Fantasia Dispatch: Chasing Dream / For the Sake of Vicious / Hunted
Legendary Hong Kong director Johnnie To seemingly took a look at the frequency of both boxing movies and A Star Is Born-style showbiz romances and thought “why not both,” with the result being perhaps my favorite film from Fantasia 2020. Chasing Dream stakes a claim as arguably the most purely entertaining of the festival’s offerings, following the intersecting lives of two animal-named performers who just want to succeed: Tiger (Jacky Heung) is a boxer-turned-MMA fighter who would rather open a hot pot restaurant (his primary character trait is his blissfully pure love of food), while Cuckoo (Keru Wang) is a singer attempting to win a The Voice-style competition despite the presence of her ex-boyfriend as one of the judges. If this sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is, but in To’s expert hands the absurdity of the plot and the melodrama of the relationships are perfectly pitched. From well-choreographed fights to elaborate musical numbers, Chasing Dream isn’t shy about throwing it all at the wall to see what sticks, but there’s a human core at the center keeping us emotionally invested all the way to the end. Embrace the nonsensical and enjoy the ride.
For the Sake of Vicious
You can wring a lot of nasty fun from the home invasion thriller, and at times Gabriel Carrer and Reese Eveneshen’s For the Sake of Vicious seems poised to do so — a nice synthy score, clever costumes, and an impressive level of gore for the budget all make for solid atmospherics. But from the beginning the film just seems a little out of its depth. Critically, the story spirals out from a particular offscreen incident, the nature of which requires a delicate touch that neither the film’s script nor its actors quite manage to get a handle on, but discussion of which is given a significant amount of screentime — I hate to ding a film so heavily for a single element, but this narrative decision ends up undermining any emotional heft the film is attempting to have, leaving you uninvolved and put-off by the time the action gets into full swing about halfway through. Without the necessary buy-in to theme and character, what are, for the most part, well shot and edited action sequences become merely numbing. Sometimes the key to filmmaking is knowing the limitations of the pieces you’re playing with, and unfortunately that understanding just isn’t on display in this particular case.
Hunted, from Persopolis co-director Vincent Paronnaud, at first glance seems to be the latest in a recent swath of ostensibly feminist horror. The film sets itself up as a riff on the fable of Little Red Riding Hood, beginning with an animated bedtime story and quickly presenting us with a protagonist, Eve (Lucie Debay), who spends much of the runtime in a hooded red jacket. Eve ends up in the company of a man (Arieh Worthalter) who can unsurprisingly be described as wolfish. The evening takes a sharp turn and Eve finds herself running for her life through the woods as the Big Bad Wolf hunts her down. Hunted is well shot and often visually striking, but ends up undermining its own apparent themes by the sheer nastiness of the narrative. As the film spends increasingly more time with the antagonist at the expense of the protagonist, who doesn’t really manage to come into her own with any agency until near the very end, it moves past provocation and into exploitation — though Hunted is arguably about misogyny and violence, it ultimately wallows far too much in both to make a cogent argument.