Film Review: KUSO

In 2016, Park Chan-Wook’s psycho-sexual thriller “The Handmaiden” —one of the best films of the year— included among its visual oddities a POV shot from the perspective of a vagina. In 2017, musician and producer Steve “Flying Lotus” Ellison’s “Kuso” shared the view from inside George Clinton’s anus; while one could see this as indicating a spiritual kinship between Park and Ellison’s films, it’s safe to say that “Kuso” is far from the year’s greatest. Kuso Much of the early buzz around “Kuso” centered on its Sundance premiere, where the walkouts it inspired were sometimes discussed more than its content. This mass revulsion seems to be Ellison’s desired reaction, as every aspect of the film is a carefully crafted provocation. The characters are sad creatures living lonely existences in a Los Angeles ravaged by an earthquake that somehow led to denizens being deformed with boils, blisters, and sores. Child abuse, rape, and deviant sexual behavior are common practices for most of these characters. Even the sets are gauged to disgust, liberally smeared with a substance one can only hope is chocolate. The gross-out assaults are meant to inspire shock in some and laughter in others, but their ubiquity just grows tedious as the film progresses. Read more

NY Asian Film Festival Review: MATANGTUBIG (TOWN IN A LAKE)

MatangtubigAt first glance, Jet Leyco’s “Matangtubig” (“Town in a Lake”) appears to be the result of filtering David Lynch’s sensibilities through the culture of the Philippines. The plot –focused on the rape and murder of a female high school student and the disappearance of another in a small town– bears more than a passing resemblance to the story of Laura Palmer in “Twin Peaks”; the fact that both girls are represented by framed photographs in the media hysteria that ensues calls to mind Laura’s ever-present homecoming picture. Just like in Lynch’s television masterpiece, the crime is merely a pretense to explore general aspects the town, including school life, political maneuvering, and law enforcement. Leyco even pays homage to Lynch’s enthusiasm for strobes as scenes that suggest a meeting between two worlds —law-abiding and criminal, earthbound and otherworldly— are bathed in a red light.

Leyco’s reverence for the work of the American master also plays a role in shaping his cinematic grammar, but it is in this realm that his personal style shines through. Like Lynch, the Filipino director plays with time, alternating the film’s pacing to keep the viewer on his or her toes or to heighten a sense of dread. His scene transitions in particular can be jarring; many scenes end by suddenly cutting to another scene or to a black screen that lingers silently for what could feel like a few seconds too long. These transitions work well, though, in drawing the viewer into the frenzy surrounding the search for the killers. Read more