The King and the Clown (Wang-ui namja). This Korean film set in the early 1500s has numerous accomplishments. It's Korea's official entry to the Oscars, but has already won numerous awards from the local industry and a few international festivals. Even more intriguing is that apart from being the second highest grossing film in Korea (topped recently by The Host), its story has a strong homosexual undertone. Two male clowns, played by the ruggedly handsome Gam Wu-seong and the ethereally beautiful Lee Jun Ki, win the favor of a tyrannical king (Jeong Jin-yeong). A strange triangle takes place when the king takes a liking to the effeminate Lee. Though it's been called Korea's Brokeback Mountain, there's hardly a similarity, and apart from one brief kiss between the king and the clown the homosexuality doesn't slap you in the face. While one "deleted clip" that made it to YouTube reinforces the intimate relationship between Gam and Lee, the actual film only alludes to it, and can be interpreted as sibling affections. Director Lee Jun-ik's film might remind some of Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine, though the Korean film isn't as hopelessly tragic as Kaige's masterpiece.
Lust, Caution. (Sè, Jié) Many were surprised when this Ang Lee opus bagged the top prize at Venice, reminding me of those years when depressing artistic films were the darling of film festivals. Set in Shanghai during World War II, a young woman (played by Tang Wei) joins a university theater group which, as a service to their mother country, decides to use their acting skills to thwart an enigmatic Mr. Yee (Tony Leung) who's been suspected of helping the Japanese. An emotionally underplayed film, it left me in a daze hours after we left the theater, and it took me a while to digest what went on. It's a beautiful, edge-of-your-seat film, no doubt about that, and the graphic sex scenes were more exercises of powerplay that served to chart the relationship between the two protagonists. But to use Lust in the title is a bit deceiving--there is indeed lust in the film, but it's not the kind of lust we typically imagine.
Apat Dapat, Dapat Apat: Friends 4 Lyf and Death. Four friends--played by Pokwang, Eugene Domingo, Candy Pangilinan, and Rufa Mae Quinto--seek their fortunes as domestic help in Hongkong, only to find their lives thrust into chaos when Pangilinan ends up dead in the hands of her employers. The Wenn Deramas comedy's similarity to the late-80s flick Weekend at Bernie's begins and ends with the protagonists trying to make everyone believe that Pangilinan's still alive and kicking, and the results are passable. I appreciated Deramas' ability to keep the pacing tight and rapid, but I wished that the physical absurdity--refreshing for a Pinoy film--was maintained if not heightened in the second act. It could have been much more ludicrous, in a deliciously good way.
P.S. Here's the IMDB entry to the Zaturnnah movie. Just in case you want to know.