Most of the familiar VIFF categories from past years are back for the online festival for this year, including Altered States. The first Altered States film I saw was the locally-filmed The Curse Of Willow Song. It was something else.
Willow Song is a troubled girl. The daughter of Chinese immigrants who both passed away, she followed in her older brother Mission’s footsteps to live a life of crime to survive. Manual labor wasn’t enough for her. Only the arson she committed landed her a prison sentence. She’s done with her time but she spends her time in a detention centre in Vancouver as she works to build her life. Her one friend is Flea, another girl at the detention centre. Flea appears to be the only one she can trust right now. Willow is not allowed to see any close family, especially her brother, for fear she will return to her criminal ways.
It is very hard for Willow to reintegrate back into society. One labor job that appeared to have steady work ended as the boss accepted an opportunity in Edmonton. The detention centre doesn’t seem to be working well to help her get back on her feet. The society she’s around has a contemptuous look at young Asian-American females. On top of that Wolf, the pusher from the place she burns down, keeps harassing her how much she owes him.
She gets relief when she least expects it from Dani: a figure from her past. Dani has found a place for Willow to live all the way out in Surrey in an abandoned Warehouse area that has common housing amenities. There, Willow is able to have a set-up similar to that of a comfortable home. One thing. When Willow sleeps at night, there appears to be something dark and mysterious growing on the walls.
Despite her new shelter, Willow knows she still has issues to deal with. She still has to reintegrate herself back into society. Also she has to avoid any contact with Mission or Wolf. That’s not an easy thing to do as she tries to get a labor job, but the boss just pays attention to her physical and racial features. He hires her, but drops her after the first day. Obvious sexual harassment. Walking down the streets of East Van, she does bump into Wolf. He hasn’t forgotten her. He still wants the money from her and won’t stop until she does. In addition, she meets up with Flea, but Flea appears to have turned her back on her. The growth on the walls continues to get bigger and bigger.
Soon, Willow’s secret shelter doesn’t stay secret for long. First to know is Mission and his gang where they go to conduct some activities. It’s only after an altercation with others that they go. Flea finds Willow’s whereabouts and they appear to have made peace. Only it turns out Flea gave Wolf the info about her secret place. Wolf and Flea then go over to her place. Wolf is ready to chase her down and kill her. Willow tries to run and hide herself wherever she can, but Wolf is determined. Willow tries to hide herself in a room full of chairs. Wolf is determined to get to her, but something happens to Willow as she’s hiding. When Wolf gets to where she is, Willow has become this monster of black smoke. She can attack Wolf and there’s nothing he can do. Flea tries to search for Wolf, but Willow has a surprise for her.
This is definitely a horror-thriller movie. However it does a lot more. It sends a message about some Asian-Canadians who slip through the cracks of the system. This is in the focus of Willow: a young Asian-Canadian female. She’s orphaned, best at skilled labor, and has been with her brother’s crime ring. Seeing how Willow wants to get back on her feet but the system either failing or falling short does send a message about problems that are out there. What happens to Willow often happens to many other girls too. I guess that’s why it’s shown in black and white. Because of the black and white world Willow lives in.
Another unique element is the thriller aspect of the film. The ending where Willow turns into this bizarre deadly spirit is bizarre to see. I actually read in an interview with director Karen Lam that she mentions of “psychokinesis (PK), where people can create an energy when under extreme stress that resembles a poltergeist.” That’s something unique. This is also the first time I’ve ever seen something like PK in a film, especially used by the protagonist. It was evident that Willow had her PK growing over time as it grew on the walls before her big confrontation with Wolf when it really came out.
This is a great work from writer/director Karen Lam. It’s a film that does keep you intrigued with the protagonist and what will happen next. The film was nominated for ten Leo Awards (BC’s equal to the Oscars) and it won two including Best Director for Lam. It’s well-deserved as this is a film that really succeeds in telling its story and keeping the audience intrigued. Also excellent is the acting of Valerie Tian. She does a good job of playing the protagonist with a troubled past and something supernatural she doesn’t know what to make sense of. Ingrid Nilson is also excellent as the traitorous Flea. She’s good at playing a lot of street girls that will befriend you one minute, then take what you have the next.
This film is part of the VIFF series Altered States. Many of you know that I’ve been seeing a lot of Altered States films for many VIFFs of the past. Those we the thriller/horror films that were shown at the Rio Theatre during their 11:30 weekend shows until they dropped them after 2018. Altered States are back this year and they’re mostly all online.
The Curse Of Willow Song is more than just a film of a young woman with a supernatural gift. It’s also a film with messages about our society and discrimination. It definitely knows how to end in unexpected manner.
It’s interesting how many films have been re-released in 3D. However this week marked an opportunity to see a classic movie re-released in 3D for the first time ever, and in IMAX to boot. It seems appropriate that the first classic movie to receive a 3D re-release is The Wizard Of Oz. The big question is does The Wizard Of Oz work in 3D?
Just like my review of the 3D re-release of Titanic, I will focus my review in the 3D aspect of the film as well as other technical aspects. The most I will mention about the film itself is that it still qualifies as a masterpiece. The acting, singing and dancing are top notch and the movie is perfectly edited. The visual effects are very cheap and chintzy by today’s standards but they didn’t have today’s visual effects technologies 75 years ago. Nevertheless the movie continues to entertain families even to this day. It’s no wonder why it’s stood the test of time. In fact I declare: “If you haven’t seen The Wizard Of Oz, you didn’t have much of a childhood.” The film has received a load of acclaim including a #10 ranking on the AFI’s 2007 list of the Top 100 Films of all time, a #3 ranking on their list of the Best Musicals, a #1 on the Top Fantasy Films and a #43 rank on the Top Thrillers List. Three of its lines made the AFI’s list of the Top 100 Movie Quotes with “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” being #4. Three of its songs made the AFI’s list of the Top 100 Movie Songs with Over The Rainbow naturally being #1.
Another interesting note to add is that it was directed by Victor Fleming. Fleming also directed another masterpiece released in 1939: Gone With The Wind. Both would become two of the greatest films ever made. 1939 would be considered one of the greatest movie years ever and you could bet it was because of those two movies. No doubt they established Fleming as one of the biggest directors ever.
As for the 3D IMAX re-release, I often questioned in the days before seeing it whether it was a good idea to re-release it in 3D? Technology’s changed a lot in the many decades since. The special effects would be seen as cheap by today’s movie goers. Would the 3D work? Would the IMAX theater format work?
I saw it Saturday night. Hey, this is a one-week only limited time thing. The film started on an impressive note. I noticed the 3D work with the MGM roaring lion and the opening credits with the clouds in the background. As for the story, I didn’t notice how the 3D addition made too much effect on the movie. The debris from the cyclone didn’t really surprise us. The bedroom window images Dorothy was looking at in mid-air was made too obvious this was film-on-film work. The pyrotechnics used didn’t appear 3D. The flying monkeys didn’t appear like they were coming for me as I was hoping they would.
I don’t think the 3D effect really added too much too the movie. Showing it on an IMAX screen did. It wasn’t necessarily the special effects that were enhanced by the IMAX screen but it was the viewing of the whole movie. I’ve seen it on television many times but just to experience it on an IMAX screen was definitely something. I think I would have been impressed even if I saw it on a regular movie screen. Nevertheless it was a delight to see. The movie must have been remastered because the colorful images of Oz were incredible. The ruby slippers shined, the makeup on the tin man looked fresh, the green face of the witch looked scary, Glinda’s gown looked majestic, the yellow brick road looked freshly painted, Emerald City glowed…I think I could go on forever. Even the sound appeared remastered as the movie score and the musical numbers from everyone, especially Judy singing Over The Rainbow, sounded completely fresh.
Funny thing is that it has me wondering if there will be any other classic movies that would receive a 3D re-release. I will admit that The Wizard Of Oz is the one classic movie that most deserves a 3D re-release but will others follow? I’m sure there are some, like say King Kong or Ben-Hur or the Ten Commandments. I’m tempted to think some of those sci-fi B-movies from the 50’s would be great to re-release in 3D. So would Star Wars. Actually does Star Wars now qualify as a classic movie?
Oh yeah. For those curious about the box office biz, it made roughly $3.1 million this weekend. Ironically it made $3 million back during its original release in 1939. Actually $3 million would be lots in 1939. I’m sure if you adjusted 1939’s total with inflation and added in the grosses of the various re-releases, it would be in the hundreds of millions.
I’ll admit that I find 3D releases of movies cash-grabs, including 3D re-releases. The 3D of the 3D IMAX re-release of The Wizard Of Oz didn’t add too much. However the IMAX format and the remastering of both the images and the sound made it an excellent viewing pleasure. Reminds you that it’s so right and proper that it be re-released on the big screen whatever format it’s given.