Eleven patriot acts

Cinema in 2006
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(1) Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand). It isn't just the laugh-out-loud third-act arrival of a typically grin-struck and beehive-hairdoed MD who keeps a pint of Mekong whiskey in her prosthetic leg that'll leave you convinced that Syndromes is Apichatpong's funniest film to date. A blissfully bonkers daydream about intoxicating orchids, unrelieved erections, the possible meanings of the acronym DDT, and the smoke-snarfling blowhorn in the bowels of a Bangkok hospital, Syndromes — commissioned as part of the Mozart-celebrating New Crowned Hope series — is so stuffed with surrealist comedy that it might serve as an ultracryptic gloss on Sigmund Freud's Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. While Tony Jaa heads the world over turning most of what might have become a truly modern Thai cinema into some sort of throwback kickboxing hall of shame and even the brightest of contemporary Thai filmmakers seem increasingly content to play catch-up with their own shadows (Wisit Sasanatieng's politely nostalgic ghost story, The Unseeable; Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's short treatise on air travel and irrational longing, "Twelve Twenty," in Digital Sam in Sam Saek 2006: Talk to Her), Apichatpong's unattenuated ability to keep bending time's arrows to his own cinematic desires seems almost as remarkable as his always Cupid-like inclination to keep firing them straight into our hearts.

(2) I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan/Malaysia). Diehard Tsai aficionados will no doubt recall that this leading light of modern Taiwanese cinema is actually a native Malaysian — but who could have anticipated a sex-comedy-slash-love-hate-letter to old Kuala Lumpur as sweaty, scrungy, narratively schizoid, and violently scrubbed and scoured as this? Fans of the foot-stompin' fellatio follies of Tsai's last film, The Wayward Cloud, that's who. Splitting his constant muse, Lee Kang-sheng, into two separate but similarly catatonic parts, each of them oblivious to the admirers who covet and caress his mostly supine form, Tsai burrows beneath and brazenly overenlarges the seediest sounds, side streets, and half-finished architectural skeletons of the country's monsoon-moist first city in ways that even Malaysia's brave new breed of cine indies rarely dare. As bizarre and visual gorgeous as it is brutally suspicious of Kuala Lumpur's racially polyglot society, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone shifts the director's patented mannerisms and love-blossoms-in-the-ruins paradigm only slightly — but just enough to remind viewers that even the moldiest mansions can prove breeding grounds for desire and that scratching an itch only makes it worse when the bedbugs start to bite.

(3) and (4) The Host (Bong Joon-ho, Korea) and The Departed (Martin Scorsese, US). Two mass-market blockbusters from opposite if equally cinephilic corners of the multiplex world, relative newcomer Bong's politically loaded sci-fi spectacular and past master Scorsese's performance-driven, pretzel-logic policier both made buckets of ducats at box offices across the planet, even as they were winning the most fickle of film critic's hearts and minds. That The Host would immediately be optioned for a Hollywood remake surprised no one; that The Departed would manage to reinvigorate and at times even overshadow its already quite vibrant Hong Kong source material surprised almost everyone. (Christopher Doyle, eat your hat.) OK, so Martin Sheen's no Anthony Wong — how about the mouth on Mark Wahlberg? Or the riotously rat-infested payoff of the movie's final shot? And as for the blend of blighted familial relations, bitter anti-Americana, and run-Run-RUN!

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