Welcome to the fifth edition of Mini-Reviews. This is the final installment of mini-reviews of the films I had the pleasure of watching at the Chicago International Film Festival last week. I’ll have another mini-review post up soon with films still in theaters.
Directors: Kimo Stambeol and Timo Tjahjanto
Writer: Timo Tjahjanto
Cast: Iko Uwais, Chelsea Islan, Julie Estelle, David Hendrawan, Epy Kusnandar, Zack Lee, Very Tri Yulisman and Sunny Pang
Synopsis: An amnesiac with a serious head injury whose past comes back to haunt him shortly after being nursed back to health by a young doctor.
If you’re a fan of the Indonesian actions film The Raid and The Raid 2: Berandal, then Headshot is a natural progression film for you. The film brings together the same team behind the camera and in front of the camera, for the most part, and it leads to a brutally beautiful film that won’t disappoint any action fans.
Headshot follows a man (Uwais), who is found on a beach and is taken to a hospital where he spends three months in a coma. When he wakes up he doesn’t have any memory of who he is or what happened to him. His doctor Ailin (Islan) tries to help him and gives him Ishmael. However, Ishmael’s past comes back to haunt him as a mysterious and dangerous man known as Lee (Pang) comes back into the picture with his deadly army of assassins. To make matters worse, Ailin gets captured by Lee’s men and Ishmael races to save her and face his past.
Some will find the tonal shifts a bit jarring, and even I’ll admit I was a bit thrown by it at first, but Ishmael’s story and of course the action, keeps you invested through the shifts. The film does take a “breather” at one point as it gives us some backstory on Lee, which is really just an exposition dump, but right after that is when the action level goes up to eleven.
Of course, most people are going to watch this for the action – me too to be honest – and you will not be disappointed. The film gets really brutal and down-and-dirty, which is what we expected, and the film is called Headshot after all. Iko Uwais is one of the best martial arts stars we have working today, and seeing him working again with this Raid 2: Berandal stars Very Tri Yulisman and Julie Estelle is a great sight to see. Although they don’t really reach the same levels of iconic characters like Baseball Bat Man or Hammer Girl, but they do have their moments and are just as deadly.
All in all, Headshot is a brutal fighting film that is wrapped around a drama about a man trying to find out who he really is. While the film isn’t perfect, the action is what most will remember taking away from the film, and it isn’t really a bad thing.
4 out of 5
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Director: Andre Ovredal
Writers: Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton and Olwen Catherine Kelly
Synopsis: Father and son coroners who receive a mysterious homicide victim with no apparent cause of death. As they attempt to identify the beautiful young “Jane Doe,” they discover increasingly bizarre clues that hold the key to her terrifying secrets.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is one of those films that I personally feel the less you know the better your experience will be. The film starts off rather grisly as Sheriff Sheldon (McElhatton) discovers a brutal crime scene, but finds something out of place in a mysterious body. With no visual signs of a cause of death, he sends the body of Jane Doe (played by Olwen Catherine Kelly) to father and son coroners, Tommy (Cox) and Austin (Hirsch). What follows is Tommy and Austin experiencing things they can’t clearly understand, or want to, and soon figure out that it may be connected to Jane Doe.
The film is a hell of a lot of fun, and it also helped that the crowd was also really into it too. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch have tremendous chemistry together as father and son, and really play off the horror elements of the film, as well as the autopsy parts where they seem to be enjoying themselves. If anything, the movie is held together by the always reliable Cox and Hirsch. However, the biggest props goes to Olwen Catherine Kelly as Jane Doe. One, for being a dead body the whole time, but the other is she still pulls off the creepiness of the role while laying on a table stiff. It’s rather impressive.
When the film picks up its eeriness is when the film becomes really fun. I won’t go too into details, but there are some pretty clever stuff that director Andre Ovredal (Trollhunters) and cinematographer Roman Osin pull off here. Also the reveal of what is causing all of this is rather interesting, and while the reveal is only limited to Tommy and Austin, I wish they could have gone more into it.
All in all, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. It’s funny, scary when it needs to be, and Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch keep you invested from start to finish. The film does a great job of building everything up for its finale, that will probably make you even more afraid of going into a morgue.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
4 out of 5
Director: Chan-wook Park
Writers: Chan-wook Park and Seo-Kyung Chung
Cast: Kim Tae-ri, Min-hee Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo, Hae-suk Kim, and Sori- Moon
Synopsis: A woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her.
Famed, and amazing, director Chan-wook Park has given us some great films in the past like Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance, and Thirst. Now, Park has come back with a somewhat different film in The Handmaiden. Based off the novel by Sarah Waters called Fingersmith, the film is a very exotic, drama thriller that never lets go from beginning to end.
The film is set in Japanese occupied Korea and follows Sook-Hee (Tae-ri), a young theif who is part of a band of thieves, who just landed a massive job. The plan is for Sook-Hee to become the handmaiden of the wealthy Lady Hideko (Kim) and make her fall in love with “Count Fujiawara” (Ha) so they can get married, take her fortune to split it amongst them, and throw her in a madhouse. However, as the days go by Sook-Hee finds it harder to betray Hideko as she’s gotten to know her.
The Handmaiden has a ton more going on than the trailers and even the synopsis has you believe. So much so that the film’s long run time is justified, and to some extent, I kind of wish the movie was a little longer so it can drawn some more things out. Saying that, the film could be one of those films that you have to revisit to see if you can catch things you didn’t notice before.
Also, Park is back to his ways of making his audiences feel just a bit uncomfortable. Of course, most of the scenes involve the exotic scenes that Park does find a way to actually make work for the film instead of just having a random and gratuitous sex scene. It fits the story and even connects to one of the many themes the film has. I know that sounds vague, but like The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the less you know the better your experience will be watching this.
The performances are also top notch. Of course the film is driven and held together by the leads in Min-hee Kim as Lady Hideko and Kim Tae-ri as Sook-Hee, who are amazing to watch together and Kim is especially great by herself as well. Jung-woo Ha as the Fujiwara and the leader of the group of thieves has his real big moments, and Jin-woong Jo appears as Hideko’s uncle Kouzuki plays a major role in Hideko and Fujiwara’s arcs, and one of the things I wish was expanded on a bit.
Finally, one of the things I was not expecting – besides the twists – was the how funny this movie was. Even the weird and uncomfortable scenes had some humor to them, which also the film just a bit, because the film gets a little heavy at times.
All in all, The Handmaiden will definitely not be for everyone, but if you could try to avoid any more information about the film you should. The film is a beautiful, exotic, funny romance story that I was never expecting, and I’m glad I got to experience it.
4 out of 5