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Albert Lanier checks out Moonchild; Shara; My House; Lumpia; One Armed Swordsman; For Good; Girl With A Pearl Earring

Father Geek here with another HIFF Report from Albert Lanier...

HIFF's THIRD DAY

by Albert Lanier

The 2003 Hawaii International Film Festival experienced a substantial rise in audience turnout in only its first few days.

Take for example THE RIDE--a TV movie shot in Hawaii by local boy and Loyola Marymount University film school graduate Nathan Kurosawa. THE RIDE received its World Premiere at an outdoor screening on Queen's Surf Beach in Waikiki. THE RIDE attracted an estimated 15,000 moviegoers to Waikiki and a couple of additional screenings has since been added and is reportedly close to being sold out.

Another example is the second day screening of Peter Webber's GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING on Oct. 31. The film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth filled the 400-seat theater at Honolulu's Dole Cannery theater complex.

Though I didn't attend the film (I saw GIRL at a press screening earlier that week), I was told by a couple of HIFF staff members and volunteers that ticket holders who came late couldn’t get in due to the capacity crowd already seated in the theater. Likewise, an additional screening of GIRL was added during the weekdays.

This rise in audience attendance came as a slight surprise to me. As a veteran HIFF attendee over the years, I've seen crowd turnout at films rise and fall like waves in the ocean. Last year, attendance levels varied with a dramatic rise in box office proceeds during the last weekend when most of the 2002 festival's sellouts occurred. In any event, the turnout by local film fans and other interested parties has been excellent at the 2003 fest thus far. Of course, I turned up for movies during the third day of HIFF.

The short A PLACE TO STAND and the accompanying feature FOR GOOD, both from New Zealand, were the first films I saw Nov. 1.

A PLACE TO STAND revolves around an elderly Maori man named Tiare played by veteran actor Wi Tuki Kaa. We first see him in a bed in what appears to a shelter or home and then follow Tiare as he carries a couple of shopping bags throughout the streets of a city, shares a meal with a younger tattooed Maori man and is taken by his ! daughter to an important native site.

Weaved between these contemporary scenes are flashbacks to Tiare's past as a soldier ducking from gunfire in Vietnam and a young man taking part in a Maori ceremony.

Director Peter Meteherangi Tikao Burger and his cinematographer Rewa Hare do an especially good job in directing and filming these flashback scenes which are sometimes jarring and sudden, other times elegantly transitional and expected. A PLACE TO STAND or TURANGAWAEWAE is a fine short that combines flashy scenes with quiet, touching sequences that reveal Tiare's search for home both within and without.

Adapted from a play, Stuart McKenzie's FOR GOOD is an intense drama revolving around aspiring journalist Lisa Pearce who wants to interview Grant Wilson, a ! prison inmate who raped and killed a young girl named Tracey Hill a decade ago and is up for parole.

However, Lisa's interest in Wilson is not that of the detached reporter. Lisa knew Tracey previously and was the same age when Tracey died. In fact, Tracey has come to identify herself with Tracey deeply. She manages to interview Wilson in prison and tapes them on video.

Wilson toys with Lisa at times during their interviews. He seems interested in her obsession, her identification and her need to know the details of the crime and his particular kinks (there is a chilling scene where Wilson talks fondly of rape scenes in feature films including the extended rape sequence in THE ACCUSED). Lisa also visits Tracey's family and talks to Tracey's outraged dad who has already stated to the news media that he will harm Wilson if he is released from prison.

FOR GOOD builds tension scene by scene effectively until its climax and resolution. The circumstances seem a bit contrived to me and the ending more a dramatic whimper than a bang. FOR GOOD barely works. McKenzie does a credible, solid job here as director but his own script betrays this interesting story by grafting on a climax that while somewhat logical seems a bit of copout in regards to the relationship of Lisa and Wilson.

I only saw an hour of LUMPIA--a crazy DV lensed comedy directed and written by Filipino-American filmmaker Patricio Ginelsa, Jr--but I thought what I saw was very funny though painted in broad brushstrokes.

LUMPIA features a cast of non-actors in a story set in Daly City, California. At Fogtown High School--where over 50% of the student population is Filipino--the Filipino-American kids harass and intimidate immigrants from the Philippines who are F.O.B's (Fresh Off the Boat). Into the fray steps a Baron, clad hero who eats Lumpia and then hurls them like weapons at thugs. He stands for stands for truth, justice and munching on a nice snack.

Since I haven't seen all of LUMPIA, I can't approve it or reject it but this film has a blatant sense of humor that has comic.

Fans of the Filipino-American drama THE DEBUT might also want to check out this film. Actress Joy Bisco (who also appeared in GHOST WORLD and NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE) has a cameo in LUMPIA and also serves as the film's off-screen narrator.

The picture quality of this film is lousy though. The colors look a little muddy and hazy at times and total visual effect is of an overlong home video. Still, I don't want to dump on a young filmmaker like Ginelsa and after all, this is his first film. I'm sure he will invest in a better DV system in the future for his next film.

Besides hopping into a theater to see 15 minutes or so of Chang Cheh's ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN (part of the Heroic Grace film tour of Shaw Brothers Kung-fu classics), the rest of the day consisted of screenings of Japanese film which were all U.S. Premieres:

MY HOUSE-Directed by Junji Sakamoto with a screenplay by Isama Uno is a tale set on a run-down town on a island in Western Japan and focuses on brothers Itta and Nitta and their "sister" Kanoko (! whom they meet for the first time at the start of the film).

The film focuses largely on Nitta, a young boy who often comments to the camera, filling the audience in on back stories or aspects of his small town while his brother Itta looks for ways to make money.

MY HOUSE vacillates from charm to harshness. The filmmakers aim to create a film that is mostly sweet but sometimes sour but this mix doesn't quite come out right. MY HOUSE is cute and funny at times but the bittersweet quality needed to be sustained here ends up losing out to sunny, childish optimism.

Naomi Kawase's SHARA--which played at Cannes this year--is rooted in a section of Nara and centers on Shun Aso and his mother and father. In the film's opening scenes, Shun and his brother Kei run down! and through the streets of their community. Shun heads back to meet his parents but Kei is nowhere to be found.

Fade out and then in to a close up of Shun's face. He is now a teenager sketching his girlfriend in an art class. His mother is pregnant with another child. His father serves as Chairman for the annual festival. As the film progresses, Shun and his family are informed by the police that Kei's body has been found. Shun is demonstrably upset and then moody. The family has to find a way to face the reality of the tragedy.

Kawase's camera gives us true feel of the environment and the surroundings seen in SHARA by relentlessly prowling the streets and alleys of Nara with a handheld camera at times. The acting here is naturalistic and the screenplay (also written by Kawase) never make grand speeches or epigrammatic statements meant to be profound.

SHARA succeeds by watching, forcing its audience to observe how the passage of time shapes its characters and how life marches on not in a shallow, and philosophical sense but in a real, everyday manner.

I saw MOONCHILD late that Saturday night.

This action film/drama revolves around a handful of Japanese immigrants who live in the non-existent country of Mallepa in the early years of the 21st Century. One of the immigrants is a vampire who seems tired and jaded with his long existence as a blood-sucker. The immigrants become pals with a Chinese man and his deaf mute sister and so a gang of friends forms.

HIFF's program guide calls this film "a good humored and touching plea for cross-cultural communication." I call it a agonizingly boring film that contains a few good ideas (a vampire ruminating on his existence who is tired of extracting bodily fluids for his survival) and surrounds those ideas with tired action scene, a lame sense of style and a tame script that pads this film to a nearly two-hour running time.

Takahide Shinabushi's guidance of camerawork here is quite good but Director Takahiza Zeze falls short.

Albert signing out…

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