Vancouver wrap – VIFF Dispatch 2 on GreenCine

My second and final dispatch on the Vancouver International Film Festival is up at GreenCine.

Yes, VIFF ended two weeks ago, and yes, I’m late, but I owe it to the festival to get in one last piece so I can cover just a few of the North American premieres in Vancouver’s indispensable Dragons and Tigers line-up of Asian cinema. What I appreciate about the selection is that it’s focused on capturing early works and films that engage the state of their local cultures. They aren’t necessarily the greatest works coming out of the country, but they are a snapshot of the film culture and an early look into the work of directors who very likely grow into major filmmakers.

Of the 50 programs (feature films, documentaries and programs of shorts), plus bonus short films playing in front of films, well over half were shot and/or presented in some video format, many of them on what appears to be consumer or pro-sumer formats. Just like the micro-budget boom in the US, it’s opened up filmmaking to a lot more filmmakers, and just like in the US, the results vary by ambition and talent. Format is no measure of quality.

Tropical Manila Case in point: Tropical Manila, a shot-on-video production set and shot in the Philippines from South Korean director Lee Sang-Woo. In the realm of dysfunctional families, this is perhaps the most disturbingly screwed up. The Korean father, counting down the days before he can return home, treats his Filipino wife like a hooker at best and livestock at worst. The mixed race son hates his father and identifies himself only as Filipino; with such a role model for Korean identity, it’s no wonder. It’s a brutal film and the filmmaking is equally brutal, explicit in some scenes (Lee is not shy about chronicling degrading sexual experiences or private bodily functions with point-blank directness) and circumspect in others (the father is a former gangster running out the calendar on the statute of limitations in Manila, a fact that local Korean audiences may pick up from clues but is nowhere explained for the rest of us). It’s also very exacting in its imagery and its editing, which is jarring and brutal in its own right. Lee foregrounds the emotional brutality that the father exercises on his wife and his son and churns up the humiliation and anger that simmers under the grim expression of the increasingly defiant son. After all these years I still haven’t warmed to the look of video productions, but here it adds a stark, naked quality to the imagery.

I also take a look at Blink from the Philippines, Good Cats and Knitting from China, Crossing from South Korea and Orz Boys from Taiwan.

Read the complete piece here.

My first dispatch can be read here.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website ( I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View ( I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly,, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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