My survey of the New York Asian Film Festival 2016 continues! What’s up next? Why, two films that are all about how wonderful one’s neighbor can be…

Creepy

As noted in festival reports past, I’m a fairly huge fan of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, largely due to the fact that whenever he tries to make a scary movie, it’s actually scary! Despite being widely regarded as an innovator of the genre, Kurosawa actually doesn’t make J-horror movies; he simply makes horror movies that happen to be from Japan. And Creepy is a fine return to form for those who have fond memories of his earliest output, like my personal favorite Cure. Once again our hero is a detective, Koichi, who retires early into his career after sustaining an on the job injury. So him and his young wife Yasuko move to the burbs, where he becomes a college professor, teaching criminal psychology. It’s a cushy gig, as well as a boring one, hence why Takakura allows himself to be wrapped up in an unsolved mystery from his past. At first Koichi is hesitant in helping a former colleague on the force finally crack one particular case after so many years, yet basically can’t help himself. It involves a family that seemingly vanishes in thin air, except their daughter, whose less than reliable memory is why it has remained unsolved in the first place.

Meanwhile, Yasuko tries her best to be a good neighbor and quickly discovers that everyone on their block is rude and stand off-ish. But then there’s the guy next door, who is just a total weirdo. Also, creepy. Nishino is his name, brilliantly portrayed by Teruyuki Kagawa, who was in the last J-horror flick that I actually enjoyed (Tormented, which was screened at Japan Cuts 2012). At first he appears to be socially awkward yet ultimately harmless, though before long it’s clear as day that he’s a sociopath top to bottom. Nishino has a wife that we never see (at first) and a daughter that’s oddly cool and aloof (but not like all teenage daughters around their dads). The first real sign of trouble is when she tells our hero that, “He’s not my father, he’s a total stranger.” A warning that should have been all that Koichi needed to cement Nishino as being more than just some odd fellow but a legit threat to himself and his dear wife. Yet it’s not, and that’s my issue with Creepy; despite borrowing a number of the same winning elements from Cure… i.e a determined yet somewhat inept man of the law facing off against a master manipulator, with foggy memories making the back and forth complicated… you also have character traits that’s rather foreign in a Kiyoshi Kurosawa flick. Specifically how Koichi and Yasuko are kinda dumb at times. Not infuriatingly stupid like those who populate most horror flicks. Plus the befuddling actions of Yasuko in particular (basically how she tries to be pals with Nishino, despite all the red flags) are designed to reinforce a primary argument that the film makes, which is how the most dangerous state of mind can be loneliness. The latter half reveals that the happy couple is, in fact, not very happy.

Nevertheless, there exists moments in which the audience knows better than the characters, again like in most other scary movies, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s are supposed to be better than that. Furthermore, elements that are not explained and which defy logic ends up feeling a bit contrived, such as how Yasuko comes to realize that the person behind the missing person’s case might be his neighbor! Not to say that everything in his movies always make sense, but a trademark of his is being told only what is absolutely necessary, with any lack of info related to reasoning excused via the unique atmosphere that is Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s true signature. Which ends up being lost as a consequence of of the slightly different approach; instead of things being all dark and gloomy, everything is bright and sunny, which actually helps to enhance the don’t believe what you’re seeing sentiment that’s pushed. For better or worse, whenever you try something that’s a bit more traditional, many of the preconceived notions and biases come along for the ride. Regardless of the issues, and like the very best the genre has to provide, instead of wanting the protagonist to die because he or she deserves death you end up ultimately rooting for Kagawa and are truly disgusted by Nishino’s actions. The film’s saving grace is its sense of humor, which is doled out in very controlled doses, like how the antics of rapists and murders in Japan can’t compare to those in America, cuz “They do everything bigger in the US!” In the end, even though I was disappointed by Creepy, I still enjoyed the hell out of it. Was even completely caught up in the ending, hook, line, and sinker, even though it was super predictable. Hence why I still recommend catching it next Wednesday, June 29 at Lincoln Center, especially for those not familiar with Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Just be sure to catch Cure via Hulu afterward.

The Tenants Downstairs

The Tenants Downstairs is this year’s NYAFF Closing Night presentation, and boy oh boy, what a perfect choice. I could discuss at length as to why the NYAFF is so vastly and absurdly superior to all the other film festivals out there, especially in the city (speaking as someone who is profoundly over NYC and actively looking to get the hell out of dodge, it’s seriously one of the few remaining reasons why I’e stuck around). But my favorite is how it consistently showcases movies that will actually make you say “Holy f’n shit, I cannot believe I just saw that.” Others promise such a reaction, but the NYAFF actually delivers. So where to begin? The film’s absurd; at times you won’t believe what you’re seeing. It’s grotesque; at times you’ll want to look away. It’s gorgeous; at times you won’t be able to look away. It’s problematic; at times what you observe will make you angry. Some may view the movies as a work of genius, others will believe it’s total trash. There will no doubt be those who think both. It’s hard to say how you’ll react, but here’s one prediction I’m 100% confident in making: rest assured you’ve rarely seen anything like The Tenants Downstairs.

The great Simon Yam plays a landlord who keeps extremely close tabs on all his residents, via security cameras that are hidden in each apartment. Regarding those whose privacy he loves invading, you’ve got: a single father with elementary school aged daughter, a young man who is fairly well built thanks to his job as gym teacher, a young woman who is fairly flirtatious and constantly banging coworkers, a gay couple who are totally in love though it’s more of an affair for one since he’s also married with children, a loser college kid that does nothing but play video games and read tons of comics, and finally a very mysterious woman in white. The landlord keeps tab in every single detail of everyone’s lives, some intimate, other mundane, often a mix of both. Yet the woman in white is literally a blank piece of paper; he ends up taking virtually no notes since there’s ultimately nothing to write about. At any rate, the landlord is essentially all-seeing eye of God, who simply kicks back and enjoys the show that his subjects unknowingly perform for him, day in and day out, via the silly routines that they are stuck in. And he’s never gotten involved until something happens to shake his worldview; the woman in white brings some dude back to her place where she tortures him to death. This freaks him out, but not enough to call the cops. He soon starts to enjoy this all new, all different kind of show, and later has an interaction with it star, in which she states her desire to live a life less ordinary. It’s at this point the landlord comes up with a brilliant idea: to totally mess with his subjects!

Things start small, like feeding everyone (all the residents eat dinner together, which is rather old fashioned yet how it’s still done in Taiwan, which is where the film originates) parts of the murdered dude. Yes, that’s starting small in this movie. Soon the landlord starts to play individualized tricks, and at least one of them is kinda funny? Maybe? The loser wants to believe that he can develop super powers, mostly to bend spoons with his mind, but also cause wind to blow women’s skirts upwards. Whereas the landlord manages to convince the huge dork that he has the ability to teleport, by constantly drugging the guy, and once he’s out, stripping and leaving him somewhere foreign. Apparently when teleporting, one’s clothes do not come along for the trip. Though all the other tricks the landlord plays are not nearly as cute; he leaves foreign pubic hair lying around the gay couple’s place, to arouse suspension that there’s another man. For the single dad, the landlord hides stuff that makes him super horny… with his young, looking around 5 year old daughter around. As for the gym teacher, he comes across keys to everyone’s apartment that the landlord had “lost” and which are (as intended) used to break into the sexy office worker’s apartment, first to enjoy an up close view of the action as she screws some other dude while hidden, and later to basically sexually assault her, which she’s totally into. Hey, I did say the film was problematic.

All that before the landlord becomes even more bored and starts intermingling everyone even further. The ending is just absolutely bonkers, and as noted, you will at times have a difficult time comprehending if what you’re witnessing is indeed what you are witnessing. The Tenants Downstairs is billed as a film that recalls “the golden age of Category III”, and it’s truth. I cannot recommend the movie enough, though I cannot stress enough that one must proceed with caution as well. For those who are brave and bold, it runs the final night of the festival, which is Saturday, July 9 at the SVA Theatre.

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Attention fellow denizens of the Big Apple; once again, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas (though Xmas in NYC is pretty damn nice); am talking about the New York Asian Film Festival! And for the 15h summer in a row, ASIAN FILMS ARE GO…

And as usual, I’ll do my best to be your tour guide; for those in New York City, these are the movies you should be spending money towards instead of that Ghostbusters reboot. Even if it ends up being decent, you’ll have your chance to see it on Netflix eventually, whereas in the case of some (perhaps most) of the films I’ll be touching upon, this may be your best (and only) bet to catch them. As for those of you who aren’t in New York City, um, sorry?

So, what’s up first? Well, two indie classics from Japan. One of which somewhat contradicts my sales pitch, since it is widely available, whereas the other, despite being super influential, is something I’m confident most have not even heard of…

Swallowtail Butterfly

The recipient of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award is Iwai Shunji, with three of his movies being showcased. And Swallowtail Butterfly is to this year’s NYAFF as Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House was to the festival in 2009. In the sense that, here we have yet another legitimately groundbreaking/profoundly influential motion picture that hardly anyone outside of its homeland has ever heard of. The NYAFF states that it occupies “pretty much the same cultural territory in Japan that Pulp Fiction occupies in America”, and even though I’m not intimately familiar with Japanese cinema that immediately preceded its debut (in 1996; yes, exactly 20 years ago), I have seen much that came after so it’s amazing to view perhaps the one single film most responsible for the look and feel of late 90s/early 00s Japanese cinema as a whole. And while I doubt it’ll become as celebrated in the West as House ended up being, I can still easily imagine Swallowtail Butterfly being embraced thanks to being so ahead of the curve, especially all the points made regarding multiculturalism.

Taking place in an alternate near future, the Yen has become the world’s most sought after currency, prompting a massive influx of immigrants to Japan. The outsiders live in shantytowns that surround the major cities called Yen Towns, and the xenophobic Japanese refer to these outsiders as Yen Thieves. Though the more commonly used term is Yet Towns as well, which sounds confusing, but there’s actually a reason behind this, one that’s never explained (though if you’re curious, Google is your friend). The story begins with the death of a Chinese prostitute, who leaves behind an unnamed daughter; not only do they pillage whatever money she had managed to save, the dead mother’s associates also end being piss poor caretakers. Eventually the girl with no name ends up with a Chinese prostitute with a heart of gold, Glico, who ends up being a proper guardian. One of Glico’s first kindhearted gestures is coming up with a name for her ward: Ageha, or “swallowtail butterfly”. Glico also introduces Ageha to Fei-hong, who leads a pack of equally warm and fuzzy hustlers; by day he’s orchestrating small time cons and by night he’s serving food and drinks to fellow Yen Towners.

Things officially kick off into high gear when a customer of Glico’s steps over the line and ends up falling out of her apartment window, then crushed by a garbage truck. While disposing of the body, the gang discovers an audiocassette tape that appears to just be a recording of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and only that. Turns out, there’s data hidden that fools ATMs into believing a 1,000-yen note is a 10,000-yen note. So the change that results is a 9,000-yen profit, and what does Fei-hong do with his newfound riches? Why, open a nightclub in the heart of the city, where the Yentown flavor is the main dish. The audition for the house band is when we encounter the only other individual, aside from Ageha, who best personifies Swallowtail Butterfly’s essence in its purest form. That being a smooth talking white guy who, aside from having no name as well, gives the aforementioned Yentown flavor a specific name: “Third Culture Music”. He also dub themselves “Third Culture Kids”; his story is how his parents were American, but he was born and raised in Japan, and thanks to abysmal educational system, so he wonders out loud who he is exactly, American or Japanese, given that he’s always treated like a foreigner by looks alone, despite growing up in Japan and considers nowhere else to be “home” (much like Ageha).

It’s also worth pointing out that pretty much every Yentowner/Third Culture Kid speaks multiple languages, yet that still doesn’t mean everyone understands each other; Fei-hong, for example, is from China and often uses English to converse, even with fellow Chinese, yet doesn’t understand a word of Japanese, which means Ageha has to serve as translator. Anyhow, Fei-hong’s master plan is to make Glico a pop singing sensation (did I mention that she’s portrayed by an actual Japanese pop star?) and the plan totally works. As well as predictably backfires; the record company decide to take control of their star by shedding that less than desirable Yentown image, and also enacts a plan to get her boyfriend/manager out of the picture (yup, Fei-hong is her bf). Starting here in which the narrative kinda gets unwieldy; Ageha at this point is also the leader of a bunch of street kids, who had previously tried bullying her, and she ends up overdosing on drugs. It’s nothing more than a set up for her to cross paths with the gangster with a heart of gold, Ryou Ryanki, who’s on the hunt for that missing tape with the valuable counterfeit info. Thankfully the movie lets the audience know early on that Ryou and Glico are siblings that were separated in their youth, cuz a reveal towards the end would have been a real groaner.

Though the film is chock full of other cliches, as well as mighty heavy-handed at times, though I honestly don’t believe it’s substantially worse than what you find in Japanese cinema across the board. As is often the case, it’s all in the details; one can’t help but admire an independent production with a modest budget’s attempt to churn out an epic, and more or less succeeds. Thanks to some brilliant camerawork and deft art direction, though it helps that I appreciate the MTV’s 120 Minutes esthetic that is either intentionally or unintentionally tapped into; Swallowtail Butterfly is both ahead of its time plus a sign of its times. What ultimately helps the most is the colorful cast, one that saves the movie’s ass more than a few times. Like the unnamed doctor who first takes care of Ageha’s overdose and later provides a butterfly tattoo similar to Glico’s; the entire scene, in which Ageha recalls her earliest memory and has a rather eye-rolling epiphany, is still worth a damn thanks to the fine acting chops of the real life 50s rock star Mickey Curtis. In the end, Swallowtail Butterfly has issues; here we have yet another on the money description from the NYAFF: “seeing it today is like re-reading your high-school diary: the way it wears its heart on its sleeve can be cringe-inducing…” Though on a more serious note is the sensation that the film is a tad bit problematic, which others have discussed at length, specifically the way it fetishizes the plight of immigrants more than anything else. Yet I can’t help but buy into its youthful energy, while also forgive its naiveté; it’s so easy to see why the movie had such a massive impact. For those interested, it’s playing Saturday, June 25 at Lincoln Center.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man

I was originally going to review the other oldie by goodie by Iwai Shunji being shown at the Festival, All About Lily Chou-Chou, perhaps the filmmaker’s most celebrated work. Unfortunately I just couldn’t get into it. Sorry, but I’ve simply seen way far many movies about school kids treating each other like sh*t (a genre that the Japanese has absolutely mastered) to give another a shot. Even if it’s one of the finest according to the critics. Though alongside Swallowtail Butterfly’s 20th anniversary screening is a another film that’s serving as the poster child of the NYAFF’s 15th anniversary celebratory screening; as important Swallowtail Butterfly might be to the world of Japanese cinema, it could be easily argued that Tetsuo: The Iron Man’s impact and influence is far, far greater, not just at home but across the globe. The fact that there’s a decent chance that many reading this has seen it already is proof positive. Though I also take for granted that everyone’s familiar, so here we are!

Now, if Swallowtail Butterfly is the Pulp Fiction of the Japanese cinematic landscape, then Tetsuo: The Iron Man is either its Eraserhead or Videodrome, with a dash of Evil Dead 2. And that’s kinda all that needs to be said, though I’ll go on. First you have a guy, identified as the metal fetishist, who inserts a rod into his leg and later freaks out when noticing maggots in the wound (I would too, to be totally fair). While running down the street the fetishist is hit by a car, and behind the wheel is the salaryman. Who, along with his girlfriend, decide to dump the body in the woods. Then they immediately afterwards have sex right, there on the spot, in front of the body. Bad move! Cuz that’s how one invites a curse. Later the salaryman, while shaving, notices a small piece of metal on his cheek… not pierced into flesh, but coming out. Thus his troubles officially begin.

What follows is the salaryman being chased by a woman whose body has been taken over by the metal fetishist, and then a dream in which his gal pal is similarly transformed, whose newly formed snake like appendage is used to sodomize him. Afterwards the couple has sex, naturally, and then eat some sausages, again naturally. It’s at this point in which the salaryman discovers that a drill has replaced his penis; sadly, his girlfriend doesn’t survive. The metal fetishist then shows up, and as the salaryman slowly transforms, the two face off in a showdown that is as amazing as one could ever hope. Aside from the legit greatest final lines in a motion picture, ever, the very video game-like exclamation marks gets a big thumbs up from me also. Tetsuo is a classic in every sense of the word and deserves a serious look, even for those familiar. Cuz there’s a 95% chance the last time you saw it was during college on a sh*tty dorm room TV or at a bar on their slightly less sh*tty television. Whereas certain elements of Swallowtail Butterfly has not held up (as noted previously, an affinity for 90s music videos is a perquisite), boy oh boy has Tetsuo: The Iron Man aged like fine wine (the B&W 16mm visuals simply gorgeous, resulting in a genuine timeless quality; Tetsuo looks like it was either shot in 1950 or last week). Can’t wait to see it on the big screen at long last, this Saturday, June 25 at Lincoln Center as well.

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Here we go! It’s day one (okay, technically night one) of the 2015 edition of the New York Asian Festival. Am fairly hyped for the opening film, which I’ve yet to see, hence no review. But what I do have is the low-down on another high profile motion picture this year, along with another that touches upon something that’s been in the news way too much these days (i.e. cyber bullying)…

Tokyo Tribe

For the past several years, the highlight of every New York Asian Film Festival has been the latest and greatest from Sion Sono, who is starting to approach Takashi Miike-esuqe levels of notoriety, slowly but steadily. One of the many reasons why NYAFF 2009 remains such a stand out installment to this very day is largely due to (in addition to Hausu, Blind Love, Fish Story, and Hard Revenge Milly) Sono’s 4 hour epic Love Exposure. He’s also the man behind last year’s hit Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, though my personal favorite will always be Bad Movie, which I consider to be a legit contender to the tile of the Citizen Kane of guerrilla filmmaking. Anyhow, this year we’ve got Tokyo Tribe, proving once again that one must expect the unexpected when it comes to the director. Though it would appear that the NYAFF is betting that it’ll be a hit with this year’s crowd, given that it’s playing twice (I definitely miss the days in which most everything at the NYAFF played more than once; would certainly make my reviews a helluva lot more useful), as the final film in their big 4th of July line-up plus to help close the festival as a whole. Hell, it’s even provided the backbone for this year’s teaser…

Where to start? Based upon a manga, Tokyo Tribe is a hip hop musical that’s been accurately described as “equal parts The Warriors and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” It presents an alternate version of Tokyo that’s been divided into territories ruled by, you guessed it, tribes. Everyone engages in petty squabbles, completely unaware of the bigger picture, which is maintained by Big Buppa, the yakuza boss who’s also a cannibal portrayed by (Takashi Miike vet) Riki Takeuchi. Lending a hand are his two sons; Nkoi is the biological one, who dwells in a room adorned with victims that have been turned into furniture (imagine the Korova Milk Bar in Clockwork Orange, except real people pretending to be its statues), and Merra is the adopted one, portrayed by Ryohei Suzuki (last seen as the heroic lead of yet another past NYAFF favorite, Hentai Kamen). Both are fairly bloodthirsty, though the latter is particularly nutso; rounding out the family is Buppa’s gal pal who sports gigantic breasts and a young girl that does beatbox while serving tea (not only is she the best rapper in the entire movie, she’s the best character as well; too bad she’s barely present, but her scant few minutes are the price of admission alone, TRUST ME). Events are set into motion when the latest cargo of hapless young ladies arrive at Buppa’s mansion, who are either destined to be the latest additions at the whorehouse located in Sagu Town (the red light district that lies within Buppa’s territory, where one can also find assorted classic Sega arcade machines, btw) or become what’s next for dinner. The most virginal of them all ends up being a total ass kicker; Sunmi (Nana Seino, who aside from Riki Takeuchi’s hamming it up and the aforementioned beatboxing tea girl, is the third real stand out) catches the eye of both Nkoi and Merra, who thusly try to have their ways with her. Yup, they flat out attempt to rape Sunmi. I’ll address that point in a bit. Anyways, at the same time, one of Merra’s cronies has tricked a couple of members of the Musashino Saru into entering Big Buppa domain. The Musashino Saru, fyi, is the one tribe filled with gangstas that are all about peace, love, and harmony. They also hang at a restaurant that’s very much like Denny’s, expect here it’s Penny’s.

Tera, Musashino Saru’s leader, goes after them with his lieutenant Kai (Young Dais, whose a rapper for reals) by his side. Kai ends up rescuing Sunmi, though Tera is killed in the crossfire. Meanwhile Jadakins, a tall black guy who appears to be channeling the spirit of Laurence Fishburne’s character from The Matrix (but with hair), along with his interpreter Kamekichi, show up on the behalf of the High Priest (Big Buppa’s higher power) on a mission to bring back his missing daughter. Who is… yup… Sunmi. And on top of all that, the bad guys unleashes the Bukuro Wu-Ronz across all territories, a tribe with no land of their own, who are basically guns for hire that handily decimates all the other tribes. Who, it should be noted, are all shaken to the core upon hearing news of the death of Tera; he earned much respect among all the other tribal leaders, kinda like Cyrus from The Warriors. It’s then up to Kai unify all the squabbling tribes, since a unified front is the only thing that’s take down the Bukuro Wu-Ronz and Big Buppa once in for all. Is he successful? Let’s just say that there’s lots of fighting, and lots of rapping. Sounds interesting, right? Is Tokyo Tribe worth checking out? Well that’s the thing… often I’ll hear people go “I wanna see one of these totally off the wall, totally extremes movies from Japan I keep hearing about!” And as they say, careful what you wish for; Tokyo Tribe might be the most extreme movie Sion Sono has made yet, in both good ways and bad. On one hand, the production values are absolutely bonkers; I honestly cannot recall the last movie I saw from Japan that’s as flat out opulent. Aside from the phenomenal set design and elaborate costumes, the camera work is equally impressive; early on, Sono channels Orson Welles again with a brilliantly executed tracking shot (a la Touch of Evil) to help set the scene; it all comes together to create a staggeringly convincing world, never-mind the cheesy J-rap. But just as one has reached a certain comfort zone, in which the brain has begun processing everything, including what comes off as language… you witness a female cop being overpowered by a thug, who rips off her shirt and exposes her naked breasts, which he first manhandles and then traces with a blade, as he casually explains the lay of the land (so this particular scene happens very early on), with the woman who initially is writhing in terror eventually writhing in pleasure. Yup, it’s that kind of movie. As in, Tokyo Tribe may not be for you.

And maybe it’s not for me either, but for other reasons; in the end, the rapping really didn’t do it for me. 90% of me was able to accept a bunch of Tokyo tough guys carrying themselves around like they grew up in South Central LA. Unfortunately, there’s that other 10%. Though what really did in for me was how the majority of the characters didn’t have much personality. Perhaps it’s an unfair criticism, since these individuals are barely in the movie. Then again, the reason why The Warriors (sorry to constantly bring them up) is so memorable is how it’s chock full of characters you barely get a taste of, like the Baseball Furies, yet they’re able to create a lasting impression nonetheless. Thankfully the primary cast here is super strong; even if none of the raps are infectious (which is the true sign of a musical being a success or failure), then at least Riki Takeuchi’s giddiness sure as hell is. In the end, Tokyo Tribe is legit compelling, even remarkable. I’d go as far to say that, yes, I enjoyed myself. It’s just that, as a Sion Sono flick, I was hoping to enjoy myself a tad bit more (never-mind what I said at the top about expectations). Despite the presence of some rather problematic elements (which, in the end, is hardly foreign territory to those familiar with rap), I still recommend Tokyo Tribe. One more: it’s all about the beatboxing tea server. As noted, you’ve got two chances to check it out; either Saturday, July 4, at the Walter Reade Theater (get your tickets for that screening here) or Saturday July 11, at the SVA Theatre (nab tickets for that showing here).

Socialphobia

Back to the subject of yearly traditions; each year the NYAFF has offered at least one movie in which the narrative is largely delivered via social media. This time around it’s Socialphobia, which aside from setting box office records for a South Korean indie feature, is based on a true story. And much like last year’s The Snow White Murder Case, there’s a body and a mystery behind it, one that can only be solved by reading between the tweets. The stars of the show are Ji-Woong (Byun Yo-Han) and Yong-Min (Lee Joo Seung), two police cadets. The former knows well enough to keep his phone locked away, until the semester ends, whereas the former spends all his time engrossed in Twitter drama, much like everyone else. Things kick off with the news of young Korean army solider who deserted his post and then killed himself, which becomes a trending topic. The prevailing sentiment is that of sadness, though mostly cuz it’s interpreted as just another sign of the sad state of affair for Korean males, except one girl who basically says the guy was a loser and is now burning in hell. This pisses plenty of people off, especially Yong-Min, who starts flamming her online. Even Ji-Woong gets in on the action, by borrowing his friend’s phone to tweet some shade himself, which naturally proves to be a pretty stupid move for someone who wants a career in law enforcement. Later that night, Yong-Min comes up with the bright idea of confronting the “internet bitch”, to conduct a “real life PKing” (PK stands for Player Killing in MMORPGs). Because she vociferously attacks anyone who dares to criticize her (at one point she uses the term “kimchi-men”, which is supposed to be derogatory, though I don’t know why exactly), the internet as a whole bands together to dig up and freely distribute a wealth of personal info, so tracking her down is not an issue. Yong-Min brings with him a posse, which includes a vlogging geek that goes by Mr. Babble, who decides to livestream the entire excursion. And what do they find when they arrive at the residence of the “internet bitch”? Her body dangling from the ceiling. And what’s the first thing that comes into the minds of most everyone at the scene? To start deleting incriminating tweets.

The resulting police investigation deems the death of the young woman, whose name is actually Ha-yeong, a suicide. Though both Ji-Woong and Yong-Min discover that their dreams of being policemen are effectively over; aside from the fact that they tampered with evidence (Ji-Woong took the body down, believing that Ha-yeong was still alive), they both threatened her online. Ji-Woong in particular is devastated, whereas Yong-Min believes that Ha-yeong was actually murdered. Because, why would someone invite others to meet her face to face (she was indeed expecting a bunch of angry internet dorks to show up, and was even goading them on) just to kill herself right beforehand? Also, why was the door open when they arrived? Furthermore, why was the dryer running? Who kills themselves in the middle of doing laundry? Yong-Min reunites the gang with his theory, which they all believe (Ji-Woong is particularly invested since the truth is the key to him graduating as a cop), and thus their investigation begins. One of their first discoveries is how Ha-yeong was actually Becca, a “keyboard warrior” (translation: she dabbled in StarCraft) whose high level of play was matched only by her affinity for trash talk, resulting in various online grudges that are widely known. Enter Jang Se-min, their first prime suspect, who aside from being a guy who hated Becca guts, also supposedly raped another girl that he met online, so he’s basically scum. So how does Ji-Woong and the rest of the Scooby gang confront this guy? By tweeting at him, of course. Yet Jang Se-min manages to impress everyone with his pleas of innocence, though more impressive is his vast fortune (though Yong-Min still thinks he’s a POS). Nevertheless, Jang Se-min’s alibi appears to have merit when he reveals how Ha-yeong’s Twitter account had been hacked, and all that trash talk near the end was courtesy of yet another rival, whose handle is Dodori (long story short: Dodori was the moderator of a popular StarCraft forum, but Ha-yeong found out the truth and exposed him, and in the process <.em>”ruined his life”). And thus the hunt continues, aided by a forum they set to gather clues as well as generate interest from denizens of the net, who start believing that Ha-yeong was indeed killed after all.

The ensuing investigation is naturally filled with all sorts of discoveries, primarily as they pertain to Ha-yeong’s real life, which turns out to be not all that different from her volatile online persona. There’s also a massive twist near the end which I’m not going to give away for obvious reasons, but also because it would just sound so dumb written out, but works out rather nicely in the film, mostly because it’s so plausible. Unlike most other movies that leans heavily upon social media in a similar manner (and trust me, there’s been a lot of them over the past few years, from South Korea alone), which tries to teach everyone a lesson in the end that we should all learn from, it’s rather blunt, matter of fact conclusion is both depressing and refreshing. So it’s definitely one of the better examples of its kind, yet it certainly isn’t perfect; like all the other aforementioned flicks, the screen will become filled with everyone’s tweets and it just becomes tiresome (obviously not helping is that, unless you understand Korean, you won’t know much of what is being said; only the most important tweets are translated, which kinda kills the point of the information overload). I know it’s important, but watching people fixated on their phones can be just as annoying in a movie as it is in real life. Still, Socialphobia is definitely worth a shot, especially if you’re new to the “genre” if you can call it that. It plays on the 4th of July as well, a couple of hours before Tokyo Tribe’s first screening, at the Walter Reade Theater (get your tickets here).

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