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#1: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Country of Origin: Canada
Rating: 5/5

Sold as a horror-comedy, Tucker and Dale is really more of a comedy about horror. It's a weird distinction, but an important one, primarily justified by the fact that the movie is never actually scary, unless gore alone qualifies as scary. The movie was incredibly funny, with Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine playing off of one another perfectly as confused, horrified rednecks helpless to stop the teenagers offing themselves around their vacation cabin.

#2: City of Life & Death (original title Nanjing! Nanjing!)
Country of Origin: China
Rating: 5/5

City of Life & Death is a historical drama about the Japanese occupation of Nanjing, China during World War II. It's beautifully shot in black and white, with a fantastic script and superb acting. It's also incredibly difficult to watch, because it is essentially two hours of reenacted war crimes. Imagine Schindler's List with all the happy parts taken out, and you start to get an idea of what I'm talking about. It is also a very human film, and while nothing is sugar-coated, it also doesn't paint anyone as a monster, a machine, or a saint. This is especially gratifying considering how raw the movie's events are in the minds of the Chinese to this day.

#3: K-20: The Fiend with 20 Faces
Country of Origin: Japan
Rating: 4/5

K-20 is gonzo pulp nonsense, with perfect disguises instantly assumed and discarded, crazy acrobatics, cgi capes, and references to Nikola Tesla. Master Thief K-20 is on a rampage of terror through an alternate history 1949 Japan in which World War II never happened. A simple circus acrobat (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is framed by K-20 and must subsequently master the thieving arts in order to catch K-20 and clear his name. The movie was fun and lighthearted, though it crossed the line into cheesy on occasion.

#4: Bodyguards & Assassins
Country of Origin: Hong Kong
Rating: 4/5

Like a lot of historical kung fu epics, Bodyguards has some pretty heavy propoganda overtones about sacrificing yourself for the common good. A revolutionary leader is set to return to the capitol from exile in Japan and lead the rebellion against the Chinese emperor. Various characters are caught up in plans to either protect or kill this important figure and (if you're familiar with the genre, this isn't a spoiler) virtually all of them end up dead by the end. My only real complaint is that this is part of a string of recent Hong Kong films that have picked up the nasty, disgusting Western action movie habit of shooting the fight/action scenes using a shaky, hand-held camera. On the upside, Donnie Yen body-checks a galloping horse.

#5: Little Big Soldier
Country of Origin: Hong Kong
Rating: 5/5

This was one of the best Jackie Chan movies I have seen in years. It's more on the serious side than is typical for his movies while still being very funny. Set during the Warring States period in China, Chan plays the last surviving soldier of a great battle who chances upon a wounded general and sets out to deliver him to the leaders of his country for a reward. Naturally, things don't go as planned, and a fantastic blend of action, comedy, and poignancy results. This may have been my favorite film of the festival.

July 2011

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