Thai One On

Vancouver Smackdown

Just when you thought the Pad Thai Western was dead. Wisit Sasanatieng's Fah Talai Jone—by a wide mile the daffiest, most kaleidoscopic movie at this year's Vancouver International Film Festival—revived and revised a genre virtually inaccessible to Westerners: Hollywood-inflected midcentury Thai melodrama. A full-blooded passion pageant disguised as homage, it brought the Technicolor Easter egg tints of Pierre et Gilles home to roost in a provincial Thai setting, suggesting a young Sam Raimi's All That Heaven Allows or Vincente Minnelli's lost Roy Rogers film. With tempera sunsets bursting on a backdrop 10 feet behind a lonesome cowboy, mustaches and guns seemingly made of licorice, lavender mud, gunfight blood textured after magenta cottage cheese, and a fatal bullet ricochet in instant replay, Fah Talai Jone barely appeared to come from this planet. Small shock that it won this year's Dragons and Tigers Award for Young Cinema.

No less dreamlike was another Thai flick, Mysterious Object at Noon, which also gave the impression of eating up genres as it trolled along. Ostensibly a road film that combs the countryside in a tuna-hawking car, it eventually incorporates village songs and documentary anecdotes: Folks along the way get a chance to add threads to a tale of a disabled kid and the alien that rolled out from under his teacher's skirt, while the whole thing gets reenacted by a different set of actors. By the time the alien becomes a clone of the aforementioned teacher and then grows bigger than the universe, this attack on easy fiction has detonated another surprise.

Of the many on-screen battles fought at this year's fest, few were as feral as the Canada vs. Japan tournament, a/k/a "The Great Vancouver One Piece! Challenge." Kicking off mere hours after the fizzless Olympics closed, this formal smackdown (dubbed "Iron Chef-like" by its programmers) pitted Vancouver's Pacific New Wave against the style's Japanese originators. The rules were easy: no cuts, no moving camera, no editing, no postproduction sound tinkering. Countering the Dogme 95 concept album with catchy single takes, One Piece! films make a fitting case for inspiration through boredom and nonsense. The seven-minute Sound of Teacher showcases some elementary-school teachers who cool their group frustration via a squawky Casio tune and fake-cute umbrella dancing; the now infamous Congratulations is a well-wishing-video-greeting-card-turned-murder-diary.

Things got ugly, though, with this first international tournament. The crowd eschewed the programmer-encouraged booing, but the Canadians gravely exploited their home-screen advantage. The Japanese tapes had neither been properly subtitled nor video-transferred correctly. While this could have worked to the Japanese advantage—particularly in the nudie, noisy punk bacchanal entitled Ai (Love)—an arch Canadian short about a film pitched to a producer named God eventually won the audience vote. Unfortunately, my four post-screening cuba libres left me powerless to ask the crucial Canadian doping questions.

 
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