Published on October 25th, 2005 | by Greg0
HIFF #1: Brokeback Mountain, Karaoke Terror
The Hawaii International Film Festival is bringing over 200 films from 40 countries to Honolulu, and they were nice enough to invite us to attend. This is the first article in a series of reviews of the festival.
This is the 25th year of HIFF, and it’s looking to be quite an anniversary. As you can imagine from Hawaii’s proximity to Asia, there is a definite Eastern slant to the lineup- the vast majority of films have connections to Japan, Korea, or China. There are your obligatory martial arts/action epics (The Hidden Blade), your oddball Japanese love stories (Late Bloomer), some anime (Galaxy Express), and a couple that stand out for other reasons(I Am a Sex Addict).
Even the centerpiece film, Brokeback Mountain, was directed by Ang Lee, of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame. And though there aren’t any swords in this movie, there is more than a bit of swordplay… Brokeback Mountain is, after all, a gay cowboy movie- heck, probably the gay cowboy movie.
Skeptical? So were we, especially after hearing that Jake Gllyenhall (Donnie Darko) and Heath Ledger (not Donnie Darko) were going to play the leads. Even after hearing that the story was being adapted by Larry McMurtry (of considerable Western fame) from a New Yorker short story by Annie Proulx (Pulitzer Prize winning writer of The Shipping News). But Brokeback Mountain isn’t bad- just a kind of typical boy meets girl/boy movie done with much more grace and style.
It turns out that gay cowboy romances are kind of like all other forbidden romances- only a little manlier and more likely to take place in tents. If you can get past Jake Gllyenhall as a cowboy (which we couldn’t for the first half), then you’ll enjoy some beautiful scenery, some pretty touching dialogue, and a Western with plenty of character. It’s not exactly John Wayne, and it’s a little long in parts, but the story is better than most anything else put to screen recently. Other people are using words like “raw” and “powerful”, but I thought Brokeback Mountain was quiet, with the same casual intimacy of Ang Lee’s previous films The Ice Storm and Sense and Sensibility.
The plot is pretty simple- a character piece set in the 60’s and 70’s, it’s basically about two ranch hands who meet in Wyoming, herd sheep, and end up in love. But, of course it’s not to be, and they go on to have families, wives, children, and other not-quite-satisfactory things while continuing to see each other every few months on “fishing” trips.
The plot of Karaoke Terror, on the other hand, is far more complicated. This is one of those movies which make you grateful that film festivals exist- Brokeback Mountain will eventually be in Blockbuster, but you’ll be lucky to find Karaoke Terror anywhere, ever. Unfortunately, there’s often a reason that movies like this don’t make it far out of the festival circuit: they simply aren’t very good.
Is the film interesting? Absolutely. The basic outline works: “After a teenager’s botched pick-up of a middle-aged woman results in her murder, a gang war escalates between a group of juvenile delinquents and an equally savage cluster of prosperous women nearing 40.” Written by Ryu Murakami (Audition), the script may have been perfectly decent.
But the movie tries to do too much- a scene straight out of Rocky Horror Picture Show, another stolen from Clockwork Orange, some uncreative violence, and little actual karaoke terror. You’re not really scared at any point, but the arterial geysers will probably shock those not prepared the first, second, or third times. However, other films have managed to shock and be decent movies (Battle Royale, for instance)- but all this one can do is whimper. It’s more off-putting than intriguing that not one of the characters goes through any moral dilemma about the murders, or that police, parents, and any authority is absent. See it for the costumes, the unconventional story, the chance to see older women getting revenge of hooligans- but don’t see it if you want anything near a “good” movie.