MIFF 2009 Day 05: THE CHASER (KR) and HOME (FR)

THE CHASER, 2008, South Korea, is another excellent Korean film that is certainly not for the faint hearted, but if you can stomach a few minutes of extreme graphic violence this film you’ll be worth the discovery. The Chaser is a serial killer story that does not follow the usual conventions of the genre. The police are disinterested and even incompetent and The Chaser’s hero is more of an anti-hero, an ex-cop turned pimp who’s only motivation in life is money and initially his desire to find his missing girls that he believes are being stolen and sold on the black market. With this back drop in mind, the film starts at a relentless pace and continues for the whole two hours.

The major achievement of The Chaser could simply be that it doesn’t do want you except it do from a genre film. It even manages to find humanity in our anti-hero and turns him around. The strength of the film can be contributed to a brilliant script and incredible performance by Kim Yu-seok (the pimp) and Ha Jung-woo (Killer). A little healthy suspension of reality is required, but the violence in the film is very realistic and probably the only drawback from this film reaching a boarder audience.

The Chaser is a fantastic achievement for first time director, Hong-jin Na, who could be another Korean director to keep on your radar and no wonder Warner Brothers spent little time in acquiring the english remake rights at one million dollars.

The reason behind MIFF not including The Chaser in last year’s program was the one disappointment as MIFF has had a long history of championing Asian cinema long before the rest of the world unfortunately we’ve been a little slow this time around. The film was a box office hit in March in 2008 and quickly jumped onto Hollywood radar. The other surprise of the screening was how poor the attendance was for this screening with less than half filled Forum Theatre for a brilliant piece of cinema that you will not get to see in the cinema outside a film festival.

Even on YouTube you’ll find the whole movie in 13 parts but don’t rip yourself off - go buy the DVD, catch the next MIFF screening or pester your local film festival programmer to include The Chaser in their next festival.

My first screening at MIFF on day five was, HOME, a French film directed by Ursula Meier about a very dysfunctional family living alongside an abandon freeway which they had turned into their own private universe.

HOME was the first screening of the day at the Forum Theatre, to a near full house, not a bad effort for a lunch time work day screening. I suspect that many patrons had gone along to see HOME based the casting of Isabelle Huppert in the lead role. Huppert has a strong following, due to her brave and wonderful performance and choice of roles over career. Unfortunately this film, probably will not go down as one of her highlights, not due to her work but a film that just never pulls it all together.

The story revolves around couple who live in a farmhouse with their two daughters and son alongside this freeway. This doesn’t immediately scream out dysfunctional, but from the first scene you get the sense that not everything is not completely normal about this family. The oldest daughter spends her days working on her tan alongside an empty broken swimming pool while her brother and sister try to maintain normal school life. While Huppert portrayal of the mother, constantly looks as if she’s about to unravel in every scene, while the father played by Olivier Gourmet tries to keep the family functioning normally.

The film gets moving when the family discovers that their piece of paradise, the freeway out the front of their home is being opened to traffic. They lose their freedom and peaceful existence. Unfortunately, the strength of the film lies in the incredible location, the freeway and the fact that the freeway is resurface prior the film. Obviously the family unravels completely and doesn’t cope with this situation. As piece of cinema, HOME doesn’t elevated to any heights and left me with more interest in how they manage to secure the location then the actual journey the story took me on. Production Design and Location are the big winners and you know that if we are talking about that then the film has missed.