Time for round two of my NYAFF 2014 coverage! First we have something decidedly different from mainland China, and second is also something you wouldn’t expect from the man who gave the world Ringu…
No Man’s Land
No Man’s Land from 2009 hails from mainland China, yet feels more like a product of Australia, and not just because the film almost entirely takes place on a lone strip of asphalt that runs through the desert, which I imagine as being the Chinese equivalent of the outback. Presented as a neo-western thriller, the film centers on the trials and tribulations of Pan Xiao, a big city lawyer with an even bigger ego. Pan makes the journey to the middle of nowhere to defend a falcon poacher, one accused of murdering a police officer, which he totally did. The hotshot defense attorney is able to use a technicality to get his client off, but the poacher is unable to repay the favor by financially compensating his legal counsel in a timely manner. Despite assurances that he’s a man of his word and will provide payment in just a few days time, Pan demands the poacher’s car as collateral. The poacher agrees, but also makes up in his mind that the lawyer needs to die.
Pan then hits the road, with the aim of reaching civilization in time for a celebration that’s all about how awesome he is. But until then, he’s stuck in a place that’s very much dog eat dog, and it’s made clear early on that he’s basically a chew toy with zero redeeming qualities. Hence why, when trying to throw his weight around two bumpkin truck drivers for driving too slow for his tastes, they justifiably pee in his borrowed car. Yet another colorful personality that is come across, which we assume will help lead to Pan’s eventual redemption, comes in the form a dirt bag owner who justifies the astronomic price for gas that he’s charging by tossing in a bonus: the chance to bang his wife. Naturally she asks for Pan’s help in getting away, but he also has to deal with the poacher’s associate who has been ordered to kill the lawyer, whom Pan seemingly (and accidentally) murders before an attempt is actually made.
No Man’s Land is unlike your typical Chinese movie, which is a very good thing. Given how tumultuous life can be in that part of the world, naturally the films that spring forth are often a reflection, but the absolute stone cold harshness in which tales of political strife and family melodramas are delivered, gets tiresome after a while. As does the slow going pace that’s also seemingly a staple of most films from China, which this film also suffers from, but it helps to establish character at the very least. Otherwise, the focus on just a few quirky, but multifaceted characters are a breath of fresh air, plus the scenery is simply gorgeous. It’s also a perfect compliment to the Hong Kong heavy programming of this year’s NYAFF, which is awesome and all, yet it’s always good to offer a few alternatives. No Man’s Land can be seen this upcoming Tuesday, July 1, at the Walter Reader Theater.
Monsterz is yet another flick about two individuals with extraordinary abilities, one a goody guy and the other not so much, in a battle of one-upmanship (yes, it’s somewhat of a staple of Japanese cinema). The bad guy in this particular case has no name; he leads a fairly misanthropic existence and uses innocent people as he damn well pleases, like freezing them on the spot to take a bite out of their snacks or forcing them to hand over their money. His existence is not just care-free but guilt-free; the dude forces hapless individuals to snap their own necks quite a bit, just for laughs. What a douche. Anyhow, aside from the fact that every time he flexes his ability, a part of his body rots off, life appears to be good. That is until he encounters a man who has both a first and last name: Shuichi Tanaka. For whatever reason, Shuichi is immune to the Monster’s ability, which drives him absolutely bonkers.
An attempt on the lead good guy’s life is made, but not only does Shuichi survive the truck that hits him, the all around nice guy ends up working for the man behind the wheel. A kindly old gentleman who runs a modest acoustic guitar repair shop to be exact; the only other person who works there is the owner’s daughter, Kanae, and when she finds out that Shuichi is as into cartography as she is (by stumbling across the fact that Shuichi’s map centric Twitter feed is pretty popular), love is in the air. Life for Shuichi also seems pretty decent, especially since he’s still besties with his former coworkers; one is a super flamboyant guy dude, and the other is way over the top for Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards. Until the nameless telekinetic with a sh*t attitude and gimpy leg (who also obsesses over a collected volume of the Akira manga, btw) shows up to crash the party that is literally taking place.
The second attempt to snuff Shuichi also bombs, and it finally becomes clear that he’s got powers of his own: dude can take a licking and keep on ticking. The inevitable game of cat and mouse ensues, one that’s surprisingly enjoyable. Director Hideo Nakata is best known for The Ring and basically shaping modern J-horror as a whole. It’s also a genre that I could care less about, mostly due to how its goofy tropes are like the worst parts of Japanese cinema times ten. Granted, there’s a degree of vagueness and mystery that feels more like a co-out than anything else, along with the requisite existential mumbo jumbo that key characters spew, plus even the dreaded “m” word (as in “mutant”) rears its ugly head. Yet it’s all at completely tolerable levels. Everything is surprisingly logical, and if you’re the type of person who loves going “oh wow, I totally forgot about that thing/person!” then this movie is right up your alley.
Ultimately, Monsterz succeeds thanks to its two primary principles; our good guy is noble, you want him to win, and our bad guy is truly despicable, but just like Shuichi, you have no clue how to take care of him. But you do have two chances to watch him try; first is this upcoming Sunday, July 6, at the Walter Reader Theater, and second is the following Sunday, July 13m at Japan Society.