secret agent. Most recently, he starred in the animated film "Mulan" as the voice of Mulan's father.
Starting from rock bottom in Hollywood wasn't easy, especially for an Asian 40 years back. "I couldn't get any breaks, that was the most difficult part," Oh says, taking a sip of green tea. At the time, Hollywood was mostly casting Asian-Americans to play Japanese villians, roles that were usually minor and unchallenging. Censorship prevented interracial relationships on screen, which meant that Asian males could never take lead roles.
But Oh, who says his motto is "Never look back, tomorrow will be better," didn't know how to give up. He founded an Asian-American actor's guild, explaining that "when you're alone, your valid complaint sounds like a grudge, but in a group, it becomes an opinion." He says he jumped over hurdles gradually, and you can tell that from the way he speaks. He pays attention to detail and is good at making and winning arguments.
Oh sees the Bucheon festival as moderately successful. "There are two or three really good films," he says. On the growth of the local film industry: "The Korean movie scene entertains moviegoers, which is important. But a movie should not stop at entertainment. It should be about aesthetics and morality and reflect on human life."
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