Cannes Film Highlights of 2010
The Cannes Film Festival has served up an interesting and eclectic selection of new films this year. We've been offered the likes of Ip Man 2, Ong Bak 3, The Eagle Path and Outrage - all high profile titles - alongside eye-opening smaller productions like Sinners & Saints and Slice. Here is just a brief rundown of some of the most noteworthy titles to hit the movie market this year at Cannes...
Ip Man 2 undoubtedly deserves its accolade as a fantastic, action-fuelled sequel to the awe-inspiring original and stands as my favourite title from the festival. Featuring dynamic fight action from Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung, the movie is topped off by lavish production values, excellent writing and a great villain performance from Darren Shahlavi. This movie was hugely popular with the entire audience and delivers everything you could possibly hope for! I already can't wait to catch this one again.
Outrage, the latest film from maverick director, 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano, was also screened to a packed auditorium for its festival premiere. For any Takeshi fans who may have been disappointed by the surreal-inspired black comedy, Takeshis', Outrage takes the legendary filmmaker back to his roots in a violent yakuza story echoing the themes of Sonatine and Hana-bi. The movie marks a serious return to his best known genre, as well as defining itself as his strongest project since Zatoichi.
This year's biggest disappointment has to be Ong Bak 3. After an underwhelming first sequel (Ong Bak 2 or The Beginning, in the UK) the third instalment promised to continue the historic themes of the previous film while raising the bar on all other fronts. Admittedly the movie sets up some great fight sequences but drags unforgivably between drawn-out scenes of praying villagers, interspersed with uninspiring training segments. When the action kicks in, the result is more-or-less as intended. Yet the overall experience doesn't live up to the energy and charisma Tony Jaa is more than capable of. The film is slightly better than Ong Bak 2 but nowhere near the standard of the first movie... or The Warrior King, for that matter!
Jean-Claude Van Damme's latest release, The Eagle Path, can feature next in our list. As a lifelong Van Damme fan, I wanted this to be amazing. The result is a good but technically flawed action-drama which I believe critics are treating too harshly. In addition to heading up the cast, Van Damme writes, directs and edits the movie, which is where the main problem lies. Focusing heavily on his performance, Van Damme has proven himself as a strong actor. This has been seen more recently in films like JCVD and Wake of Death which earned the star critical acclaim outside the usual action circuit. As a director, he has proven himself competent but still a relative beginner (see The Quest). From my point of view the main problem with The Eagle Path lies in the editing. With technically flawed editing, the character-heavy story suffers from an uneven pace but more importantly a blurred, at times headache-inducing camera style. The story itself sits in Wake of Death territory, with Van Damme playing a heartbroken, conflicted loner with a tendency to burst into moody violence when crossed. His performance is excellent and he pours everything he has into this character. I genuinely feel critics have been far too harsh on the film and anyone who may have read early reports of the film being "his biggest embarrassment" shouldn't be disheartened. At the very least the film appears as he intended it - technically or creatively. However, anyone who has witnessed his strongest work will no doubt agree Van Damme works best when collaborating with a talented director and team (like Mabrouk El Mechri on JCVD, Philippe Martinez on Wake of Death or John Hyams on Universal Soldier: Regeneration). Without spoiling anything, one particular sequence at the end of the film should definitely be removed as it interrupted the drama of the whole film and didn't serve any contextual role within the story. I know many others who felt the same way. I strongly hope this latter point is addressed prior to any commercial release. Otherwise, I did enjoy The Eagle Path and would compel fans to see the film and draw their own conclusions, regardless of what critics are saying.
Sinners & Saints became my underdog favourite of the festival: a gritty, fast-paced cop thriller in the vein of Narc. Johnny Strong shines in the lead, proving he has a strong career ahead of him as a leading man. The film features great supporting roles from brothers, Costas and Louis Mandylor, and sets up some fantastic action scenes, combining realism with stylish flair. I hope to see this land in the UK very soon and would encourage all genre fans to seek out the movie.
Another highlight would have to be Slice, a dark and relentlessly grim psychological thriller from Thailand, moulded in the style of Se7en. Director, Kongkiat Khomsiri builds up a tense series of events as we follow a cop tracking down a ruthless serial killer who brutally punishes his targets before they are killed. Much of the story focuses on the history of the main characters, as told through flashback. Slice is provocative, gruesome and suspends the audience until its shocking twist finale. Heavy, at times, but well worth seeing for those who can stomach its content.
For more on Cannes and this year's lineup, check out my forthcoming articles to be published in Jade Screen magazine...