We bring you this week's edition of Asian Cinema Scene live from Austin, Texas. SXSW is not particularly known for the Asian films it programs, but I've been able to see one high-profile action flick and one intriguing, arthouse-style documentary.
Ong Bak 2
As I've previously noted, the directorial debut of martial artist supreme Tony Jaa features numerous insanely awesome fight scenes. Jaa explodes in every direction, his arms and legs delivering lethal blows as he lays waste to a variety of opponents, employing all manner of martial arts, straight fighting skills, and amazing dexterity with a variety of bladed weapons.
His character, Tian, is much darker than the ones he's played in Ong Bak and The Protector. Tian witnessed the murder of his parents in front of his eyes, turning him from a sweet child into a revenge-bent killing machine. Narrative clarity is not a strong suit for the film, but did anyone expect that it would be? The period setting justifies the sometimes lumbering pace, and Ong Bak 3 should (hopefully) answer any lingering plot questions. Magnolia Pictures' Magnet Releasing acquired US distribution rights, and a theatrical release of some kind has been promised.
Our friend Wise Kwai, Thailand-based writer and reviewer, provided a bemused, comprehensive roundup of Twitter talk ("awesome was used a lot") and notes that some "were more impressed with the winner of the beer-chug contest held before the film." He also linked to several full-bore reviews, including this great pull-quote from Blake at Cinema is Dope: "Puts [Jaa] up there with the likes of Bruce Lee ... [the film's] Stanley Kubrick-like approach to constructing action with full lush epic and grandiose details and colors and attention to every aspect of its construction will lead this film to be discussed for a damn long time."
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo
In the post-screening Q&A, filmmaker Jessica Oreck said she's been obsessed with insects since she was a kid, and that lifelong fascination lends an insider's perspective to her documentary, even though she's an outsider asking, Why are so many Japanese people obsessed with little multi-legged creatures?
One of the early scenes features a young boy in an insect shop, enthusiastically inspecting beetles. His unbridled joy might seem alien to anyone who shies away from bugs, but Oreck words hard to put the entire subject into a different perspective. She doesn't focus on the insects themselves so much as she looks at insects as a small part of the natural world. She also talks to a fair variety of insect enthusiasts: an older gentleman who has kept crickets in his tiny apartment for decades because he loves the sounds they make, a younger man who has been able to purchase a Ferrari from his insect sales business (he doesn't pay anything for his product, he just goes out in the woods and collects them), and Dr. Takeshi Yoro, a well-known author and anatomist, who kindly expounds.
The film plays long -- wordless, extended footage of insects in their natural habitat stretches ever onward -- and it's probably a bit too calm, peaceful and tranquil to attract a general audience, but Oreck touches on any number of related subjects that bear light on the subject.