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The East

The East emerges as an exciting piece of filmmaking from the independent scene’s hott —Matt Anderson (review...)

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The industry catalog described Once Upon a Time in Anatolia as a movie requiring patience. A 157-minute film requiring patience. And I got a ticket for an 8:45 am screening. Uh oh.

It reminded me of some Romanian films or Iranian films where not much happens, but end up leading to truths. A caravan of vehicles drive through the hills somewhere in Turkey. Two suspects have confessed to something. It has to be a murder, or they wouldn’t be out in the middle of the night.

They banter and complain. Eventually the movie turns to the doctor and the prosecutor. There are discussions about love, death and the harshness of life in their rural areas. It all leads up to a resolution. The director doesn’t spoon feed the conclusion to the audience, but I had no problem understanding what he was trying to say.

Actors Jung Jae-Young, Jeon Do-Yeon, and writer/director Huh Jong-Ho in Toronto for Countdown
Actors Jung Jae-Young, Jeon Do-Yeon, and writer/director Huh Jong-Ho in Toronto for Countdown

I was glad that I knew that I would need to have a little patience with this film, and I was glad to let the movie run its course. I was never bored and I never sensed any restlessness from my audience. On the other hand, it got only tepid applause at the end. Many viewers back home and not at a film festival would be frustrated at its slow pace and seeming lack of action.

With five hours until my next screening, I decided to walk rather than take the subway. My route took me through the University of Toronto campus. I was handed a flyer by a pro-Palestine organization. A couple of blocks down, the Bolsheviks had set up a table (with a bright red tablecloth). At the corner of Bloor & St. George was a guy holding a sign expressing his concern about the Islamisation of Canada.

My destination was the Bata shoe museum. Perfect, right? There were special purpose shoes (for stomping on chestnuts, walking through peat bogs), fashionable shoes, shoes for Chinese women with bound feet.

The Canadian section featured shoes donated by Canadian recording artists. There were shoes that had graced the feet of Shania Twain, Brian Adams and the members of Rush. And let me not forget, Justin Bieber’s high tops! Alas, no Celine Dion or Alannis Morisette.

My final movie was Countdown, a South Korean action movie that falls into the melodrama subgenre. The protagonist is a tough-guy collection agent who is dying of liver cancer and needs a transplant. He finds a donor, but she’s just getting out of prison. (She received a heart from his dead son.)

Seems she’s a con artist who got set up to take the fall by her boss. She’ll only donate her liver if the hero can track him down. Meanwhile, one of her victims, a small-time mobster, wants to settle a score with her as well. Car chases and fights ensue (no guns though, guns are illegal in Korea).

Meanwhile our protagonist agonizes over his deceased son. This isn’t a perfunctory plot point, intended to give the character a little depth. It’s an integral part of the story. The couple sitting next to me made two predictions as to the outcome. One of the predictions was correct, however it wasn’t a typical American action-movie ending, and it worked. I felt like the director laid on the melodrama a little thick, but I’ve seen this in other Asian action movies.

The audience was full of college-age Koreans. I know this because they reacted to what the director said before his words were translated. They also gave the two lead actors the kind of reception that my audience at Salmon Fishing in the Yemen gave to Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt.