From the New York Asian Film Festival: films by Park Chan-wook and Zhang Yang

Saibongujiman kwenchana / I'm a Cyborg, But That's Okay (2006, Park Chan-wook) screened Saturday June 30 2007 at the IFC Center, New York IMDb

Coming off the "Revenge Trilogy" (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, OldBoy and Lady Vengeance) upon which his international reputation was established, Park opts for a radical departure in tone and subject with a whimsical if creepy tale of a girl (Lim Su-jeong) who is institutionalized for thinking she is a cyborg. Still, Park can't shake the revenge theme out of his system: the girl is traumatized by memories of her grandmother's cruel consignment to mental care and fantasizes her cyborg self pumping her caretakers with rounds of ammo blazing from her fingertips. But for one like myself who was never entirely sold by his depth in handling the revenge theme, it's oddly reassuring that this element is the weakest and least satisfying in the film. This film makes clear the considerable degree to which the pleasure of Park's direction lies in his masterful handling of rhythm and pacing, and the confidence in which he allows his story to unfold one layer after another. Rain (Korea's #1 pop star) co-stars as a charming DiCaprio-ish rogue who steals the personality quirks of the other wards, only to aid in the girl's self-designed rehabilitation. Park navigates an odd terrain lying somewhere between One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Fallen Angels and Marnie, while alternating between scenes of graphic violence and unbridled sentiment (the latter tend to be more successful). As per his previous films, his characters, as affably as they are performed by Park's well-chosen ensemble, feel more like pawns in Park's cinematic chess maneuvering than as genuinely relate-able humans. - yes

Luo ye gui gen / Getting Home (2007, Zhang Yang)

screened Sunday July 1 2007 at the IFC Center, New York IMDb

Honored as best film in this year's Berlin Film Fest Panorama, the latest by Chinese populist director Zhang Yang (Shower, Sunflower) is basically a Chinese Weekend at Bernie's, with its heart in the right place. Popular Chinese comic Zhao Benshan is a dim-witted but honorable migrant worker who takes the body of his recently deceased friend back home for a proper burial. I don't think I have enough digits on my hands and feet to count the number of times I groaned as I watched one improbable or tasteless scenario give way to another (off the top of my head, I remember the body being wheeled around in a spare wheel from a tractor trailer, and being propped up as a scarecrow while his buddy has to tend to other business -- if they had wanted to make things really interesting, surely they could've had a crow pluck the poor stiff's eyes out) . But around midway I found myself unable to turn away, like spending too much time reluctantly entertaining a shameless bullshit artist - after a while you're just wondering what zany half-baked line they'll come up with next. Zhao Benshan single-handedly makes the film watchable by clenching fast to the last shred of dignity in his stone-jawed countenance. And there are some great, sobering shots of the countryside in upheaval, most memorably the devastation of the Three Gorges area. - mixed