Special Delivery (특송, Park Dae-min, 2022)

“Why is it so hard to live?” a little boy asks after finding himself on the run with a strange woman who seems to be the only person interested in helping him. Situating itself in an upside-down world of backstreet crime, Park Dae-min’s high octane thriller Special Delivery (특송, Teuksong) is in part about how hard it is to live amid constant moral compromise as the heroine finds herself torn between her better judgement and human feelings in trying to rescue her human cargo not only from the bad guys chasing him but from a duplicitous society. 

Technically speaking, Eun-ha (Park So-dam) is a delivery driver yet the services her firm provides are highly specialised promising to deliver anything anywhere by whatever means possible. In practice this often seems to mean transporting gangsters on the run from their hideouts to the nearest port before rival gangs can catch up with them as we see Eun-ha do with spectacular skill in the opening sequence. Other than the practice of frequently switching out license plates, what she’s doing in itself isn’t really illegal but is definitely crime adjacent and potentially dangerous. She is however well paid, arguing with her boss/mentor/father figure for a pay rate increase to an unprecedented 50/50 split in proceeds, though she lives a fairly modest life in a cosy apartment with her beloved cat Chubby whom she watches via security cam while waiting around for a fare. When her boss agrees to do a rush job for a Chinese gangster she tells him it’s a bad idea but ends up going along with it only to get drawn into the big news story of the day when a former pro-baseball player turned match fixing underworld figure blows the whistle and runs off with all the gang’s money. Eun-ha was supposed to drive him and his son Seo-won (Jung Hyeon-jun) to a port to leave the country but the bad guys who turn out to be corrupt police officers get there first and Eun-ha ends up with the kid and a bag full of money but no plan B. 

Drawing inspiration from John Cassavetes’ Gloria, the film develops into something of a buddy comedy as Eun-ha finds herself on the run with Seo-won having gone back for him after her boss suggested handing him off to an associate “who deals with children”. As we discover the child reminds her of her younger self being all alone with no other relatives or friends who could take care of him. Even when he reveals he might have a mother after all, it turns out to be a dead end because no one wants to get involved in this dangerously escalating underworld crisis. Yet the found family of the marginalised at the Busan junkyard where Eun-ha is based have more moral integrity than the world around them even if her boss’ solution for what to do about Seo-won isn’t ideal either. “Life is going alone” the corrupt police officer later sneers having repeatedly stated the necessity of staking one’s life to win such a big payout, but what Eun-ha is discovering is that it’s about going together trying to save the boy not only from the dangerously out of control corrupt police officers but from the moral bankruptcy of the contemporary society in which money is the only thing that matters. 

Overcoming both persistent sexism and societal discrimination Eun-ha proves herself a top operator in her field, Park choreographing a series of genuinely impressive car chases and visceral fight scenes as Eun-ha has to think her way through to take out the tougher, stronger bad guys while trying to protect Seo-won from danger on all sides. Her crime-adjacent existence tells her he’s not her responsibility but still she wants to complete her mission and deliver him somewhere safe much as she was rescued as a child by someone who might have felt much the same but chose to take her in anyway. With its neon lighting and retro score, Special Delivery harks back to an age of classic car chase thrillers with a stand-out performance from Parasite’s Park So-dam as a tough as nails getaway driver with nerves of steel fighting for humanity in an increasingly inhumane world. 


Special Delivery screened as part of this year’s Udine Far East Film Festival.

International trailer (English subtitles)

Love Nonetheless (愛なのに, Hideo Jojo, 2022)

“Don’t deny love!” the fantastically awkward yet empathetic hero of Hideo Jojo’s Love Nonetheless (愛なのに, Ai Nanoni) eventually exclaims when confronted by the parents of a high school girl whose crush on him he’d tried to diffuse sensitively while growing to appreciate her friendship. Scripted by the ever prolific Rikiya Imaizumi who has made something of a name for himself examining the complicated romantic lives of young people in the contemporary society, Jojo’s prickly dramedy like his other film this year To Be Killed by a High School Girl deals with some quite uncomfortable ideas but does so with as much sensitivity as it can muster. 

The lovelorn hero, Koji (Koji Seto), for example is always trying to rationalise the circumstances around him considering his own actions and their implications carefully. When he catches a high school girl, Misaki (Yuumi Kawai), stealing a book from the secondhand bookshop where he works he chases her but she, surprisingly, stops running when she notices him struggling and buys him a bottle of water from a vending machine before eventually confessing that she stole the book because she saw him reading it. Not only does she announce she’s in love with him, she immediately proposes marriage. 30-year-old Koji is shocked and alarmed. He tries to turn her down but she doesn’t listen, continuing to frequent the store bringing him letters reiterating her marriage proposal which he never answers. 

Meanwhile, he’s hung up on an unrequited crush, Ikka (Honami Sato), who he’s just learned is about to be married. Even he describes himself as a “creep” looking back over of a cringeworthy series of tweets he’d sent her which she never replied to, while she explains to her fiancé Ryosuke (Ayumu Nakajima) why she’s not planning on inviting him to the wedding despite inviting everyone else from her old part-time job. Unbeknownst to her, Ryosuke has secretly been carrying on with their wedding planner, Miki (Yuka Kouri), who is content with the no strings nature of their relationship and ironically hates the “bizarre ritual” she has been hired to organise having developed a rather cynical view of marriage due to the nature of her work. The couple seem to be in a fairly liminal state, their apartment still full of boxes while they bicker about the financial strain of a ceremony which as Miki points out is not even about them but solely for their families and any children they may later have. 

All these people supposedly love each other, so why is it all so difficult and destructive? Always introspective, Koji realises he may have alienated Ikka with his inappropriate behaviour and has reflected on his actions but the fact remains that most of the other men are not so emotionally aware. Misaki is also courted by an awkward classmate who greets her with roses but thrashes them to the ground in frustration when she turns him down and later physically attacks Koji even when he points out that hitting his love rival won’t change the fact that Misaki’s not interested in him. Ikka meanwhile is approached by a sleazy salaryman when drinking alone in an izakaya whose response when she tells him she’s married is “so what, I am too”. Ryosuke appears to be having an affair for no other reason than he could while simultaneously confused by Miki’s lack of emotional investment in their relationship only for her to patiently explain to him that his problem is he’s bad in bed something which a lover would be unable to tell him directly. Ikka begins to realise this for herself while turning to Koji to get back at Ryosuke on learning of the affair as if believing that a level playing field of emotional betrayal would somehow allow them to start their married life on an equal footing. 

The secondary question arises of how important sex is in a romantic partnership, Ikka wondering if Ryosuke really is just a bad lover or if their unsatisfying sex life is a sign that they are simply incompatible and should separate given that she finds much more fulfilment with Koji whom she chose because of her lack of romantic interest in him. Koji meanwhile, fully aware of the realities of the situation, points out that it’s unfair and irresponsible of Ikka to exploit his feelings for her while cautioning her that her behaviour is heading towards the self-destructive and that she should reconsider marrying Ryosuke not because he thinks she should date him but simply because this complicated situation is obviously unhealthy for everyone. You could of course say the same about his awkward, perhaps uncomfortable relationship with the teenage Misaki which might in a sense be romantic, both slightly inappropriate and essentially innocent even if his eventual concession that he might love her one day is a step too far in failing to fully diffuse her one-sided crush in part because he’s become dependent on the attention he receives from her in the letters he doesn’t answer. 

Then again, the most troubling aspect of Ryosuke’s affair is not the extra-marital sex but the manipulative lie he constructed to excuse it designed to arouse Ikka’s sympathy in tying it back to her awkward experience with one-sided workplace crushes. Aware of the affair but not the lie, the choice she thinks she’s making is if her relationship with Ryosuke is strong enough to accept sacrificing sexual fulfilment or if perhaps this is as good as it gets when it comes to marital compromise. Koji’s solution seems to be that you should let love rest where it lands, denying it is pointless even if not reciprocated while sensitivity with other people’s feelings is essential for a happy, healthy society. Warmhearted and empathetic in its forgiveness of its messy protagonists’ many flaws, Jojo’s steamy drama never pretends love is easy but suggests it comes in many forms and in the end maybe follow your heart is as good advice as you’re ever going to get.


Love Nonetheless screened as part of this year’s Udine Far East Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Cracked (ภาพหวาด, Surapong Plearnsang, 2022)

The traumatic past comes back to haunt a widowed single mother in Surapong Plearnsang’s eerie supernatural horror, Cracked (ภาพหวาด). A Singapore-South Korea-Taiwan-Thailand co-production, Cracked is adapted from an unproduced Korean screenplay and finds its heroine dealing with an inheritance both literal and spiritual following the death of her estranged father while she herself is filled with anxiety trying to find the money for an operation her daughter desperately needs to avoid losing her sight. 

In any case, the young Ruja (Chayanit Chansangavej) had been told “if we pretend not to see them, they cannot hurt us” which doesn’t sound like particularly good advice to begin with but perhaps fuels her reluctance to revisit the hidden past. Now living in New York with her young daughter Rachel (Nutthatcha Padovan), she is shocked when an old friend of her father’s, Wichai (Sahajak Boonthanakit), tracks her down and insists she return to Thailand her father having died. In addition to his giant gothic mansion seemingly inhabited only by a maid, her father has also left behind two famous paintings titled “A Painting of a Beauty 1 & 2” for which Wichai has found a buyer but needs Ruja’s consent. Ruja thinks the paintings are creepy anyway the recent history that the smaller was previously owned by a man who killed his entire family and then himself not withstanding and wants them gone as soon as possible especially if they raise enough to pay for Rachel’s medical treatment, but Wichai wants to have them restored first, his son conveniently enough being an art restorer. 

Ruja’s reluctance to look at the paintings is echoed in the instructions her mother had given her about unseeing the things that frighten her, yet being back in the house re-awakens a series of traumatic memories as she looks back on the way her father treated her mother from the perspective of an adult woman with a child of her own. Meanwhile, Rachel is keen to explore later explaining that she hasn’t been wandering off alone but in the company of a woman with a red scarf which is how she runs into Tim (Nichkhun Horvejkul), Wichai’s kind-hearted art restorer son. The problem is that the more Ruja is forced to look at the paintings the more they seem to decay, cracking so badly that the paint begins to fall away exposing a secondary painting below and a truth that Ruja did not want to witness. 

In a sense she’s been made to pay for her father’s transgressions, but also for her mother’s refusal to oppose them along with her discrimination towards another family she regarded as part of a “ghost-worshipping hill tribe”. Having been told to unsee Ruja is punished for the act of looking away, and perhaps also for having left and trying to make a new life for herself abroad having on some level forgotten what happened to her in the house and what she saw in her father’s studio. Surapong Plearnsang’s production design reflects her fractured viewpoint in the overlay between the broken window she peeks through and the hole in the painting while lending the paintings themselves an eerie disquiet painted as we later discover with violence and darkness by her already corrupted father later himself falling victim to a curse. 

The suggestion is that Ruja’s only escape lies in burning the past and creating a new history to pass down to her daughter free of the traumatic legacy inherited from her parents. “We only have each other now” she reminds Rachel, promising to protect her with her life while preparing to leave the eerie forest behind. Echoing the gothic in its creepy old mansion and obsession with corrupted legacy, Cracked is equal parts psycho chiller as Ruja tries to work through her buried trauma while assaulted by genuine supernatural forces of malevolence wanting her to pay for her parents’ transgressions aided by a more corporeal assistant seemingly hellbent on vengeance. Filled with a sense of dread not to mention extensive snake symbolism, Surapong Plearnsang’s haunted house creeper sends its conflicted heroine into the past hoping to fix the future only to discover that it’s not enough to paper over the cracks of an incomplete history, only by stripping the veneer and exposing the ugly truth below will you ever be free. 


Cracked screened as part of this year’s Udine Far East Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Perhaps Love (장르만 로맨스, Cho Eun-ji, 2021)

A blocked writer finds himself growing as a person after mentoring a young protégé but is also forced to meditate on his own romantic cowardice and tendency to treat others badly because of his inner insecurity in the directorial debut from actress Cho Eun-ji, Perhaps Love (장르만 로맨스, Jangleuman Lomaenseu). Caught in a complicated web of romantic intrigue between himself, his ex-wife, current wife, publisher, son, the woman across the road, and the young protégé, the writer is forced to reflect on the varying natures of love which may sometimes be misdirected or unreciprocated but no less real or important. 

Hyun’s (Ryu Seung-ryong) problem is that he had a big hit and became a literary phenomenon while relatively young but hasn’t written anything of note in the last seven years and is currently supporting himself as a professor of creative writing. His old university friend and publisher Soon-mo (Kim Hee-won) is becoming thoroughly fed up with increasing pressure from above to deliver the manuscript knowing that if he really can’t turn anything in Hyun risks being plunged into inescapable debt in having to repay his generous advance. After being pranked by a friend who invited him to his old teacher’s “funeral” which turned out to be a birthday party, Hyun goes to visit another old friend, Nam-jin (Oh Jeong-se), with whom as it transpires he had fallen out. Possibly out of jealously, Hyun had not only panned Nam-jin’s book in a review but thoughtlessly outed him by complaining that his writing was full of “cheap gay sentiment”, a comment which Nam-jin took to be essentially homophobic and on a personal level unnecessarily cruel. Hyun of course disputes this and doesn’t quite see why Nam-jin is so upset. 

Nam-jin’s short-term boyfriend Yu Jin (Mu Jin-sung) has point when he tells Hyun that the reason he can’t write is because he’s too afraid of losing what he has, unprepared to risk vulnerability in the service of his art. Then again, all Hyun really has is the faded glory of his former success, his present life is a mess. His second wife (Ryu Hyun-kyung) has been living in Canada with their daughter, while he ends up ruining his relationship with his angst-ridden teenage son Sung-kyung (Sung Yoo-bin) when he’s caught in the middle of a drunken fumble with feisty ex-wife Mi-ae (Oh Na-ra) who has secretly been dating Soon-mo. Sung-kyung meanwhile is in the middle of his first breakup after being dumped by his high school girlfriend who is carrying someone else’s child. Disillusioned by his adulterous parents he develops a not entirely appropriate relationship with an eccentric actress (Lee Yoo-young) who lives across the road. Meanwhile, Yu Jin suddenly reappears in Hyun’s life and reveals he’s been in love with him for years. 

All of these loves are in someway incomplete, hesitant or uncertain each of the lovers lacking the confidence to claim the word. A terrible holiday forces Mi-ae and Soon-mo to realise that they’ve been keeping their romance secret less because of the potential awkwardness in their shared history with Hyun than because they themselves are romantically insecure. Sung-kyung thinks he’s in love with the older lady from across the road and completely misses all of her attempts to avoid his romantic overtures, while she is perhaps just lonely and unfulfilled in both her marriage and her career. Hyun meanwhile is confronted with his own romantic cowardice in cheating on both of his wives, continually self-sabotaging in his insecure inability to commit. Having ruined his friendship with Nam-jin he threatens to do the same to a younger female writer joining the university who has eclipsed him in literary success in having been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. 

It’s the arrival Yu Jin that shakes him up, seeing something in the young writer that reawakens his creative spirit as he offers to become a mentor co-authoring a novel with him, but it also disturbs Hyun in confronting him with his latent homophobia and later his complicated feelings for the young man which might extend to a kind of love he cannot quite put a name to. Where Hyun is too afraid to risk losing the comfortable life he currently has, Yu Jin has no such worries because as he later says he’s used to getting hurt and having to get over it. As gay man in a conservative society he’s familiar with a constant sense of casual rejection, a fellow student in Hyun’s writing class shouting out “the gay guy” in mocking tones when Hyun asks who’s missing during roll call while the pair are later the subject of a media frenzy when Nam-jin goes to the press accusing them of being lovers. Yet Yu Jin is willing to state his feelings plainly with no expectation that they will be reciprocated leaving Hyun floundering as to the proper way to react.

While there may be some latent conflict in Hyun, what he comes to realise is that love is more complicated than he thought and what he feels for Yu Jin may be a kind of it comprising the paternal, fraternal, that of a mentor for a pupil, and that simply for another human being. In an interview promoting the book they’ve written together, Hyun explains that he wanted to explore how people can change and grow with relationships having overcome his latent homophobia in advancing that no one should be judged for who they love while otherwise able to appreciate Yu Jin’s talent without jealousy or resentment having regained his own desire to write. Through their various experiences each of the lovers is confronted with a romantic reality accepting who it is they love or don’t while teenager Seung-kyung experiences his first real heartbreak in realising the extent to which he’d misinterpreted his relationship with the quirky neighbour. Always forgiving of its feckless hero’s flaws, Cho’s warm and empathetic dramedy is indeed about how people can grow and change through their interactions with others finding new equilibrium with themselves if not, perhaps, love. 


Perhaps Love screened as part of this year’s Udine Far East Film Festival.

International trailer (English sutbtitles)

Noise (ノイズ, Ryuichi Hiroki, 2022)

The dark heart of small-town Japan is fully exposed in Ryuichi Hiroki’s ironic tale of murder and mass deception, Noise (ノイズ). “It’s for the sake of the island” the heroes are fond of claiming, one morally dubious justification leading to another as they contemplate the greater good saving their town while eroding its soul assuming of course that it had one to begin with. Addressing everything from rural depopulation to a back to the land philosophy, Hiroki’s quietly escalating drama imbues its “idyllic” wholesome island with an unsettling sense of quasi-spiritual unease as its well-meaning hero begins to buy in to his own saviourhood deciding all things are permissible so long as they serve the town. 

Following a recent trend, Keita’s (Tatsuya Fujiwara) big plan for saving the island is through the cultivation of black figs which he hopes to turn into a local industry boosting the economy and encouraging young people from the mainland to repopulate the rapidly ageing village. Ironically enough, it’s this that brings him to the attention of recently released ex-offender Mutsuo (Daichi Watanabe) whose kindly probation officer has brought him to the island in the hope of finding him an honest job so he can restart his life in a wholesome and supportive environment. Unfortunately, however, Mutso suddenly kills the old man for no particular reason and then begins wandering the island generally acting suspiciously and alarming the islanders including Keita’s best friend Jun (Kenichi Matsuyama), a hunter. When Keita returns home and discovers the bottle he’d seen Mutso drinking from lying in his garden and his small daughter Erina missing, he assumes the worst. He, Jun, and their childhood friend Shin (Ryunosuke Kamiki) recently returned to the island to take over as its one and only policeman, finally track Mutsuo down to one of the greenhouses and challenge him only for Mutsuo to fall over and hit his head during the tussle. 

Obviously on a personal level it’s not an ideal situation for the three guys but their first thoughts are for the island. Keita was supposed to be its saviour and now he’s killed someone in right under the figs that were supposed to rescue the economy. If this gets out it’s game over for everyone. The first lesson new policeman Shin had been taught by his departing predecessor (Susumu Terajima) had been that a policeman’s job is about more than enforcing the law and sometimes what’s “right” might not be “best” for the town using the example of a middle-aged woman with a history of bad driving who’d hit a wild boar. If she lost her license the family’s life would become impossible, so seeing as it’s “only” an animal, perhaps it’s better not to bother logging it as a “crime”. Faced with this situation, Shin decides the greater good of the island is more important and that covering up the crime is best thing for everyone only to be caught out when mainland police arrive having been alerted by the probation officer’s daughter. 

The situation is complicated by the fact that the town had been in the running for a government development grant based on the potential of the figs which gives everyone a reason not to want the scandal of a murder taking place on the “idyllic” wholesome island where according to the mayor, Shoji (Kimiko Yo), there is “absolutely no crime”. That may largely be true especially given the attitude of local law enforcement but is also an ironic statement seeing as we later discover Shoji apparently cannot sleep without her trusty taser by her side, just in case. Having lied in trying to cover up the murder, Keita is later forced to get even more of the townspeople involved in the conspiracy while they are it seems surprisingly happy to help because they believe in him as the saviour of the town and are prepared to do pretty much anything to help save the island. 

Stoic yet omniscient police detective Hatakeyama (Masatoshi Nagase) sneers at the villagers’ tendency to see all outsiders as enemies. “Typical of a dying town” he adds, commenting on the way the combination of isolation and desperation has brought the townspeople together as they present a united front in the face of the things they think threaten their small-town wholesomeness, some objecting to the idea of new residents moving in a fear which is ironically borne out in the arrival of a man like Mutsuo. Yet their small town wasn’t all that wholesome to begin with. Shoji had told the three guys to eliminate the “noise” that disturbs the island though in the end it isn’t’ so much Mutsuo who created the disturbance as their own quasi-religious determination to save the island by whatever means necessary. Keita wants to save the island because the island once saved him, but in saving it like this he ironically destroys the very qualities he hoped to preserve in building their new future on blood and lies. 

Meanwhile the strain of trying to conceal a murder exposes the cracks in the foundations of the friendship between the men, earnest policeman Shin continually conflicted in betraying his own ideals, while hunter Jun’s personal insecurity in continually playing second fiddle to saviour Keita who is so obsessed with the idea of being the island’s chosen one that he never notices the pain in each of his friends, gives rise to a degree of instability in their otherwise carefully crafted plan. Maybe this island isn’t so idyllic after all, keeping a dark hold on the bewitched Keita as his increasingly worried wife Kana (Haru Kuroki) suggests concerned he’s “becoming someone else” in buying in to his own messianic hype. “What are you trying to protect?” Hatakeyama had asked him hinting at the dark side of the furusato spirit but also at his misplaced priorities as the forces of greed and anxiety threaten to consume the wholesome soul of moribund small-town Japan. 


Noise streams in Europe until 30th April as part of this year’s Udine Far East Film Festival.

international trailer (English subtitles)

Rabid (Erik Matti, 2021)

The last few years have obviously been stressful for everyone, but Erik Matti’s four-part pandemic-era horror anthology Rabid roots itself in the anxieties lurking below the simple fear of disease or strain of isolation painting a sometimes uncomfortable picture of the contemporary society. Ranging from class conflict to caring for the sick, brain drain, and economic despair, the four episodes find each of their protagonists trapped in a maddening world which no longer makes sense with little idea how they got there or how to escape. 

The first chapter, “Bad Luck is a Bitch”, for instance takes place entirely within the home of a wealthy family whose lives have not changed drastically under coronavirus restrictions because their jobs can be done from home and their livelihoods do not depend on the kind of business that requires face to face interaction. The trouble starts when mother Mayette (Cheska Diaz) takes pity on an old woman who comes begging at her door with a sign stating she is a deaf mute whose son passed away of COVID-19. Mayette invites her to stay in the family’s home as an act of kindness but also one that’s tinged with snobbery explaining to her husband they can do with more help seeing as their maid is no longer available. The old woman is later exposed as a witch using black magic to possess the family and take over the house. 

Her transformation could be red either as the family’s animosity towards the poor, the husband and daughter against taking the old woman in in case she has COVID-19, or as a manifestation of the poor’s resentment taking revenge on the rich for their lack of compassion. In any case it’s ironic that Mayette’s act of kindness has such devastating consequences for her family, the act itself corrected in the conclusion when she calls her daughter to help another beggar offering only food and sending the woman and her child on their way. Meanwhile the family’s attempt to get help from outside is frustrated by a breakdown of community trust during the pandemic when challenged by local patrols who remain suspicious of them and their health status, while the family’s modernity also undermines their safety their salvation coming only from the daughter’s boyfriend and his interest in the occult. 

Chapter two’s “Nothing Beats Meat” by contrast is melancholy black and white treatment of love and isolation seemingly set in the midst of a zombie apocalypse in which a loving husband attempts to help his zombified wife beat her meat addiction by going cold turkey underground. Filled with a sense of fatalistic romance, the segment’s ironically upbeat ending asks what point there is in being well in a world of sickness when all the love and care there is will not bring the husband’s wife back to him leading him to decide that it is better to simply join her. 

The husband’s inner conflict feeds into the themes of the third instalment “Shit Happens” which is set in a small hospital and revolves around newly qualified nurse Becky (Ayeesha Cervantes) who is seen to be not entirely committed to her new job merely waiting it out until her visa arrives so she can go abroad. Exasperated nurse Reggie (Ricci Rivero) reveals that her predecessor only lasted three days for the same reason while he himself is working a double shift because of short staffing levels. He also accuses her of neglecting her work, avoiding its least pleasant aspects in conveniently forgetting to look in on a patient who had them soiled themselves and needed cleaning up. Beckoned into an alternate reality by the ghost of an old woman, she is soon confronted by her fears covered in poo and vomit while finally abusing the patient who is it seems taking revenge for the neglect she felt at the hands of her doctors while alive. This chapter both underlines the pressures on frontline health workers who are also dealing with their own fears and anxieties along with those of the patients who have no choice other than to trust them, and perhaps also offers direct criticism of those like Becky who only want to escape their responsibilities through chasing more lucrative work abroad. 

That sort of thinking is also in play in the final story, “HM?”, which is apparently a common abbreviation used in online selling meaning “how much?” and later takes on a different nuance when the heroine stumbles on a secret Russian food additive that must only be used in small quantities, as we discover, because it is extremely addictive turning those who overindulge into rabid zombies who lose all sense of reason trampling over each other to ease their craving. Widowed single mother Princess (Donna Cariaga) was in a difficult position having lost her job when ABS-CBN lost its media broadcast licence because of the political realities of Duterte’s Philippines and struggling to find a new one in the difficult economic conditions of the pandemic. Like many she decided to start an online side hustle as a home cook despite having no previous experience or talent but finds unexpected success thanks to the Russian serum only for the situation to get out of hand leaving her unable to cope with the demand on her business not to mention the zombified hordes who soon descend on her home. 

A fly buzzes through each of the instalments as if signalling the lingering malaise from class-based paranoia to pure desperation and the temptation of a quick fix. Inspired by original stories from Michiko Yamamoto, each of the tales paint a less than flattering picture of the contemporary society not limited to the stresses and strains of life in the middle of a pandemic but only exacerbated by them as pretty much everyone finds themselves trapped in a maddening world that no longer makes sense with no clear sign towards a wholly acceptable way out. 


Rabid streams worldwide until 30th April as part of this year’s Udine Far East Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Tomb of the River (강릉, Yoon Young-bin, 2021)

“Why did you turn this place into hell?” a reformed gangster asks his defeated enemy only to be told that nobody made the world this way, it is just is. In any case, Yoon Young-bin’s purgatorial gangster epic Tomb of the River (강릉, Gangneung) finds itself in a world of conflicting moral values in which organised crime has become increasingly legitimised conducted by men in sharp suits sitting in elegant surroundings but no less thuggish, violent, and immoral than it ever was. 

The two opposing forces are hippyish middle-aged enforcer Gil-suk (Yu Oh-seong) whose boss has adopted an anti-violence philosophy, and the psychotic Min-suk (Jang Hyuk) whom we first meet as the only survivor of a smuggling boat massacre hiding in the hold eating the dead bodies of his comrades whom he may or may not have killed himself. The battle ground is a new casino resort in the previously peaceful rural backwater of Gangneung shortly to host the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics. Gil-suk’s ageing boss decides to hand him the reins of the business but he objects out of old-fashioned gangster etiquette because the complex is technically located in an area handled by his colleague Chung-sub (Lee Hyun-kyun) who is currently in the boss’ bad books after a group of young people were found passed out having taken drugs in one of the karaoke rooms he manages. 

Gil-suk is perhaps a representative of disingenuous contemporary corporatised gangsters who still operate like thugs but do so with a veneer of elegance, his now elderly boss having achieved a state of zen in giving him small pieces of wisdom such as “don’t fight. If you fight you suffer whether you win or lose”. Gil-suk later echoes him when he tells his friend to leave Min-suk alone and that rather than fighting they should share a meal with him sometime instead acknowledging that his gang members’ lives seem to have been hard. But his compassion is as it turns out, misplaced, Min-suk is not the sort of man who can be befriended or softened with kindness for he is the personification of humanity’s baser instincts in unbridled selfishness and destructive desire. 

“I did it to survive” his underlings often justify themselves, believing they have no other option than to behave the way they do while Min-suk exploits the venality and misfortune of others as a kind of get out of jail free card promising to wipe their debts if they take the fall for his crimes. Sooner or later everyone betrays everyone else for reasons of greed or self-preservation, even Gil-suk eventually pulled towards the dark side while his policeman friend (Park Sung-geun) attempts to save him from himself. “What other choice did I have?”, he asks, but to conform to the dubious morality of the world around him. He criticises the police for a lack of action, but watches and does nothing as Min-suk carves up his entire squad of foot soldiers while patiently making his way towards him. 

The irony is that Gil-suk had been the good gangster, never wanting more than he needed and always happy to share. He is confused by the betrayal of his closest friends because he cannot understand their motivation. He had always thought of the resort as “ours” never considering that it could be “mine” while his friend tells him he should take it all because if he doesn’t someone else will. To prove his point Gil-suk tries to broker a peaceful solution by offering to share control with Min-suk in a process of appeasement, suggesting he take the club while he keeps the casino and they split the profits between them before eventually deciding to surrender it entirely in order to curry favour with an even shadier corporate gangster whose polite interest in the resort he’d previously rebuffed. 

Taking on spiritual dimensions in its gloomy backgrounds, battles fought under the light of a full moon, and the snow falling over the living and the dead in the melancholy final sequence Yoon’s hellish tale seems to take place in a gangster purgatory in which as Gil-suk finally announces romance really is dead, in its place only internecine violence and the intense desire to survive by any means possible mortal anxiety provoking only preemptive greed and cruelty. As Min-suk suggests “only death will end things” but everyone here is in a sense already dead only trapped in the eternal limbo of the gangster mentality. 


Tomb of the River streamed/screened as part of this year’s Udine Far East Film Festival.

International trailer (English subtitles)

Udine Far East Film Festival Confirms Lineup for 24th Edition

The Udine Far East Film Festival returns for its 24th edition 22nd – 30th April in a hybrid format with the complete programme screening at the Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine and a selection also available to stream online in Italy and in many cases beyond (geographical restrictions noted below). While most films are available to stream for the entire festival, those marked “Gala” stream once only with a four hour window to view. This year’s recipient of the Golden Mulberry Award for Lifetime Achievement is Takeshi Kitano whose 1993 film Sonatine screens in the Restored Classics strand.

Cambodia

  • White Building – A young man contemplates the loss of home and history as the building he’s lived in all his life faces demolition in Kavich Neang’s ethereal coming-of-age drama. Review.

China

  • Hi, Mom – a young woman is transported back to 1981 and gets to know her mother as a young woman in a comedy directed by and starring comedian Jia Ling.
  • I Am What I Am – CGI animation revolving around three village boys trying to master the traditional lion dance.
  • The Italian Recipe – romance in which a spoilt pop star travels to Rome for a reality show and falls for a girl who wants to become a chef.
  • Manchurian Tiger – black comedy starring Zhang Yu in which a truck driver, his wife, his girlfriend, and a poet recovering from mental illness are caught up in a bizarre series of events. Online Italy only.
  • Nice View – dramedy from Wen Muye (Dying to Survive) in which a young man takes a chance on a risky business venture to pay for his sister’s medical treatment.
  • Return to Dust – rural romance in which a couple who met through an arranged marriage come to trust and respect one another.
  • Too Cool to Kill – Chinese remake of Koki Mitani’s movie set comedy The Magic Hour. Online Italy Only
  • Streetwise – gritty drama in which a 21-year-old man becomes a debt collector to pay his father’s medical bills.

Hong Kong

  • Caught in Time – crime drama inspired by real life criminal Zhang Jun. Online Italy Only
  • Far Far Away – An introverted IT guy (Kaki Sham) gets a crash course in romance when he ends up dating a series of women from the far flung corners of Hong Kong in Amos Why’s charming romantic comedy. Review.
  • The First Girl I Loved – A young woman begins to re-evaluate her teenage romance when her first love asks her to be maid of honour at her wedding in Yeung Chiu-Hoi & Candy Ng Wing-Shan’s youth nostalgia romance. Review. Online Worldwide (Except Asia)
  • Legendary in Action! – wuxia from Justin Cheung.
  • Schemes in Antiques – mystery adventure from Derek Kwok in which a drunken antiques expert must find a priceless Buddhist head. Online Italy Only.
  • Table for Six – anarchic comedy from Men on the Dragon’s Sunny Chan in which a crisis erupts at a family dinner when one of the guests arrives with the host’s old flame.
  • Tales from the Occult – horror anthology featuring entries from Fruit Chan, Fung Chih-chiang, and Wesley Hoi
  • Twelve Days – marital drama starring Stephy Tang and Edward Ma
  • Sunshine of My Life – autobiographical drama about the sometimes difficult relationship between a daughter and her parents each of whom are blind.

Indonesia

  • Yuni – A young woman decides she wants more out of life but finds herself trapped by the oppressive social codes of her conservative hometown in Kamila Andini’s bleak social drama. Review. Online Italy Only

Japan

  • Just Remembering – bittersweet love story from Daigo Matsui inspired by Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth.
  • Love Nonetheless – erotic comedy from Jojo Hideo. Online Worldwide.
  • Missing – darkly comic thriller in which a young girl searches for her father who went missing after saying he was going to claim the bounty on a serial killer he spotted in town.
  • My Small Land – a young woman who came to Japan as refugee when she was a child finds her life upended when her family’s refugee status is revoked.
  • Noise – drama from Ryuichi Hiroki in which three childhood friends attempt to cover up a murder. Online Europe Only.
  • One Day, You Will Reach the Sea – powerful drama from Ryutaro Nakagawa in which a young woman struggles to come to terms with the loss of a friend who went missing in the 2011 tsunami. Online Italy Only
  • Popran – outlandish comedy from Shinichiro Ueda in which an arrogant CEO’s genitals decide to leave him and he has to find them within six days or lose them forever. Online Italy only [Gala]
  • What to Do with the Dead Kaiju? – satire from Satoshi Miki in which bureaucrats must try to decide how to dispose of the corpse of a defeated kaiju.
  • INU-OH – a blind Biwa player and a cursed young man exorcise the spirits of the Heike through musical expression in Masaaki Yuasa’s stunning prog rock anime. Review.

Malaysia

  • The Assistant – thriller in which a man unjustly imprisoned plots revenge
  • The Devil’s Deception – horror in which a pregnant woman haunted by her brother’s death begins to have strange visions while staying at a remote mansion

The Philippines

  • Leonor Will Never Die – cineliterate meta comedy in which a formerly successful filmmaker now struggling to make ends meet is thrown into an unfinished script after being knocked out by a TV set. Online Italy Only [Gala]
  • Rabid – pandemic-era horror anthology from Erik Matti. Online Worldwide.
  • Reroute – horror in which a couple end up in a sinister place when their car breaks down while taking the scenic route home. Online Worldwide.
  • On the Job: The Missing 8 – sequel to On the Job in which a corrupt reporter begins an investigation when his colleagues disappear while a hitman imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit plots escape.

South Korea

  • The Apartment with Two Women – familial drama in which the already strained relationship between a mother and daughter declines when one runs the other over.
  • Confession – mystery drama in which a man is accused of a locked room murder
  • Hostage: Missing Celebrity – remake of Saving Mr Wu in which actor Hwang Jung-min is kidnapped and must try to escape. Online Worldwide.
  • The Killer – a former hitman is charged with babysitting a friend’s daughter only for her to be kidnapped by thugs
  • Kingmaker – political drama revolving around an idealistic politician and his campaign strategists. Online Italy Only
  • Miracle: Letters to the President – ’80s-set drama in which a small rural town comes together to build a railway station
  • Perhaps Love – romantic drama in which a blocked writer bonds with an aspiring author. Online Worldwide
  • Special Delivery – action drama starring Park So-dam as a delivery driver who is drawn into intrigue when a child gets into her car. Online Worldwide.
  • Thunderbird – a taxi driver tries to get back a car his brother pawned which is filled with his gambling winnings but nothing goes to plan.
  • Tomb of the River – gangster drama in which rival gangs go to war over the building of a lucrative resort. Online Worldwide [Gala]
  • Escape from Mogadishu – North & South Korean diplomats are forced to set ideology aside to escape the increasing violence of the Somali Civil War in Ryoo Seung-wan’s intense action drama. Review.

Taiwan

  • Incantation – interactive found footage horror movie in which a mother tries to cure her daughter of a curse
  • Mama Boy – romantic drama in which a young man falls for a single mother working at a love hotel
  • Terrorizers – drama revolving around an angry young man who goes on a public slashing attack

Thailand

  • Cracked– horror in which a prominent painter’s suicide provokes a series of bizarre events. Online Worldwide.
  • One for the Road – a New York club owner returns to Thailand on learning that his friend has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Online Italy Only.

Documentaries

Restored Classics

  • Audition – Takashi Miike’s deceptive drama begins as a gentle romcom before edging slowly towards the horrific as a widower (Ryo Ishibashi) takes his his friend’s advice and sets up a fake audition to find the perfect wife but ends up finding something quite different.
  • Battle Royale Director’s Cut – Kinji Fukasaku’s millennial classic in which a class of school children is sent to an island and forced to fight to the death
  • The Heroic Trio – Anita Mui, Maggie Cheung, and Michelle Yo star in Johnnie To’s 1993 classic
  • Executioners – sequel to Heroic Trio
  • Initial D – Andrew Lau & Alan Mak’s 2005 adaptation of the Japanese drag race manga
  • The Swordsman of All Swordsmen – Joseph Kuo’s 1968 wuxia following a swordsman’s 20-year quest to avenge the death of his parents
  • Pale Flower – Masahiro Shinoda’s 1964 noir starring Ryo Ikebe as a recently released yakuza drawn to a self-destructive female gambler
  • Sonatine – Tired of the life, a veteran gangster ponders retirement but knows his brief island holiday is only a temporary respite from his nihilistic life of violence in Takeshi Kitano’s 1993 melancholy existential drama. Review.

Visions of Manila in Philippines Movies

  • Manila by Night – Ishmael Bernal’s 1980 oddyssey through the nighttime city. Online Worldwide [Gala]
  • Manila in the Claws of Light – Lino Brocka’s 1973 drama in which a young man travels to the city in search of his missing girlfriend. Review.
  • Metro Manila – Sean Ellis’ 2013 social drama in which a man moves to the city and becomes an armoured truck driver. Online Italy only
  • Slingshot – Brillante Mendoza’s 2007 neo-realist noir. Online worldwide
  • Neomanila – Mikhail Red’s 2017 bleak extra judicial killing drama. Review. Online Worldwide.

The 24th Udine Far East Film Festival runs online and in person at the Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine 22nd – 30th April. Full details for all the films are available via the official website and you can keep up with all the latest news by following the festival on FacebookInstagramYouTubeTwitter, and Tumblr.