Tag Archives: Tian

VIFF 2020 Review: The Curse Of Willow Song

The Curse Of Willow Song is about a troubled orphaned girl (played by Valerie Tian) who possesses a curse that haunts her, but could just save her.

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 was addicted to drugs and 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 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 addiction and 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. There’s just 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, a recovered drug addict, 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.

Movie Review: The Assassin (刺客聶隱娘)

Qi Shu is The Assassin.

Qi Shu is The Assassin.

The Assassin is one movie from the VIFF I missed out on. It’s a shame because there’s a lot of buzz that it may be nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign language Film category. I had the good fortune to see it being repeated just two weeks later.

Nie Yinniang is a female assassin from the Tang Dynasty of the 8th Century A.D. Yinniang has always been good at carrying out her duties as an assassin and is very loyal to the orders given by Jiaxin, a nun who has raised her since the age of ten.

However she faces a new task as Jiaxin orders her to kill corrupt government officials. However each time she is sent, she displays mercy. Even if she assaults them, she does not kill them. This especially infuriates Jiaxin and she gives her a final assignment to test her loyalty. She is sent to the Northern Chinese province of Weibo where she is ordered to kill Tian Ji’an: her cousin she has once been betrothed to. Even before she is sent on that mission, she had heard news that Tian’s wife was pregnant. The ending does come as one would expect but it comes off as fitting for the film.

There was a time when the film was labeled reminiscent of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I’ll admit before I myself came to the movie, I also had the same hopes. It is in a lot of ways where one is taken back to the China of the past, the film has a mythic feel of its own and the film has a female fighter. However the film isn’t as much of an epic, it isn’t full of a big score nor does it have the big fights featured in Crouching Tiger. Some people also expecting the same action may be disappointed and find the film moves at too slow of a pace.

Now enough of what The Assassin isn’t. What it is is a very picturesque film that is a reminder of many mythological tales of the ancient past set in ancient China. Here it is a story where an assassin trained to kill is tested between what she is commanded to do and what she knows is right in her heart. Yes, she’s capable of carrying out her actions in surely an action-packed manner but her true rival is actually her conscience. Some people may become a bit impatient in waiting for the next fight scene but the fights are not the top focus. It’s the story and the perceived slowness is actually meant to remind us of the intensity of the situation.

This is a very good work from veteran Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien. He is already an accomplished director in his own right with A City of Sadness winning the Golden Lion at the 1989 Venice Film Festival and five previous films being entered at Cannes Film Festivals of the past. This film won him the Best Director award at this year’s Cannes Festival. It’s evident to see why as he makes careful decisions here both in directing and co-writing with three other writers on how to not just have the audience watch the story but also feel the feeling of the main protagonist. He did a very good job here.

Also adding to the quality of the story is Shu Qi. she is an accomplished actress back in Hong Kong and her experience is shown in her ability to make the character of Yinniang work for the story. Chang Chen also does a good job as the nun who seeks vengeance. The costuming and sets, both natural and constructed, fit the film beautifully and perfectly and give it the right setting for the story. Lim Giong didn’t have too much of a score in the film but it fit the film well.

I also chose to see The Assassin because it was a film with very good chances of earning and Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category. It had already earned nominations in that category for the Golden Satellite and Critics Choice awards. Less than two weeks ago, the Oscar shortlist of nine for that category was revealed and it did not make the cut. However don’t rule it out in terms of the categories of Production Design, Cinematography, Costuming and Make-Up.

The Assassin isn’t an epic as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is nor is it as action-packed as many would hope. Nevertheless it is a very good story and it is put together well. I’m impressed.