J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, June 04, 2012

KAFFNY ’12: Magic and Loss

Kiki Sugino could be considered Asia’s Parker Posey.  As an actress and producer, she has helped get numerous indie films off the ground in several countries.  Though her career is still young, she has already been the focus of a mini-retrospective at the most recent Tokyo Film Festival.  New Yorkers will have the chance to see some of Sugino’s indiest work in Lim Kah Wai’s Magic and Loss (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2012 Korean American Film Festival New York’s opening night double feature.

Two women have come to a picturesque Mui Wo beach resort that looks like it could have been inspired by Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner.  The sign at the registration desk says “full,” but there do not seem to be any other guests besides Kiki and Kkobbi—and they both have coupons.  However, since the bellhop seems to be the only employee, overhead must be low.  He is quite solicitous of Kkobbi, knowing she is Korean, but his reception is less gracious for Kiki after learning she is Japanese.  Playing her namesake, Kiki Sugino’s well known Zainichi Korean heritage (a native born Japanese citizen of Korean descent) might indeed be significant to international audiences watching M&L.

Kiki and Kkobbi become fast friends, or so it seems.  Frankly, the latter’s attitude appears ambiguous to say the least.  Nonetheless, they explore the natural beauties of the HK island paradise.  Yet, there are hints of something unsettling, in addition to the generous servings of sexual tension.

M&L is not the sort of film to put all its cards on the table.  After all, that would be telling.  It is perfectly content to leave viewers in a state of unresolved ambiguity (only heightened by the post-credits stinger).  Yet, for hardy cineastes, it is still quite watchable thanks to the combination of the pleasant scenery, the wonderfully expressive (and cute) Sugino, and the attractive Kim Kkobbi.

Though Lim tries not to overdo the Lychian excesses, M&L seems to parallel Mulholland Drive in several respects.  There is certainly an ominous vibe to the proceedings, despite the sun and surf.  In fact, he creates quite an effective atmosphere of mystery, but the drama (unfolding through largely improvised dialogue) is frustratingly ill-defined.  Really, would it have killed anyone to give us a few more concrete narrative hooks to hold onto?

Regardless, for hardcore film students, M&L offers plenty to debate. Its plethora of multi-multi-hyphenating (directed by the Malaysian-Chinese Lim and co-produced and co-starring the Korean-Japanese Sugino) also makes it quite the fitting selection for KAFFNY.  Make no mistake, it is a serious film, requiring serious patience.  Recommended for rabid Lynch cult-followers and admirers of Sugino’s work, Magic and Loss screens tomorrow night (6/5) and Saturday afternoon (6/9), when this year’s Korean American Film Festival New York opens at the Anthology Film Archives.

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