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On the Edge of Our Seats at Cinequest 18

Zhao Hitches a Ride to Three Gorges in 'Getting Home'

Zhao Hitches a Ride to Three Gorges in 'Getting Home'

Zhao Hitches a Ride to Three Gorges in 'Getting Home'

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  • Image © 2008 Celeste Heiter
 
Mystery and suspense take on many forms in the seven Asian entries in San Jose's 18th annual Cinequest Film Festival. Why is everyone looking for Amal? What's in Dashang's suitcase? Will Zhao make it to Three Gorges to lay his friend to rest?  Who killed Xiao Ke's parents?  Where is Mr. Shigeki's beloved Mako buried? Does Emily have what it takes to run the family business? Will the climbing expedition reach the summit of Cho Oyu? Watch and discover...
 
Getting Home 
Directed by Zhang Yang
Written by Zhang Yang and Wang Yao
Country China
 
While sharing drinks as usual after a hard day's work, Zhao begins to realize that his friend Liu Quanyou isn't holding up his end of the conversation, only to discover that his friend has keeled over dead, right there at the bar. And although they've only known each other for four years as coworkers at a construction company, a passing comment by Zhao that he would want to be buried in his hometown prompted a pledge from Liu Quanyou to transport him home if anything should ever happen to him. Turns out that Liu Quanyou has died first, and Zhao feels he must honor his friend with the same respect. 
 
Without regard for the post-mortem protocol of the local authorities, Zhao boards a bus bound for Three Gorges with the body of his deceased friend in the seat next to him. Only when highway bandits come aboard to rob the passengers does it become known that there is a corpse among them. But because Zhao displays such devoted loyalty to his friend, the kingpin awards all the spoils to Zhao, leaving the passengers otherwise unmolested. Of course, with the bandits gone and the bus back on the road, the passengers retrieve their belongings and protest the notion of riding all the way to Three Gorges with a corpse. So Zhao and his deceased friend are banned from the bus, leaving them stranded on the highway. And so the ghoulish adventure begins.
 
Thereafter, it's by hook and by crook that Zhao transports his friend homeward, met at every turn by both treachery and pathos. With every misfortune comes a new benefactor: the lovelorn truck driver who grudgingly gives them a lift, the eccentric who donates a cart to the cause, the cyclist who shares his meager provisions, the bee keeper who rescues him from the depths of despair, the vagabond who offers Zhao her last yuan, the heavy equipment operators who help him through the rough stretches, and the kindly police officer who sees him on through to his destination. But even with these serendipitous benefactors, Zhao still must make much of the journey on foot, with Liu Quanyou's corpse draped over his shoulders and his arms clasped around Zhao's neck. In the film's most poignant scene, Zhao valliantly trudges past a traffic jam of all the motorists who heartlessly passed him by on the highway to Three Gorges.
 
Co-written and directed by Zhang Yang, Getting Home is by far the most heartfelt and engaging of this year's Asian entries. Benshan Zhao plays the quintessential everyman with a noble cause, and Qiwen Hong as the corpse of Liu Quanyou deserves a special award if for no other reason than being such a good sport as he is dragged halfway across China to Three Gorges in varying stages of rigor mortis and decomposition. With its masterful use of comic irony, Getting Home is a macabre and inconceivable premise, yet one that leaves the heart filled with both smiles and tears.
 
Amal
Directed by Richie Mehta
Written by Richie Mehta and Shaun Mehta
Country Canada
 
Amal is the happiest rickshaw driver in Delhi. Not because life is going especially well for him, but because he remains true to himself no matter what life brings. When a mischievous moppet snatches the purse of Amal's best customer, he gives chase on foot, only to discover around the next corner that the child has been hit by a Rolls Royce that simply drives away leaving her for dead in the street. Wracked with guilt, Amal, takes her to the hospital and sees to it that she gets the best care. But the best care costs money.
 
In the competitive world of rickshaw drivers, Amal is fortunate to have a few regular passengers on his daily route, but throughout the rest of the day, he ferries strangers around the bustling city in his tiny green and yellow taxi. Little does he know what the fates have in store for him when an ornery old man gets into his taxi one day. In a dispute over the fare, Amal gives him a discount and refuses to accept a tip. A few months later, everyone who knew the old man is suddenly searching for Amal.
 
Co-written and directed by Richie Mehta, Amal is a gem of a film that really delivers. Featuring stellar performances by Rupinder Nagra, Koel Purie, Naseeruddin Shah, Seema Biswas, Vik Sahay, Roshan Seth, and Tanisha Chatterjee, the story moves along at the speedy pace of Amal's little rickshaw, with dramatic irony at its best, and an air of mystery and suspense that unfolds at every turn.
 
The Case
Written by Cheng Zhang
Directed by Wang Fen
Country: China
 
Curiosity and greed fuel the fateful actions of Dashang, a Lijiang innkeeper, when he spots a suitcase floating down the river outside his kitchen window one summer morning. Irresistibly drawn by the mystery and possibilities of its contents, he wastes no time fetching it from the water and hauling it off to the privacy of his greenhouse to open it. But no sooner does he tackle the task of springing the lock, when he is interrupted by his wife calling out for him to come inside. Throughout the day, several failed attempts to open the suitcase heighten the suspense of what might be inside, and when Dashang does finally succeed, he finds not bushels of money, a stash of stolen jewels, or even a chic designer wardrobe, but a dismembered female body, frozen into brick-sized blocks of ice that have begun to melt.
 
Now begins the machination to dispose of the body before it is discovered, since reporting it to the authorities would only cast suspicion upon Dashang. With a dismembered corpse in his greenhouse, he is understandably distracted, as his shrewish wife carps on about his roving eye and philandering ways. Circumstances are further complicated and his wife's suspicions raised when Dashang rents a room to a sexy young woman, and dramatic irony reaches critical mass when the chief of police shows up with his crew for a surprise inspection of the inn.
 
Scripted by Cheng Zhang and directed by Wang Fen, The Case is a dark tale with a light touch. Without indulging in melodrama, it plays upon a spectrum of human emotion, from curiosity and suspicion, to jealousy and lust, and onward to anger, desperation and terror. Unaffected performances by Gang Wu, Yujuan Wu, and Sifei Wang in a common household setting subtly illustrate the notion that human nature readily falls prey to to its own instincts and urges, and what might begin as an ordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy can become his worst nightmare.
 
The Mourning Forest
Written and Directed by Naomi Kawase
Country: Japan
 
In the twilight of his life, Mr. Shigeki is celebrating a birthday and mourning the anniversary of his beloved Mako's death.  Widowed for thirty-three years, Mr. Shigeki now lives at an elder care facility in rural Japan, where his caregiver Machiko is also in mourning over the loss of her young son. And although Mr. Shigeki is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, oblivious to all but his own child-like whims and desires, the bond between Shigeki-san and Machiko is deepened in the sharing of small moments, practicing calligraphy, romping in the tea hedges, playing duets on the piano.
 
On a summer afternoon, Mr. Shigeki's birthday, he and Machiko set off together to visit the grave of Shigeki's wife Mako atop a nearby hill surrounded by a dense forest. What begins as an afternoon excursion becomes an overnight ordeal as the two are stranded during a heavy rainstorm. But when the tempest subsides, two wounded souls share a much-needed catharsis.

Written and directed by Naomi Kawase, with performances by Shigeki Uda, Machiko Ono, Makiko Watanabe, Kanako Masuda, and Yoichiro Saito, The Mourning Forest is a subtle masterpiece that gently exposes love's deepest longings and losses.

Unfinished Girl
Written and directed by Cheng Er
Country: China 
 
What begins as a medical tragedy soon becomes a murder mystery for Xiao Ke, a young woman who was orphaned as a child when her parents were murdered, and in adulthood she is destined to die young from a brain tumor. Despite her struggle to cope and survive, she leads a seemingly normal life. Between medical exams and treatments, she works a day job, maintains a close relationship with her sister and brother-in-law, and even hopes to find love. But during a potentially romantic encounter with her employer, she discovers that he is in possession of two of her family's heirlooms, a silver picture frame, and her father's watch. Suspicion leads her to revisit her childhood tragedy, as she investigates the possibility that someone very close to her may have committed the crime. And as the pieces fall into place, obsession fuels her brutal methods of getting to the truth.
 
Written and directed by Cheng Er, Unfinished Girl is a study in the dark side of human nature, of the sinister elements that lurk behind the facade of ordinary lives. Oblique in its story-telling, with understated cinematography and unassuming performances by Gao Yuanyuan, Xu Zheng and Tao Hong, Unfinished Girl is a subtly disturbing yet satisfying mystery.
 
High Ambitions in the Himalayas
A Documentary by Curt Dowdy
Country: USA
 
Life takes on a whole new meaning at 27,000 feet, as an expedition of hardy mountaineers tackle Cho Oyu, Everest's neighbor and the world's sixth-highest peak. The cast of climbers includes: Filmmaker Curt Dowdy (USA), a former Hewlitt-Packard executive and Internet entrepreneur; Dr. John Taske (Australia), a survivor of the 1996 Mt. Everest tragedy; Hall Wendel (USA), a seven summit climber (Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Vinson Massif, Carstensz Pyramid, and Kosciuszko); Raymond Behm (Luxemborg), Iron Man Triathlon athlete (Hawaii's three endurance events, including consecutively a 2.4 mile ocean swim,  a 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile marathon); Bernhard Dobler, Austrian mountaineer, and Dietmar Voss, Australian mountaineer.
 
With the guidance of sherpas Ang Dorjee and Ang Tsering, the six men begin their journey with a hike to the Cho Oyu base camp at 18,700 feet. Farther up the slopes, there are three more camps, one at 20,700 feet, a second at 23,000 feet, and a third at 25,000 feet. Before they challenge the summit, over the course of about three weeks, the expedition will embark upon a series of three acclimatization exercises, during which they climb progressively higher and then return to base camp, which enables their bodies to adapt to reduced oxygen levels at extreme altitudes.
 
Foreboding reports of  a Korean expedition leader who died of altitude sickness, and a Swedish woman who suffered a stroke, overshadow their trek to the summit, and each climber faces his own limitations as well. Dietmar Voss struggles for breath, Hall Wendel is hobbled by bursitis in his left knee, and Raymond Behm loses forward momentum within a few hundred feet of their lofty destination. In the words of Sir Edmund Hillary, "It is not the mountain that we conquer, but ourselves."
 
Even with the endurance and courage of the climbers as its focus, perhaps the most impressive elements of this film are the constant yet unobtrusive presence of the filmmaker and the nimble sherpas, who traverse the forbidding slopes of Cho Oyu seemingly unfazed. Both remain outside the perimeter of the spotlight that has been cast upon the travails of the climbers, seeking no glory for themselves. For the sherpas, it was just one of many trips up the mountain; and Curt Dowdy not only climbed Cho Oyu, but also filmed a powerful and compelling documentary in the process.  A commendable feat indeed.
 
Family Inc.
Directed by Emily Ting and Helen Jen
Country: Hong Kong 
 
Welcome to Plushy Robotic Toy Manufacturing 101. Charles Ting is a 30-year veteran in the business of manufacturing battery operated singing, dancing plushy toys at his Hong Kong facility. His products are sought after by major U.S. retailers and his company has a long-standing reputation as an innovator in the industry. His elder son wants no part of the business, so the filial obligation falls to his eldest daughter Emily, an educated young woman with a promising career in filmmaking. Burdened with the onus of following in her father's footsteps, she turns the camera on herself and the family business. What she doesn't know going in is that Dad is not only in financial straits, he's in the throes of a divorce from his third wife that may prove his undoing.
 
To the casual observer, Emily lives what might seem to be a perfect life in a stylish Hong Kong penthouse with closets full of clothes, shoes and handbags. Her finace, an American man whose parents are also in the manufacturing business in China, appears to be there for her at every turn. Yet poor Emily doesn't have a minute of her workday left over to enjoy. Her father is chastising to the point of cruelty at times, her family dynamics are fragmented and strained, and the family business is on the brink of bankruptcy. So why does she do it? Seems it all comes down to family expectations, gratitude, and devotion.
 
Family, Inc. is an unvarnished account of one woman's dilemma, told with both candor and an undertone of resentment and ambivalence. What's the fate of Emily and TL Toys...a Hong Kong back-alley palm reader sees money and power in her future, but Emily's not fully convinced it's worth it.
 
Cinequest 18 opens February 27, 2008 in San Jose, California. For venues, show times and further details on these and the dozens of other films featured at the Cinequest 18 Film Festival, visit the Cinequest website.
 
 

Published on 2/27/08

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