Friday, October 10, 2014

The Bow (Hwal) (2005)

***NOTE: The following analysis/review contains SPOILERS regarding some detail in the film.*** 

It is quite likely one of the cutest faces on the planet; that of a young, sixteen-something girl, an inhabitant of a lone houseboat in the middle of the sea. She has the most expressive eyes, flawless skin, a sweet smile that brings a smile to your face, and an innocence that warms the heart and fills it with joy. The girl, as we know later, has been brought up on this boat since the age of six by its owner, a sixty year old man. The boat is in total seclusion, managed by the old man and the young girl. They make a living by inviting tourists and fishermen to use the boat as a platform for some deep sea fishing.

The boat serves as a microcosm of the old man's world and one of the pillars of his existence. The other pillar is the young angel, his reason to live. Rumour has it that he intends to marry the girl when she turns 17. Tourists on board gossip about it. There are also doubts as to how she landed up with the old man. Some say she was kidnapped, others say she was found by him! While the tourists chatter about them, the old man simply looks on with a steady gaze and keeps a good eye on them. Some of them try to get fresh with the girl. Anyone who gets all touchy-feely with her gets threatened by an arrow, shot with great precision and timing from the old man's bow.

Yes, he is an expert archer who uses his bow as a protective device and also converts it into a soul-soothing, healing, musical instrument that produces some heavenly, ethereal notes. Additionally, the old man is an expert fortune teller. He tells people their fortunes by shooting arrows at a painting of the Buddha while the young girl sways on a swing between him and the painting. It is presumably the finesse with which he manages to avoid hitting the girl, and  the subsequent pattern formed by the arrows that predicts the future of his patrons!

This is abstract-realism at its finest. The boat, the vast open sea in all directions, and the clear blue skies above; this remains the only setting, the universe of Kim Ki-Duk's strangely fascinating, but quiet and lyrical film. It is like a chamber drama set entirely in a boat. The boat is their own private paradise in the middle of nowhere and the old man is its God. The whole business about being confined to the boat, not being connected to the outside world, lack of dialog, a feeling of being lost in the vast surroundings, and using a bow and arrow for protection, makes it an existence that is quite surreal and of the primitive kind.

The old man takes care of the girl like his child. It is a strange, silent bond, for neither the girl nor the old man ever speak throughout the film. The atmosphere in the film is similar in spirit to "3-Iron" (2004). We only see the two whisper. He bathes her in a small tub, her growing age and physique notwithstanding. We creep out when we watch this scene. It's a baffling relationship, but it certainly isn't "Lolita"! Never once does the old man come across as a horny child molester.

He, instead, appears like a sweet, caring old man with a friendly face. The bond they share is so pure and tender, it is difficult to point fingers at him. It is love alright, but a love that we aren't quite able to fathom. He is possessive about her, and doesn't stand her getting friendly with other younger men on the boat. He marks the calendar everyday, gradually counting down to an impending wedding day. But when a young college lad shows up as one of the tourists, the equilibrium is shattered and their quiet world threatens to come to an end.

"The Bow" is a coming of age film of another kind. Here, the child who has been kept isolated from external influences suddenly finds herself exposed to them. There is an instant connect between the young lad and the girl. He gives her his headphones. She has never heard any other music than what the old man plays with his bow. So enamoured is she of him and the little souvenir, his music player he gifts her, that she hears music in the headphones even when they aren't connected to any player! At sixteen she is like a little baby who just about takes her baby steps and begins to learn about what exists beyond her marooned world.

Attention to detail about behavioral changes, post the visit of the young lad, is simply extraordinary. The girl doesn't like the touch of the old man anymore. She cowers when he tries to bathe her. She doesn't lend him his hand when he tries to hold it whilst in bed. She deliberately makes passes at tourists to make him jealous. She sees an airplane pass by, which instills a desire in her to fly away to freedom.

The writing here is all the more commendable, considering all emotions and feelings are conveyed only through wordless gestures and expressions. The girl with a perpetual smile on her face, now begins to sulk with the old man around. His presence suddenly starts to irk her. The sulk turns into a wide, joyful smile when the young lad approaches again. The sight of his arrival makes her ecstatic. The happiness is palpable. It is beautiful! 

Of course, all this is much to the ire of the old man who cannot stand his stable system being messed with. The viewer is left wondering how the disturbed environment will stabilize again. The final act of the film takes us by complete surprise, but it also helps makes the rest of the film, its symbols and its peculiarities fall into place in a spiritual whole. Presumably, the old man understands that he does not stand a chance when pitted against a much younger man and comes to terms with the reality that he can never keep the girl happy as his bride. 

And hence in a carefully thought out decision, he decides to depart from this world, but makes it a point to be the one to take her virginity? It is quite perplexing what happens, but just as soon as the old man jumps the boat and commits suicide, the girl breaks into the kind of spasms that make one believe she is being made love to by an invisible force, perhaps the ghost of the old man. The arrow that he shoots in the sky, is probably the one that comes back and anchors itself in the middle of her legs, and the girl soon bleeds (popping the cherry?)! 

The young man  gives a  bewildered look, one that probably matches with the audiences' expression as well! But it certainly makes a lot of sense in the metaphysical context. The bow-arrow is arguably a phallic symbol of power, vitality, protection and manhood for the old man. He comes back to establish his ownership upon her, but lets her go as soon as his purpose of existence is served. He has made the girl his, and then departed from the universe.

The fact that a weapon that can hurt is also capable of making music of such sublime quality that it puts the girl into a trance, reinforces its role as a potent device that commands and controls. The presence of music is the backbone of the film. It is what gives the film its heart, its emotions. It is what makes us connect with the film's events and feel them. This feeling is enhanced by the beautiful, dazzling imagery. It's almost like a painting in motion. The russet gold sunset, the loneliness at nights in the backdrop of the dark blue skies, the bright sunshine of the morning and the primary reds make for some striking visuals. 

Certain films capture your heart, and command your attention through your feelings, your senses. These are the films that you automatically immerse yourself into, much like a dream that occurs in the middle of your sleep; something which you have no control upon. It feels like your reality. And when you wake up, you have that expression on your face that makes you long to go back. 

When you start watching Kim Ki-Duk's "The Bow" (2005), it becomes one of those immersive dream-like experiences. It becomes your universe. You become a part of it. Just see it to believe it.

Score: 10/10

Monday, October 6, 2014

Ek Villain (2014)

Once upon a time in Bollywood, plagiarist Indian director Mohit Suri and his team of writers rummaged through their foreign film DVD collection and this time around, chose South Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon's grisly, gory, bone-chilling serial killer thriller, "I Saw the Devil" (2010) as the next victim of their butchery. Suri is already credited with directing "Awarapan" (2007), a copy of another Kim Jee-woon film, "A Bittersweet Life" (2005) and "Murder 2" (2011), a copy of Na Hong-jin's "The Chaser" (2008).

It wouldn't be farfetched to think that Suri and team sat over lunch one day, and laughed about how Indian audiences are all ignorant fools, and may not be aware of the original material they shamelessly lift their ideas from. Moreover, Kim Jee-woon's "I Saw the Devil", is the kind of film that many may simply avoid, given its disturbing content and ultraviolent nature. And that was probably the kind of environment and sentiment with which the unfortunate massacre of Kim Jee-woon's film took place, and a Bollywoodized, dumbed down version took shape.

And so the work began on the new, edgy, Bhatt style Bollywood thriller, except this time, the production house responsible is Balaji Motion Pictures. It was impossible for these folks to recreate a product as raw, unflinching, and primal as "I Saw the Devil" and so they chose not to stay faithful to the original script or characters, and toned down the violence to a large extent. The central plot, however, remains the same. The protagonist's wife is murdered by a dangerous psychopathic killer. He tracks down the perpetrator and subjects him to a deadly game of torture in which he tracks the killer's every move, thwarts his future attempts at crime, physically assaults and badly injures him, but keeps him alive and even leaves back some cash for him to get his injuries treated! The intention being, to make the killer suffer the same amount of pain and brutality that he inflicts upon his victims.

The original film had a rather straightforward story, with the thrills coming from taut writing, an exciting cat-and-mouse/hunter-and-prey chase game, a raw, realistic depiction of brutal violence along with some twists and turns at the right places, clubbed with terrific acting performances from the two leads. With today's fresh faces on board, an inherent tendency to portray all characters in the sympathetic light, and to drive home the film's cheesy title, we are served "Ek Villain", a ham and cheese sandwich with some Bollywood masala, sugar, spice and a liberal dose of salt in the form of schmaltzy melodrama.

Enter Aisha (Shraddha Kapoor) the overacting, ultra talkative, bubbly, chirpy teller of jokes who gets bumped off in the very beginning by a cloaked stranger. The cloak is actually a raincoat, and makes the killer look like the grim reaper, except this one has a screwdriver in his hand, instead of a scythe. So irritating is Aisha in her first scene, that we are somewhat glad that she is killed off in the first few minutes. But no! We enter flashback mode. All characters get their flashbacks and back stories and the actual plot takes its own sweet time to come to the forefront. The flashbacks enter further flashbacks, and the screenplay meanders, eventually losing its focus on the plot, rendering it secondary.

In line with the Bollywood fixation of creating sympathetic character portrayals, via flashbacks, we learn that the protagonist, Guru (Siddharth Malhotra) is a hardened criminal henchman of Goan gangster Caesar (Remo Fernandes), but as cliche would have it, it is circumstance and a tragic, dark past that made him a criminal. 

His girlfriend and wife Aisha is all exuberant and an epitome of unlimited happiness, but all the over-the-top joyousness is in fact hiding the harsh reality that she is suffering from an unnamed terminal illness and is going to die soon (Yawn! Did we really need an "Anand" (1971) in this?). She even maintains a bucket list, in which one of her desires is to get a couple of old lovers married in a sweet, syrupy wedding ceremony, a la "Lage Raho Munnabhai" (2006). There are other tasks, which her lover helps her fulfill, amid lots of sappy songs and awkwardly tear-jerking moments.

Which brings us to the killer, the ultra cold, ruthless, screwdriver driller killer Rakesh (Riteish Deshmukh), who is also a victim of circumstance. Guess what his circumstance is? A nagging wife! Yes, believe it or not, it is a perennially petulant wife, a low self esteem and supposed incompetence, stemming from his middle class roots that makes him a misogynist and invokes the killer in him. Any woman who even so much as makes a slight complaint about anything at all, gets screwed by his, gets killed by his screwdriver that is! But the killer likes to fancy dress himself up with the black cloak of death before he does so, and during his victims' final dying moments, he finds enough time to break into monologues about how frustrated he is at home, and how he cannot do anything to his wife and also loves her very much, but has to release his pent up emotions somehow!

He carries home with him a souvenir after each killing. One such souvenir is a paper fan/windmill which you can find on any Mumbai chowpatti (beach), but our genius Sherlock of a hero, Guru just runs into a little boy carrying such a fan, instantly recognizes it as being one crafted by his lady love, and voila, the killer is found! The boy happens to be Rakesh's son. Easy peasy...and in a city inhabited by 20 million people! Guru, the hunter finds his prey Rakesh, and the game of torture begins but once again meanders, thanks to a shifting focus, and secondary characters who are forced into the narrative, each with their own contrived motivation for their actions.

The cop is using Guru to get his hands on Caesar; Caesar wants his top guy back, so he intervenes in the whole drama, and some other ludicrous happenings continue to unfold in front of our eyes. Suri casts the most hilariously irksome clown on the planet, Kamaal R. Khan as Brijesh, another misogynist wife-hitter who preaches misogyny to Rakesh but looks and talks like a complete dork and all you want to do is just strangle him to death!

Ditto for Remo Fernandes who hams it up and it is not clear whether he has a problem with his Hindi or that's the accent that was demanded of him. Prachi Desai appears in a mandatory, thankless item number set in some dance bar in Mira Road in the Thane district. She doesn't even get enough footage in her sole song, as the camera shifts to scenes elsewhere while it is in progress.

Physics defying plunges and fights follow, clubbed with logical holes. Rakesh who falls from the same height as does Aisha in her fatal fall, survives to even pick up a huge rock and deliver more long monologues about how he will eventually triumph as the hero of their tortuous tale. Dialog is often repeated from memory or flashbacks, some of it quite didactic as well, to hammer across some philosophies that the director doesn't believe his audiences would understand if made to hear only once. The biggest problem in the script lies in completely neglecting the electronic tracking device that the protagonist plants in the body of the antagonist in the original film. This device helps him follow the killer's every move. There is no such device in "Ek Villain", and yet, Guru manages to somehow reach Rakesh at the scene of a crime in the nick of time. It is all appalling to say the least!

Siddharth Malhotra tries hard as the brooding hero/villain combination, but doesn't always succeed except in a couple of scenes, in displaying some good acting chops. For the major part, his act appears forced. Shraddha Kapoor either whines or goes in the chatter mode. While she does a good job of emoting, she mostly irritates when she opens her mouth. 

It is Riteish Deshmukh who delivers in the acting department, with his intense, expressive eyes and range of extreme emotions from the silent, pensive loser at the receiving end, to the volatile, violent killer. The actor is no match for the devilishly frightening Choi Min-sik in the original, but he surely shines here, with a reinvented image, given his overused comical side in several trashy Bollywood comedies.

"Ek Villain" is the kind of film that makes you stare at the screen in disbelief and occasionally roll your eyes. It is the kind of film that makes you laugh every once in a while, despite its grave nature, and makes you cringe, thanks to its stilted dialog. It is the kind of film that makes you look at your watch and induces a yawn, despite a modest running time of 120 minutes. And for someone who really likes and admires the South Korean original, it's a travesty that is downright insulting.

Score: 2/10