The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival kicked off yesterday and I had two films on my schedule for opening day.
I'll be honest, I wasn't too excited about my film selection for September 4th. The films I picked, SCARLET INNOCENCE (South Korea) and TOKYO TRIBE (JAPAN) weren't on my "must see" list, and I ended up choosing them for completely different reasons.
The first film, SCARLET INNOCENCE directed by Pil-sung Yim, only made my list because of actor Woo-sung Jung. I saw his film COLD EYES last year at the festival, and really enjoyed watching him on film. He reminds me of Laurence Fishburne in that Woo-sung has a cool suave persona on film.
SCARLET INNOCENCE was great. Based on the Korean folktale Shim Chung (a daughter sacrificing everything so that her father can regain his sight), SCARLET INNOCENCE is the story of a professor who has an affair with a student and ends up destroying her life. Years later, she worms her way back into his life after he loses his sight. Her revenge was epic . . . and evil. Actress Som Lee, who plays the naive school girl turned vengeful seductress, steals the film with an incredible perform.
This brings me to TOKYO TRIBE.
When I first saw the write-up for TOKYO TRIBE - a Japanese hip hop opera set in a futuristic world where Tokyo is divided up into ghetto slums - I thought, hell no. And then I stopped myself.
TOKYO TRIBE was selected as the opening film for the Midnight Madness series. Midnight Madness films tend to be violent and dark and loads of fun. Last year, TOKYO TRIBE director Sion Sono took home the Midnight Madness audience award for his film WHY DON'T YOU PLAY IN HELL? I decided to leave my preconceived notions of what Japanese hip hop opera would be like, and go and enjoy the film.
So, what's a Japanese hip hop opera movie set in futuristic ghetto slums like?
I don't even know where to begin.
I'm not even going to discuss cultural appropriation because I don't think it applies. I acknowledge that African American urban hip hop culture has tremendous impact on popular culture globally. So when you throw in barriers such as language, things get lost in the translation. If a North American filmmaker created this, my response might have been violent.
It was amusing to see what elements of hip hop and urban gang culture they chose to represent in this film. At least there was consistency between "tribes".
That being said, let's discuss what was wrong with TOKYO TRIBE.
1. Women were used as props.
All the women in the film save four (a waitress and 3 rapping gang members), were used to either showcase their breasts and/or become victims of violence. From the opening scene, my alarm bells started going off. Aside: I don't know what the uniforms look like for Japanese female officers, but I'm willing to bet that short Lycra mini-skirts and sheer white blouses with no bras aren't to code.
2. You can't make a hip hop opera, if all the actors can't rap.
Truthfully this is what bothered me the most about the film. Actual Japanese rappers were used in the film and most of these artists were great. Some of the actors were horrible. Talking fast over a beat, in any language, isn't rapping. I don't even know what you're saying, but I know your delivery is wack.
Please keep in mind I used to work in music video here in Canada - where the government funds music video production. Do you know how many unsigned/unreleased hip hop songs I've listened to? My tolerance for shitty rap is so high. Yet, I could barely tolerate some of the people in this film.
After a while, I gave up on TOKYO TRIBE and went to sleep which I've only done once before in a theatre (Clint Eastwood's UNFORGIVEN). Sadly, my weak-ass neck muscles kept waking me up. After the fifth time I decided to stay awake.
I don't know why this movie was selected for TIFF or even Midnight Madness. I don't know why about one-fifth of the theatre applauded and cheered throughout. But after staring a couple of them down in the theatre, I suspect that they spent last weekend on Reddit swapping Jennifer Lawrence pictures.
One person summed up this movie experience beautifully. As we were exiting the theatre and heading towards public transportation, he said: "I can't believe I missed the last train for this shit."
MY TIFF 2014 SCORECARD:Film: SCARLET INNOCENCE
Country: South Korea
TIFF Program: City To City
Director: Yim Pil-sung
Cast: Jung Woo-sung, Lee Som
Score (out of 5): ♥ ♥ ♥ ½
Film: TOKYO TRIBE
TIFF Program: Midnight Madness
Director: Sion Sono
Cast: Ryohei Suzuki, Young Dais
Score (out of 5): ♥
Next up: Samuel L. Jackson's BIG GAME and Kevin Smith's TUSK. Gentlemen, don't fail me.