May 28, 2004

SIFF Strikes Back!

Cinecultist has tried in the past to warn Seattle Maggie, our new correspondent from the Emerald City, that seeing movies based only on the title can be a bad idea. She should really stick to seeing movies based solely on the fact that Brendan Fraser or Russell Crowe are in them (true story!). However, she did not take our advice to heart as is evidence in her second dispatch from the front lines of this year's Seattle International Film Festival.

On Monday evening, I took in a screening of The Tesseract written and directed by Oxide Pang of the Pang brothers. Having seen and enjoyed the Pang brothers' very creepy The Eye at last year's SIFF, I went into this movie expecting something along the same genre - dread Asian horror, perhaps tinged with a taste of sci-fi (so sue me, I fell for the Wrinkle in Time connotation). Alas, I had stepped into that most nefarious pitfall of film festival goers - making assumptions without research, aka the Movie That Makes An Ass of U and Me.

The Tesseract proved to be nothing I was expecting, and was in fact only bound to its title by the sheerest, most gossamer of threads. At the Heaven Hotel in Thailand, the fates of two feuding drug lords, a sweaty drug-running Englishman, a mortally wounded Thai hit woman and a painfully naive British psychologist are inextricably entwined.

Wit, the orphaned Thai houseboy who runs errands around the hotel, ties many of the stories together with his coming and goings. The movie is presented in what I can only describe as Memento-style storytelling (I know, that phrase is getting old) with some of the events happening out of sequence or being retold from a different perspective. From what I can tell, the tesseract that the title refers to this method of revealing the story to the viewer, although I much prefer the Madeleine L'Engle version myself. First, the good news: the cinematography is exciting and gorgeous, although almost to the point of distraction. There is a certain dreamlike quality that is echoed in the slowed special effects and the misty lenses. The movie's use of color is also quite good, especially using red to punctuate certain scenes and sepia tones to evoke nostalgia.

Next, the bad news: this movie sucks rocks. The characters are so frustratingly one-dimensional that we have no reason to care about them - the drug lords are pissed off, the Englishman is sweaty, the hit woman is stoic and the psychologist is so ridiculously sentimental that one longs for death by theater-lobby hot dog rather than put up with her rambling speeches about how time is a circle and the beginning is the end and how her life is like a bejeweled carriage (don't ask). And worst of all is the character of Wit, who manages to lie, steal and thoughtlessly cause random deaths throughout the movie without a second thought. While it is pressed upon the viewer that the kid has had a hard life and knows no other alternative, can't he have at least one endearing characteristic? He loves dogs? Opens doors for old ladies? Something? Some streak of good nature that makes us root for him? No, nothing. Wit's main drive in life is greed, greed and more greed.

Maybe we can mark it down to my admittedly curmudgeonly attitude toward children in general, but the biggest disappointment in a disappointing movie was the fact that this kid was still breathing by the time the credits were rolling. The Tesseract gets 1 out of 5 Golden Space Needles, and we humbly beg the Pang siblings to go back to making horror pictures. Until next time, this is Seattle Maggie signing off!

Posted by karen at May 28, 2004 8:21 AM