Earlier this year, audiences experienced “Warriors Of The Rainbow: Seediq Bale,” a pulse-pounding, action-heavy epic that told the story of tensions between rural Taiwanese and invading Japanese soldiers. What some audience members didn’t know is that the two-and-a-half hour epic wasn’t even close to the full story, and now NY Asian Film Festival-goers have had a chance to experience the full four and a half hour version of director Wei Te-Sheng’s sprawling epic.
Though you won’t see it in American history books (in fairness, there ain’t a lot in American history books), this film tells a very dark chapter of Taiwanese history. Once the land came under the rule of Japan, the visiting armies found the indigenous people took unkindly to Japanese attempts to “civilize” their lands. The resulting war, between the technologically superior Japanese and their “savage” counterparts raged on until Taiwain’s Seediq tribes made one last, brutal stand.
While 'Warriors' doesn’t shy away from the many tactical errors made by the Seediq tribes, it plays out as a testament to their willpower and never-say-die attitude. And against the Japanese, captured here mostly as one-dimensional baddies (somewhat damaging the potency of the drama), they’re a phalanx of disaster, causing massive bloodshed and collecting more than a few severed heads in the process. This extended cut fleshes out the customs of the Seediq considerably, creating a broad canvas for hundreds of non-actors to socialize, plan and triumph over their bloodthirsty interlopers. But even with the significant runtime, “Warriors Of The Rainbow: Seediq Bale” is, at times, a thrilling action epic, beginning with a pulse-quickening pig hunt that puts “Apocalypto” to shame and ending with heroes fallen, weapons in hand, never compromising. [B+]
There’s a bit of a divide caused by knowing the background of “Monsters Club” originates from the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. While director Toskiaki Toyoda’s elegiac pastoral clearly borrows from the life of the man itself, it’s not at all a biopic, though anyone close to the story will find eerie echoes to real life. Ryoichi, our Kaczynski stand-in, has holed himself up in a cabin away from civilization, keeping warm from the snow while mailing out letter bombs to high ranking officials who contaminate society.
Running a scant 72 minutes, “Monsters Club” focuses primarily on our protagonist’s struggle to maintain a psyche that’s become a spider web, not only from what he views as the world’s inequities, but by the tragedy that has struck his family, claiming his two brothers and leaving him adrift at sea. They haven’t left his side, but have contaminated his dreams as vivid ghosts who haunt his guilt and destroy his sanity. Society looms larger, however, and it seems as if these ghosts are trying to get him to reconnect. All the while another spectral vision lingers, a faded white paper mache man with a face that looks like a John Wayne Gacy cake, reminding him of why he refuses to participate.
Some of Ryoichi’s visions are downright inscrutable and suggest a mentality that’s cracked in entirely arbitrary ways. But the moments with his late family members rings strikingly true, an honest and heartfelt observation of a creative spirit in genuine pain. “Monsters Club” doesn’t leave many clues as to where it’s finale leaves its diseased antihero, though in the few moments where he’s attempting to find his humanity, the film reflects a sympathetic, genuinely humanist viewpoint of the type of person the general public is all too quick to crucify. [B+]
From Malaysia comes the cacophonous, proudly idiotic “Nasi Lemak 2.0,” a film that wears it’s dim heart on its shoulder. Rapper Namwee, who also directed, plays a Chinese chef struggling to learn Malaysian customs, particularly in regards to preparing Nasi Lemak, apparently a major national dish. This journey takes him on the road to China and India, learning what he must in order to help the young Xiao K, who is about to see her family’s franchise restaurant become extinct in a fairly random cooking challenge.
Xiao K is played by Karen Kong, an especially attractive pop star in real life, though the film affixes her with tragic fashion sense and two massive caterpillar eyebrows behind Coke-bottle glasses. Of course, the joke is that she is a spaz, but this is the sort of eager-to-please nonsense where you can absolutely count on our dimwit hero learning how to rise to the top, you can expect that the villain’s Achilles Heel will play a major part in the climax, and that Xiao K is not going to remain in Dork Wear even as she romances the doughy, mugging Namwee.
As a lead, he’s something of a zero. Though his talents certainly lie behind the camera. “Nasi Lemak 2.0” can be an eye-and-earsore from moment to moment, though that derives from his stylistic restlessness that turns the film into a live-action cartoon. Along the way, there are a number of inorganic-feeling musical sequences, none of which have any direct motivation in relation to the plot, but who cares? “Nasi Lemak 2.0” is a party and everyone’s invited, though what we’re all celebrating, and why we’re all dressed like idiots remains a mystery. [D+]