NYAFF 2012: “Doomsday Book” & “Ace Attorney”

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

Asian movies are GO!!! Today is officially the start of the New York Asian Film Festival 2012?

And as promised, I’ll be there every step of the way, making recommendations throughout. First up, my two favorite offerings thus far?

Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book, this year’s Centerpiece Presentation, is three short stories, all rolled into one movie. Each tale shares a common theme: the end of the world. First we have “A Brave New World” by Yim Pil-Sung, best known for Antarctic Journal, Hansel & Gretel, and The Flower of Evil (none of which I’m familiar with). It’s basically a mini zombie flick; in the beginning we’re introduced to a hapless schmuck, one who is left in the dust by his family, who instead of brining him along on vacation, leaves him behind to keep the apartment clean. When he tosses out the trash, before meeting his blind date, we’re treated to a montage that details the journey of a rotten apple, as it ends up in the local dump, where it’s sorted and processed, to become bare minerals and food for livestock, which is what the aforementioned dude and his date has for dinner at a restaurant. Real circle of life kind of thing.

So the meat, spoiled by man’s own mechanism, has a weird effect on the lead character, who Hulks out when he’s bothered by two punks in the park. As a result, the effect caused by the tainted meat is passed onto new hosts. But plenty of other people were at that same restaurant, eating the same things, and you can guess what happens next. Now, I didn’t like this part of the movie, because zombies bore me to death. But my biggest issue is how things start off promising, and then becomes the same old, same old. Early on, the infected are depicted as individuals overtaken by man’s most primal urges: the need to eat, fight, and f*ck. Hence why the central character, depicted initially as a docile dude, becomes a blood thirsty animal when confronting the aforementioned jerks.

I loved the idea of zombies that are aggressive and horny, which melds well with the requisite always being hungry part. Which, unfortunately, is cast aside eventually. In favor of the same old, shuffling at a snail’s pace, kind of infected people that you’ve seen a billion times already Lame.There is one other highlight; a few minutes from the local evening news, delivering the bullet points of the outbreak, is somewhat the norm in many zombie flicks. But here, a lot of time is spent on televised coverage, especially South Korea’s version of Fox News, and it’s hilarious to see these political pundits argue over the cause of the outbreak, and then become slowly unhinged when they realized that they?re all doomed. Otherwise, “A Brave New World” as a whole was a bit of a misfire, and can’t hold a candle to?

Next we have “The Heavenly Creature”, by Kim Ji-Woon, best known for The Foul King, A Tale of Two Sisters, and The Good, the Bad, the Weird, all of which I am not only familiar with, but love to death. Ji-Woon’s tale takes place in the near future; technology has advanced to the point in which robots are everywhere, helping people with mostly menial tasks. Like at a Buddhist temple, where the one robot who was originally acquired to help with the bookkeeping, ends up becoming interested in Buddhism himself. To the point that he supposedly achieves true enlightenment, and is even considered Buddha himself among the other monks. Who naturally believes this is a very curious thing, so they ask a rep from the robot’s manufacturer to stop on by and check him out, for their professional two cents. And that’s when trouble begins.

The young technician who swings by is totally freaked out, and thusly states that he must file a report with his big boss, who will make the ultimate call. It?s clear early on what will happen; the robot is obviously defective and will be ear marked for shut down. This sends shocks waves among the other monks, especially the resident cutie. But the robot has no fear, due to being completely at peace with his place in the scheme of things, nor does he have a shred of malice towards the humans who fear him, because they fear the unknown, which has forever been one of the biggest challenges towards spirituality. In the end, the president of the robotics manufacturer himself stops by, to see firsthand this robot that?s believed to be Buddha in nuts and bolts form. And confrontation that unfolds is pretty damn amazing.

I’ve seen a bunch of great movies this year, but Doomsday Book is near the top of the list, all because of “The Heavenly Creature”. The theme of machine usurping man, and the latter being a complacent accomplice is hardly new. But the narrative that wraps around it, aside from being pretty damn novel, is beautifully executed. I don’t want to spoil things further, but it turns out that the prez is not at all happy with what’s become of a creation of his, and the test he performs, to prove how much the monks have become far too dependent on technology themselves, is one of the biggest “holy sh*t” moments in cinema that I’ve experienced in a long ass time. Though the star of the show is the Buddha bot, which says some truly profoundly deep things. But best of all, he’s real, and not some piece of CGI bullsh*t.

To know that he’s actually there, and not painted in after the fact, goes a very long way in making him believable, relatable, and sympathetic. Furthermore, the performances from the human actors around him are a billion times better than all the similar stuff you see from Hollywood, and their army of FC artist. If you’re sick of crap like I Robot (the movie of course), this is something you have to see. Granted, there’s the very small chance that the robot is a CGI construct after-all, and I’ve just been completely fooled. In that case, the people responsible deserved about 500 Oscars. At least.

Anyway, the third and final tale, “Happy Birthday”, directed by both Pil-Sung and Ji-Woon, is a super cute. It’s about a little girl who breaks her dad’s 8 ball and orders another from a strange website. The end result is a replacement that’s bigger than expected, and threatens to wipe out the human race. And that’s all that really needs to be said; I’ve already spoiled way too much already, especially the first two stories. Doomsday Book has two showings; on Wednesday July 11 at 8:15pm and Thursday July 12 at 1pm, both at Lincoln Center.

Ace Attorney

Because I spent so much time on just Doomsday Book (well, it was essentially 3 movies in 1), and because I’m running low on time (am catching the official opening night film in an hour), I’m just going to ask everyone to head on over to?

? The original plan was to do just another review, until I discovered that one had been filed already, before I got my “unofficial video game movie reviewer” slot, and shortly after its original theatrical release in Japan. So my editor instead asked for something different. Hence why I used Ace Attorney to explore why it’s the best damn video game to motion picture translation ever, and why Hollywood’s previous efforts have failed.

So I was going to do a truncated review for this end, but again, am low on time. Though just in case the Kotaku piece wasn’t clear enough, every diehard fan of the game must do whatever they can to see it on the big screen, end of story. As for everyone else, if you like Law & Order, plus funky hairstyles, this movie is for you as well. K that’s it for now. Expect another pair of reviews, hopefully once every other day!

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