Among the overwhelming plethora of crime films coming from S. Korea, it is always a pleasure to find works that manage to present the themes of the category in a different fashion. Lee Don-ku does exactly that and with style, by shooting a Tarantinoesque movie set as a stage play, that also features a female character, who, for once, is not a cliché. Let us take things from the beginning though.
The story begins during the night of Halloween in a bar in Itaewon, where the bartender (seemingly also owner), dressed as Count Dracula is about to close shop for the night. Just before he does so, a rather sexy blonde woman comes and asks for one last drink (tequila to be precise) with the bartender agreeing, if only for half an hour as he finishes closing. He also tries to flirt in rather obnoxious fashion but is turned down harshly by the girl, who, a few moments later, reluctantly opens the door to a man asking for help for his brother, whom he carries on his back. Unfortunately for the two already in the bar, the two brothers are robbers, and through a series of unfortunate events, the young one ends up killing the bartender. The young brother throws a kind of fit, but the older, Kang-tae, remains calm and decides to call for help. Soon, Sen, a rather obese man appears, but when he actually learns what is going on, does not want to have much to do with the case. Kang-tae persuades him through blackmail and a tempting offer, and Sen invites yet another man, Baek-gu, one who seems to have much expertise in getting rid of a body. As the upper hand regarding who is in charge changes with each new appearance, the girl makes a revelation that changes everything, and a bit later, the police shows up.
Lee Don-ku pens and directs a great story, which unfolds in a number of layers and through many twists, despite the single location it is shot. These twists mostly derive from the many changes regarding the one in charge, as the power balance changes a number of times, in a fashion that keeps the interest and the agony till the Tarantino-like finale. And although we have seen films unfold in such a fashion before (with "Reservoir Dogs" being the most iconic), the element that sets "Fanfare" apart is the fact that the woman character is not just a damsel-in-distress, but probably the most calm and cunning among the characters, to a point that her composure could even be described as surrealistic, at least considering the way women are usually portrayed in similar films. This element, along with the change of the "authority", which unfolds and changes in circular fashion, are the greatest part of the narrative, along with the characters, whose almost caricature nature serves the "promotion" of the woman in the best way.
In this approach, the acting of the female character is of increased importance and Im Hwa-young delivers a great performance, which seems to embed the archetypes of both victim and femme fatale in the most impressive fashion. The rest of the cast are also quite good, although again in a style that allows Im to truly shine.
Add to all the above a number of moments of dark and intelligently ironic humor (Count Dracula is killed in the beginning after all), a bit of gore, noir aesthetics and you have the backbone of the narrative. Furthermore, cinematographer Kim Sang-il's does a great job in the presentation of the space in a claustrophobic fashion that mirrors the psychology of the characters quite fittingly, while Lee Don-ku's own editing induces the movie with a sense of rhythm and movement, mostly derived from the frequent cuts, and despite the single location. Lastly, Kim Cheol-hwan's music also adds to the overall atmosphere, particularly through the track selection near the finale.
"Fanfare" is a great movie that highlights Lee Don-ku's directorial abilities in the best way, with the award he also won in BIFAN (Best Director in the Korean Fantastic section) being more than deserved. I daresay, one of the best Korean films of the year.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[Hancinema Film Review] "Fanfare" "
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