Specialty film festivals can pop up in the most unlikely of places. While the the film community thinks of Dallas as a poor second cousin to Austin (not without good reason), local residents, including myself, treasure and champion the events that bring diversity to a movie-going scene too often dominated by Hollywood product. And so Friday night was a mob scene in the lobby of Landmark's Magnolia Theater as the Asian Film Festival of Dallas opened its ninth edition.
Now, to be fair, the Magnolia is often jammed up on a weekend night: the lobby is small! Yet I'm told that the official opening night film, Arvin Chen's Au Revoir Taipei, filled the room; a very decent crowd (myself included) then filed in to witness Wong Jing's I Corrupt All Cops (the best title of the year), and the midnight showing of Japanese splatter pic Robogeisha sold out, prompting management to add another theater to accommodate the overflow. (Check this revealing photo gallery from the film's screening at Fantasic Fest.)
Au Revoir Taipei is typical of foreign-language films that don't get distribution in the U.S. It's sweet, romantic, and quite commercial in nature, yet it doesn't feature any known stars and lacks an easily marketable angle. At the same time, it's the kind of audience-friendly fare that's often snubbed at the larger film festivals. Kai (Jack Yao) is learning French so he can go to Paris and reclaim his girlfriend. His unorthodox method is to study while sitting on the floor of a bookstore night after night. That gets the attention of Susie (Amber Kuo), a store clerk, but Kai ignores her until a fateful night when he's on a mission to deliver a package for Brother Bao (Frankie Kao).
While thoughts of Martin Scorsese's After Hours or Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise might dance in the background, Au Revoir Taipei is a more conventional "one night, one city" movie. Kai and Susie are in the pre-romantic stage of a relationship, and writer / director Arvin Chen is just as interested in the exploits of Brother Bao, a gangster who longs to retire, and his incompetent nephew, who wants to rip his uncle off to prove his manhood.
Au Revoir Taipei proves to be a pleasant trip that captures the lonely mood of post-midnight big city streets. More information, including a trailer, is available at the festival site.
In contrast, Wong Jing's I Corrupt All Cops is a weird mixture of sincerity and sleaze. The title caught my eye when it opened in Hong Kong last year; the acronym ICAC stands for the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which was established in 1974. As the official ICAC website acknowledges, Hong Kong's rapidly swelling population in the 60s and 70s made it fertile ground for the unscrupulous, and "corruption was particular [sic] serious in the police force."
The film starts some years before the formation of ICAC. Anthony Wong (above) plays a detached veteran detective named Unicorn; he calmly sets up Bong (Alex Fong), an innocent young man and oversees torture as his men attempt to beat a "confession" out of the hapless university student. He's rescued from the situation due to the intervention of Gold (Wong Jing himself), a silly, oily character who's the middle man between the cops and the criminals. Bong vows to put the corrupt cops behind bars.
The focus shifts to Gale (Eason Chan), another corrupt cop who has allowed himself to become a "running dog" to Chief Inspector Lak, played by Tony Leung Ka Fai, who has a great time playing an over the top, evil integrity-smasher. Gale is such a softie that he's ended up married to nine women, all cast-off mistresses from his police superiors who sit around playing mah jong. Gale knows he's lost his moral footing but doesn't have the inner courage to change.
A boiling point is reached and the ICAC is formed. Bong joins up, and eventually all the plot threads tie together.
As writer / director / actor, Wong Jing remains unfocused. He's a wildly prolific filmmaker, but he's always had a tendency to be lazy in constructing and developing his stories, at least in the two dozen or so films of his that I've seen. I Corrupt All Cops represents the better side of Wong Jing, which means it's not as focused, in tone, character, or story, as it could and should be. Still, as someone who doesn't see very many new Hong Kong films anymore, I Corrupt All Cops felt like a good blowback to the 80s, an Old School style drama that's uneven but roughly entertaining.