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Camellia -- Film Review
By Elizabeth Kerr, October 13, 2010 08:53 ET
"Camellia."
Bottom Line: An anthology film that runs hot and cold.
BUSAN, South Korea -- Just in time for PIFF's 15th anniversary comes "Camellia," an omnibus of three films all set in Busan by three of Asia's most prominent filmmakers. As is typical of the format (as in "Three: Extremes") the segments run hot, tepid and stone cold. Disconnected on a deeper thematic level -- but not so greatly they stand alone -- and varying in pitch (campy musical, mystical romance, science fiction) to such a degree it's difficult to settle into a rhythm and follow it through to wherever it leads.

There is potential here for moderate, if not blockbuster, appeal in "Camellia." Well known filmmakers from a broad range of markets should at least secure Asian rights, and the pedigree of everyone involved will generate substantial festival interest. However, the film doesn't hold together well enough for the long-term and will probably live out its life on DVD as a novelty.

In "Iron Pussy: A Kimchi Affair," Thailand's Wisit Sasanatieng ("Red Eagle") resurrects the great satirical, transvestite superspy Iron Pussy for another mission that begins in 1979 and concludes with some time travel to 2010 (this is the one tepid one). Sasanatieng brings some typical and much needed Iron Pussy humor to "Camellia" (check out Iron Pussy getting drunk on perfume in response to her romantic dilemma) and laces the film with his signature irreverence. He's come a long way from Iron Pussy's early shorts, but the cheekiness that made the character played by writer Michael Shaowanasai, possibly one of the world's homeliest drag queens, so much fun is still there. But working outside his native Bangkok doesn't always work; Busan lacks the gleefully kitschy vibe Iron Pussy adventures so desperately need.

Japan's Yukisada Isao ("A Day on the Planet") follows a Korean cinematographer through an evening encounter with a mysterious Japanese woman in "Kamome" (the hottest of the trio). This is a case where the director's sentimental streak works in his favor. Seol Gyeonggu is Yong-su, who meets Kamome (Yoshitaka Yuriko) wandering barefoot on the streets one evening. They spend the night somehow truly communicating in a combination of broken Japanese and Korean. It's an effective and affecting examination of yearning and connection.

Finally "Love for Sale," by Korea's Jang Joonhwan unfolds in a future Busan where love is literally a commodity to be bought and sold occasionally by gangsters using a technology that pulls memories from the mind (this is the stone cold part). Oddly Jang, who showed such flair for sci-fi in "Save the Green Planet," bungles his entry with too much gunfire, too much noise, too much obnoxious brooding. He gets no help from bland leads (but goodness, they're pretty) that are supposed to be illustrating the central idea of the blur between genuine love of a person and the idea of love. In the future (you can tell it's the future because men wear eye makeup), others' memories can be purchased for personal experience. Jay and Bora's (Gang Dongwon and Song Hyegyo) love is so pure and so intense it becomes a hot property.

If there's a single theme that binds the three short films --- and short should be used loosely, with each clocking in around 45 minutes long --- it's the nature of love. There's a lot of pontificating on how to find it, hold on to it, reconcile it, and express it, but only Yukisada manages any degree of resonance. "Camellia" is also hampered by its collaborative format. The variations in the Thai, Japanese and Korean perspectives, while sociologically very interesting, make for a tonally jarring viewing experience. By the time the film is over audiences are going to walk out with only one segment leaving a lasting impression. "Camellia" is a grand experiment that could have used honing.
Camellia -- Film Review
By Elizabeth Kerr, October 13, 2010 08:53 ET
"Camellia."
Bottom Line: An anthology film that runs hot and cold.
BUSAN, South Korea -- Just in time for PIFF's 15th anniversary comes "Camellia," an omnibus of three films all set in Busan by three of Asia's most prominent filmmakers. As is typical of the format (as in "Three: Extremes") the segments run hot, tepid and stone cold. Disconnected on a deeper thematic level -- but not so greatly they stand alone -- and varying in pitch (campy musical, mystical romance, science fiction) to such a degree it's difficult to settle into a rhythm and follow it through to wherever it leads.

There is potential here for moderate, if not blockbuster, appeal in "Camellia." Well known filmmakers from a broad range of markets should at least secure Asian rights, and the pedigree of everyone involved will generate substantial festival interest. However, the film doesn't hold together well enough for the long-term and will probably live out its life on DVD as a novelty.

In "Iron Pussy: A Kimchi Affair," Thailand's Wisit Sasanatieng ("Red Eagle") resurrects the great satirical, transvestite superspy Iron Pussy for another mission that begins in 1979 and concludes with some time travel to 2010 (this is the one tepid one). Sasanatieng brings some typical and much needed Iron Pussy humor to "Camellia" (check out Iron Pussy getting drunk on perfume in response to her romantic dilemma) and laces the film with his signature irreverence. He's come a long way from Iron Pussy's early shorts, but the cheekiness that made the character played by writer Michael Shaowanasai, possibly one of the world's homeliest drag queens, so much fun is still there. But working outside his native Bangkok doesn't always work; Busan lacks the gleefully kitschy vibe Iron Pussy adventures so desperately need.

Japan's Yukisada Isao ("A Day on the Planet") follows a Korean cinematographer through an evening encounter with a mysterious Japanese woman in "Kamome" (the hottest of the trio). This is a case where the director's sentimental streak works in his favor. Seol Gyeonggu is Yong-su, who meets Kamome (Yoshitaka Yuriko) wandering barefoot on the streets one evening. They spend the night somehow truly communicating in a combination of broken Japanese and Korean. It's an effective and affecting examination of yearning and connection.

Finally "Love for Sale," by Korea's Jang Joonhwan unfolds in a future Busan where love is literally a commodity to be bought and sold occasionally by gangsters using a technology that pulls memories from the mind (this is the stone cold part). Oddly Jang, who showed such flair for sci-fi in "Save the Green Planet," bungles his entry with too much gunfire, too much noise, too much obnoxious brooding. He gets no help from bland leads (but goodness, they're pretty) that are supposed to be illustrating the central idea of the blur between genuine love of a person and the idea of love. In the future (you can tell it's the future because men wear eye makeup), others' memories can be purchased for personal experience. Jay and Bora's (Gang Dongwon and Song Hyegyo) love is so pure and so intense it becomes a hot property.

If there's a single theme that binds the three short films --- and short should be used loosely, with each clocking in around 45 minutes long --- it's the nature of love. There's a lot of pontificating on how to find it, hold on to it, reconcile it, and express it, but only Yukisada manages any degree of resonance. "Camellia" is also hampered by its collaborative format. The variations in the Thai, Japanese and Korean perspectives, while sociologically very interesting, make for a tonally jarring viewing experience. By the time the film is over audiences are going to walk out with only one segment leaving a lasting impression. "Camellia" is a grand experiment that could have used honing.
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