The Asian Film Festival of Dallas wrapped up last week with actor/action choreographer Tak Sakaguchi (Versus) in attendance to screen his directing debut, Be a Man! Samurai School. Unfortunately, I missed that night, but two films that screened earlier in the fest stood out for their unique visions.

Indonesian movies are hard to come by in the US, so I confess my total ignorance about the country and its cinema. Is Kala (AKA Dead Time) representative in any way? I don't know, but I very much liked its mix of dramatic mystery and supernatural lore. Director Joko Anwar has a great eye for composition -- he's really good with looming shadows -- and harbors no fear of traveling down well-trodden paths before adding his own odd twists. The film doesn't completely hang together in the narrative sense, and the ending is probably too apocalyptic for its own good, but any movie that features a narcoleptic journalist, a world-weary cop, and a serial-killing spirit deserves attention.

When I describe Muay Thai Chaiya as "insane," it is with all due respect for a movie that begins as a straightforward tale of three ambitious boxing buddies before nearly drowning in soapy melodramatics. What rescues it from terminal dampness is writer / director Kongkiat Khomsiri's complete embrace of a go-for-broke, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic that's reminiscent of trashily enjoyable, "C"-level, late 80s Hong Kong action pictures. Toss in sincere regret, romantic betrayal, and more self-sacrifice than you can shake a stick at, and Muay Thai Chaiya edges into "very watchable, never boring" territory.

Unfortunately, neither film is available right now on Region 1 DVD. Muay Thai Chaiya will be playing at Fantastic Fest next month. Both Kala and Muay Thai Chaiya also have officialsites.

categories Cinematical