Fantastic Fest Blog: Day 2 - Rare Exports And I Saw The Devil

It's only day two of Fantastic Fest, and I'm already falling behind (which might have more to do with being at the tail end of a 30 day film festival trip than anything else).

On Friday, I inadvertently decided to sleep in as a result of the  Mother's Day midnight screening the night before, which kept me awake on my laptop until 5:30am.

We then failed in our attempt to get from North Austin to South Austin in less than a half hour for Dante Lam's Hong Kong film Fire of Conscience at 4pm. People complain about the traffic in Los Angeles, but the traffic in Austin this week has been just as bad (although there is much more greenery to look). I should note that I usually don't hit bad traffic in LA as I live central to Hollywood where most of the studios and screenings are located. Also, working from a home office allows one to avoid rush hour.

Anyways, the combination of events prevented us from seeing a screening until 6pm. With a horrible start to the day, I wasn't expecting the rest of the night to go smoothly. And who knows what I was seeing, I certainly did not.

One of the many things that makes Fantastic Fest unique is the inclusion of four or five secret screening slots. The secret screenings can be anything from some fucked up movie you've never heard of to some huge sneak Hollywood premiere. You never know what you're going to get. Coming from Telluride and Toronto, I'm always nervous it's going to be something I already screened at one of those two festivals. I'd much rather have someone who has not seen the film take my seat. But even the press is in the dark when it comes to which films are playing. I may have some ideas of what could play and a great idea of what definitely isn't playing, but I have no idea what actually is playing in any of these slots.

The secret screening on Friday was Ji-woon Kim's I Saw The Devil. Many of you know Kim as the director of The Good, The Bad, the Weird, but his filmography also includes A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, and The Uninvited. I Saw the Devil premiered at Toronto in the Midnight Madness section, but it was one of the movies I didn't end up catching at TIFF.

Kim's latest South Korean film tells the story of a man (Byung-hun Lee) who takes a leave of absence from his National Intelligence Service job to peruse the maniac who murdered his wife. He uses advanced technology he "borrows" from his work to track the serial killer. But where this film differs from the usual revenge film, Lee's character has decided not to kill, but instead, torment and torture the killer.

Devil doesn't spend too much time on characters, it is all about the insanely thrilling fight sequences and extremely brutal violence. The violence in this movie is not of the fake Hollywood variety, it is realistic and hard to watch. The movie is a brutal experience, and while I highly recommend it, I don't ever see myself watching it again. That said, at 144 minutes in length, it could be at least 20 minutes shorter.

My second screening of the day was Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, a Finnish movie which tells the untold origin story of Santa Claus. Directed by Jalmari Helander, based on the 2003 short film, Rare Exports feels like a fusion of Joe Dante and Guillermo del Toro.

A group is working to excavate something buried in the mountain — the original Santa Claus. A local boy does research and discovers the original Santa Claus is not the Jolly fat man we've come to know, but the original fairy tales told of an evil satanic-like creature who punishes bad children. The boy tries to warn his father, but as is always the case, the adults don't listen until it is too late.

The movie isn't really a horror film, although it has some horror elements. It looks and feels like the Christmas movies I watched as a kid (for example, Jeannot Szwarc's Santa Claus: The Movie). Although if I had seen Rare Export as a child, I would have been frightened of both Santa Claus and the entire Christmas holiday.

It's a really fun film which I hope people get a chance to see. Oscilloscope is distributing the movie, although I wouldn't expect a wide release — it will eventually be available for all on DVD.