Our first full day in Toronto is consumed with screenings and getting credentials, it's the same as last year and the years before. There's nothing wrong with that. I managed to see a number of flicks yesterday afternoon, and these we now begin the hot and heavy business of seeing so many movies per day as to cause exhaustion.
...good thing I've been working out.
Robson Entertainment 104min, UK
By Lucy Walker
Sabriye Tenberken is an amazing person, having gone blind at the age of twelve, she grew up wanting to be an educator in third world countries, and co-founded an organization called “Braille without Borders” which, among other things, funded her dream to set up a school for the blind, in of all places, Lasa, Tibet. She managed to do this successfully despite the opposition of the Chinese government.
Not only that, she went into the countryside on horseback and recruited students, something unheard of anywhere in the world. The thing is a wild success, especially in Tibet, where the pious Buddhist population believes that blind people are being punished for the awful things they did in a previous life.
Back in 2001, Miss Tenberken read a story on the internet about a
blind climber Erik Weihenmayer, who had just become the first person with his disability to climb Mt. Everest. So, she emailed him with the invitation to give a inspirational talk to her students.
Weihenmayer had other ideas.
What he wanted to do is get a group of the students the school and take them to the Everest Base Camp, from which they would climb Lhakpa Ri, a smaller peak right next to the great mountain, which is still 23 thousand feet above sea level. The ultimate field trip.
The filmmaker goes back and forth between preparations for the trip and interviews with the families of the kids, most of whom thought they had gotten rid of these young burdens, and are quite bemused. The most interesting student is Tashi, who was Chinese, and had been sold into slavery by his parents and somehow wound up in Lasa. The quest to find his parents is almost as arduous as the trek to the Himalayas.
That, despite the fact that even a person in tip top shape would have a tough time with it, is actually the easiest part. True Tashi and some of the girls have problems with altitude sickness, and the mission could very well fail, but the ride is a heartwarming one and this is a very cute film indeed.
KING AND THE CLOWN, South Korea
There's no business like show business and that's been true for many centuries. In Shakespeare's time, there were tales of theater troops who have changed history, and the bard, in fact wrote about it in his famous play “Hamlet,” were the melancholy Dane got a troupe to perform a version of the murder of his father.
Apparently, something like that happened in far away Korea just about 80 years before, and this is a far more sinister use of political theater than the bard had in mind, if such a thing can be imagined.
Acrobat and stand-up comedian Jang-seng (Kam Woo-seong) and his pal and foil Gong-gil (Lee Jun-gi), who specializes in female roles, tour the provinces of old Korea doing stylized dancing and tightrope walking to the joy of the local rubes. Gong-gil, also turns tricks as a male hooker, which drives Jang up the wall, and when a rich guy becomes the “straw that breaks the camel's back” Jang takes action, now both minstrels are on the run.
Now one of the best places to hide is the big city, and thus our two heroes head to Seoul, where they come upon a rival troupe, and after a cute contest of skills decide to join forces. Jang is now their captain. It is here that he make a fatal decision, he's going to become a political satirist…Not a very wise idea in feudal Northeast Asia. Especially, with, as the prologue states, the worst king of the entire Chosen Dynasty!
Having the worst king reign over you can be dangerous, but it makes for great satiric fun, and Jang, Gong, and their cohorts, who were starving, are suddenly extremely popular and have full bellies.
However, the government is always present, and our troupe is in the royal dungeon about to get whipped to death, when Jang gets another brave idea. He demands that the king himself watch the show, and if he laughs at it, they're all innocent, and should go free. If not?
Well, we don't have to think about that because both the ruthless King Yonsan (Jeong Jin-yeong) and his ambitious consort, Nok-su (Gang Seong-yeon) both love how they're portrayed. Our heroes are saved! But the king, being a megalomaniacal type, who never got over how the older members of the court had his mother whacked, has uses for the art of political satire, and soon a comedy sketch is a prologue to something not so funny. Not only that, his majesty suddenly has turned queer and is lusting after Gong-lil [who looks pretty good in drag] this new wrinkle makes things even more complicated.
This could have been a really schizophrenic film, going from comedy to thriller and back again, with the psychosexual ramifications of all this oozing into our heads while we marvel at the stunt-work, which is really nifty, and laugh at the jokes, which even though they're possibly five hundred years old, are still very funny. No wonder that this was the second biggest homegrown hit film in Korea last year. The acting is really good, especially Jeong as the evil king. He has a wonderful time chewing the scenery and is one of the most sympathetic monsters in Asian cinema in recent years. Kam is even better, with the “crying on the inside and laughing on the outside” shtick done perfectly. This is really cool.