Lund International Fantastic Film Festival Reviews: Manriki Serves Up Plastic Surgery Horrors; White Snake Offers Breathtaking Chinese Animation
The following films screened at the 2019 Lund International Fantastic Film Festival, held in Lund, Sweden, from 27 September–5 October.
Japanese genre-bender Manriki (AKA Vise; 2019) is an often puzzling but always entertaining take on the obsession with youth and beauty in that country’s culture. With elements of horror and black comedy at the forefront, the film focuses on different characters throughout its course. At first, the emphasis is on Julian Koike as a supermarket employee and would-be model who feels she isn’t getting enough work in the latter area because of her self-proclaimed “big face.” Her negative thoughts about her looks start to take on an obsession bordering on paranoia, and she visits a plastic surgeon (Takumi Saitoh, whose many previous J-horror efforts include Shin Godzilla  and Tag ) whose “beauty comes from within” philosophy has a dark twist to it. Using a vise as his only tool for facial reconstruction, he soon finds himself afoul of the law, and the film’s focus turns to Mizuzu Kanno as an older woman and Shuehei Nogae (a rapper who performs under the name SWAY) as her kept man. The two find themselves crossing paths with the plastic surgeon, leading to a heavy third act. Director Yasuhiko Shimizu, directing his feature-length debut from the first feature screenwriting effort from Nagano (who also appears as one of the surgeon’s assistants), serves up a mishmash of visual and aural styles, including breaking the fourth wall, hypnotic shots reminiscent of David Lynch accompanied by ambient music and shrill noise, practical gore effects, and much more. Manriki plays with experimental notions but is grounded enough to not lose direction. Shimizu blends bold colors with muted shadings, walks a fine line between the surreal and the absurd, and juggles his myriad ideas successfully. The leads give intriguing performances, especially Koike as a pensive young woman who gives in to vanity and Saitoh as a man whose sadistic side leads him on a slow, downward spiral.
Chinese computer animation feature White Snake (Yuanqi; 2019) serves as a sort of prequel to the oft-told Legend of the White Snake, one of that country’s Four Great Folk Tales that has been adapted into operas, films, and television series. This tale of forbidden love sees Blanca (voiced by Zhang Zhe), a White Snake spirit, fail in her attempt to assassinate an emperor who uses snakes to grow strength through black magic. She develops amnesia and is aided by Xuan (voiced by Tianxiang Yang), a young human who lives in the snake catcher’s village. She is being hunted down by the emperor and his general, her snake clan who feels she betrayed her, and her sister Verta. As the feelings between Blanca and Xuan grow stronger, her memory and powers strengthen, and she must decide between her duties and love. The visuals are absolutely stunning, with highlights being the bevy of gorgeous landscapes on display. The character designs are terrific, too, with secondary characters such as a face-changing fox demon and her diminutive servants being especially impressive. It’s difficult to pinpoint who the target audience might be, as the film has both a Disney-like dog given the gift of speech that plays well to children, alongside sensual characters and a near-sex scene that seems aimed for the post-adolescent crowd. Fun martial arts scenes abound, and for those who enjoy big, action-packed showdowns in their animation, White Snake does not disappoint. Above all, the film is a valentine to Chinese artistic culture, with its lovely soundtrack and nods to traditional art, puppetry, the aforementioned martial arts, and more. This is Warner Bros.’ first foray into Chinese animation, working with Beijing-based animation studio Light Chaser. Steeped in rich cultural tradition and loaded with eye-popping visuals, this wonderful slice of cinema from directors Amp Wong and Ji Zhao has everything it should need to find international success.