Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival Reviews: Come to Daddy, Airpocalypse, In the Quarry, Big Brother

By: Joseph Perry and Chris Weatherspoon

The 23rd Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN), the largest genre-film fest in both its home of South Korea and of Asia as well, boasted horror, thriller, action, and other genre films from around the globe. Following are our thoughts on four of the fest’s offerings. 

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Joseph Perry: Go in as fresh as possible to Come to Daddy  and prepare for an uncomfortably fun time. Director Ant Timpson’s genre-bender has many secrets, clever twists, and brilliant performances, and giving away too much in a review would spoil the movie. It’s chock full of uncomfortable family drama, gruesome set pieces, black humor, and even some poignant bittersweetness, and it is a lock to make my top 10 list of favorite genre films of this year.

Norval (Elijah Wood, Maniac; Cooties) travels to a remote beach house to meet his father, who abandoned him 30 years earlier. He is nervous about the reunion, and for good reason, as he suffers verbal abuse and physical threats from his highly aggressive, judgmental father (Stephen McHattie, Pontypool; Dreamland ). The elder man enjoys taunting his recovering substance abuser son with his own fondness of the bottle, and in a nail-bitingly tense scene, plays a game of mental chess regarding how well Norval actually knows a certain rock music legend. Wood and McHattie are superb in their portrayals, with Wood assaying Norval with a bewildered gaze and a breaking-point fragility and McHattie giving a bravura screen villain performance. And that is merely the first part of Come to Daddy!

After that, the film takes some tense, engaging, mind-bending paths as it plays freely with horror, dark comedy, and thriller elements, with plenty of brutality and blood spilling. Cinematographer Daniel Katz vividly brings the film’s extremes of lush landscapes and unsettling gore to life, capturing Timpson’s vision marvelously. Michael Smiley (Kill List), Martin Donovan (Rememory), Ona Grauer (House of the Dead), and Madeleine Sami (What We Do In the Shadows) all have crucial, memorable roles as well, but explaining why here would be spoiling a good deal of the film’s fun.

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Chris Weatherspoon: Actor-director Xiao Yang (Old Boys: The Way of the Dragon) takes on environmental issues in fantasy-action comedy Airpocalypse. Yang stars as Ma Le, a questionable, opportunistic psychologist and suicide prevention specialist who has seen his business boom because of a widespread spike in depression caused by the thick layer of haze that has blanketed his northern Chinese city.

This haze isn’t the product of China’s industrial pollution nor the burning of fossil fuels, but rather by Yun Baobao, an adorable, misguided Auspicious Cloud deity. If you say so Jan! Anyway, Ma Le is summoned by the area’s wealthiest man, Bai Xuejing (Xiaoshenyang, The Monkey King 3), who not only claims to be the fallen Chinese God of Thunder, but also reveals that he will destroy the world in 7 days. Ma Le thinks Bai Xueijing is crazy, but guess what, this movie ain’t called Airpocalypse for nothing!

After a chance encounter with the God of Longevity (Wang Xiaoli, Jian Bing Man) finds Ma Le imbued with the jovial deity’s heavenly powers, the schmuck, quack doctor is tasked with assembling fellow fallen weather deities the Mother of Lightning (Du Juan, Europe Raiders), God of Wind (Yi Yunhe, Trouble Makers) and God of Rain (Chang Yuan, Never Say Die) to put an end to Bai Xuejing’s malevolent plans.

Airpocalypse is a formulaic, by-the-numbers Chinese fantasy action film written to appeal to all four quadrants. From the selfish, reluctant protagonist, to the forced romantic storyline, training montage, and cuddly, merchandisable animated character, Airpocalypse seems designed to check all of the boxes. The storyline is written around Xiao Yang, giving the comedian time to shine during the film’s more ridiculous moments; however, this comes at the expense of the relatively large ensemble cast not having the time to fully develop their supporting characters.

In regard to pacing, the film could have been a bit tighter, but with so many story elements to fit in, it’s a wonder they managed to cut the film down to 100 minutes. However, for those just becoming acquainted with Chinese fantasy films, one can do far worse than this movie. For those who are unfamiliar with Chinese deities, Airpocalypse can serve as a fun, albeit non-canonical, introduction to Chinese mythology. The movie also features competent visual effects and costume designs, and while the plot structure might not feel new, the storyline does have its moments, in addition to its commendable effort for bringing attention to environmental issues.

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Joseph Perry: Uruguayan thriller In the Quarry (En El Pozo) is an effective slow burner that looks at gender roles and expectations, with macho bravado and jealousy leading to a vicious turn of events as four young people spend what they hope to be a fun, relaxing day of barbecuing and swimming at their small town’s abandoned quarry.

The proceedings turn dark and violent for Alicia (Paula Silva), her possessive boyfriend Bruno (Augusto Gordillo), and brothers Tincho (Rafael Beltran) and Tola (Luis Pazos) as city slicker Bruno repeatedly mocks the brothers for their simple country lifestyles. Alicia is secretly having an intimate relationship with one of the brothers, which doesn’t help matters. The ensemble cast is solid, and the co-writing/co-directing team of Bernardo Antonaccio and Rafael Antonnacio keep the pace going nicely as things seethe slowly until a sudden act of brutality escalates into a waking nightmare.

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Chris Weatherspoon: In Big Brother, one of Hong Kong’s worst performing schools is in danger of being shut down if The Principal can’t Stand and Deliver better test scores to the school board by the end of the year. Of course it should be noted that this school operates on an insufficient budget and mostly serves an underserved, at-risk group of students who live in A Town Torn Apart by broken families, wealth inequality, and even colorism.

Enter Henry Chen, (Donnie Yen, IP Man series), a dangerous man with a tattoo and just the right skills to shape these Dangerous Minds. With a cool but firm personality, killer fighting skills and a neon glow smile, Teacher Chen tames his Blackboard Jungle in no time. However, when a powerful local gangster sets his sites on the school’s very desirable plot of land, it might take more than Chen’s martial arts skills to keep the school from being out forever.

Donnie Yen produced and starred in this vehicle that I’m sure he hopes will show that his acting range includes more than just kicking things. Big Brother is a feel good comedy that shows the power of the community and the good that it can do for youth. Though Big Brother is Donnie Yen’s show, director Ka-Wai Kam (Queen of Triads) does a commendable job of interweaving Teacher Chen’s narrative with those of his problematic students.

Among these troubled youths are twins Chris and Bruce (Chris and Bruce Tong), who are dealing with an alcoholic father; tomboyish Gladys (Gladys Lee), whose father wanted a son instead of a daughter; orphan Jack (Jack Lok), who gets mixed up with gangsters, and Gordon (Gordon Lau), a Pakistani student born in Hong Kong who dreams of music stardom and wants to be acknowledged as a local like everyone else. In fact, one of the most commendable things about Big Brother is that it examines timely issues currently facing Hong Kong, from impractical education standards to crime and racism.

In contrast to negative elements of daily Hong Kong living,  the biggest complaint about Big Brother might be the positivity of teacher Chen himself, who seems to be a virtual saint. Frequently appearing at just the right time and place to help students when they’re in need, viewers of the film might wonder if Chen is secretly God, or at least Santa Claus.

In addition to this world-best teacher’s power of omnipresence, he is also all-knowing, having a wide variety of expertise on topics that range from cars to ancient Chinese philosophy.  And on top of all of this, Chen has the most amazing apartment you will ever see any teacher be able to afford in Hong Kong. That being said, while Big Brother may occasionally feel cliche and too “feel good,” its use of likable characters, timely issues, and good pacing coupled with greats martial arts action, make the film a joy to watch. 

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Chris Weatherspoon: Australian horror The Furies is the feature debut for writer/director Tony D’Aquino. Set in the Australian desert, this female-led, survival-horror/sci-fi mashup features a cast of colorful killers and offers a twist on the final-girl formula. The film opens with cautious, epileptic-seizure–prone Kayla (Arlie Dodds, Book Week) having an argument with lifelong best friend and uber feminist Maddie (Ebony Vagulans).

Their disagreement is less of a thought provoking discussion and more of a convenient way to quickly provide exposition and introduce viewers to Kayla’s character arc. Moments after the two part ways, Kayla is abducted and taken to a desolate, desert locale where she soon discovers she isn’t alone. A grotesque, masked, axe-wielding monster has been assigned to murder her and it’s stalking her every move through the cameras that have been implanted into her eyes.

Additionally, there are six other women in the abandoned location, each with their own assigned masked, murderous stalker. When one of the girls meets an untimely, gory demise, Kayla soon discovers a connection between the victims and their hunters and decides to use this knowledge to fight back.

However, as the body count continues to rise, the girls begin to lose trust in each other, forcing Kayla to seek survival, and revenge, at all costs. The Furies doesn’t reinvent the wheel for the humans-for-sport, survival horror genre, but the revealed connection between the “beauties” and the “beasts” presents the director with an opportunity to inject some interesting game theory into the plot.

Fans of slasher films and gore will love the designs used for the masked creatures, which reference characters from many past horror classics. The story has its tense moments of suspense, and D’aquino succeeds in creating likable victims that can garner empathy; however, with such a large cast, some of the characters feel either undeveloped or underused. As the central lead, Dodds is able to carry the film, convincingly portraying Kayla’s transformation from sensitive victim to tough, focused avenger. Clocking in at only 88 minutes, The Furies feels like it ends with some story still left to tell. Hopefully D’Aquino will have a chance to share more of this world of beauties and beasts. 

Joseph Perry is one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast (whenitwascool.com/up-hill-both-ways-podcast/) and Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era podcast (decadesofhorror.com/category/classicera/). He also writes for the film websites Diabolique Magazine (diaboliquemagazine.com), Gruesome Magazine (gruesomemagazine.com), The Scariest Things (scariesthings.com), Ghastly Grinning (ghastlygrinning.com), and Horror Fuel (horrorfuel.com), and film magazines Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope (videoscopemag.com) and Drive-In Asylum (etsy.com/shop/GroovyDoom)

Originally from the Midwest, Chris Weatherspoon is a writer and producer currently based in Korea.

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