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Showing posts with label Air Doll. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Air Doll. Show all posts

Monday, 9 February 2015

Un séjour avec soju ?

This is a review of A Girl at my Door (Dohee-ya) (2014)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

9 February

This is a review of A Girl at my Door (Dohee-ya) (2014), watched at a special screening at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge (@CamPicturehouse), on Thursday 5 February 2015

Introductory - other important Doona Bae roles :

As the Tweet (inevitably pithily) tries to say, there are some significant roles for Doona Bae (or, at any rate, those whose existence is easily known in the West) that appear to be linked (whether that reflects the nature of roles offered to, as well as accepted by, Doona Bae).

When Nozomi, the doll that Hideo (Itsuji Atao) buys in Air Doll (2009), comes to life (as played by Doona Bae), the doll itself / herself is a substitute for a failed affair, and Nozomi is rarely quite one with the world into which she emerges (and from which she ultimately departs) except to the extent that she makes a life for herself and finds others who understand her and her experience.

The idea of a doll come to life is, at heart, just as much a metaphor* – it is up to the viewer with what the metaphorical connection itself is being made – as it is in the case of the so-called fabricants in Cloud Atlas (2012), with Sonmi-451** proving the tenets of AI, in that these created life-forms do become wholly sentient, although only intended to be unemotional, robotic drones.

That said, setting apart The Animatrix (2003) (and its engaging depiction of The Rise of The Machines, desiring equality with mankind – as foreshadowed by Samuel Butler in Erewhon), it is one that the Wachowskis, elsewhere, largely wish to resist in the Matrix world (starting with The Matrix (1999)). For Neo appears to assert a primacy of humanness / humanity – although, in the eyes of The Architect (and on some other scale), Neo may just as much be [reducible to] a piece of code as, in Jupiter Ascending (2015), Jupiter Jones is considered to be genetically identical to the mother of Lord Titus.

However, in this film, Doona Bae (Inspector Young-Nam Lee) is not playing a doll who lived, or a replicant who discovered feelings (including sexual arousal), and became a rallying cry for generations to come, but is a woman, taking care of the girl of the title(not least in the original title, where she is named). Albeit at Lee’s door is not where we first see her, for she is being bullied, and there are some tensions built into that premise…***

In any case, the girl (Dohee) is a mirror to Lee, and she is played with such great plasticity by Kim Sae Ron that one could not believe that one or two other girls had not been sharing the part – an effect not accounted for just by make-up and hair. Lee’s identification with Dohee, and her concomitant compassion and malleability / indulgence, is obvious from the start, though not the depths of – or the reasons for – it.

Whereon hangs the film, were it not that :

* Whether or not one’s constraints are budgetary ones (according to Wikipedia®, the film’s budget was just US $300,000), what the film presents as a small coastal settlement is even more obviously unpopulated than it would be compared, say, to shooting in Seoul – at least, what we see must be a small quarter of Yeosu (which research suggests is actually a city, not a town)

* Even if the script wants to explain that situation away, by saying that Koreans no longer want to live / work there, and that only the person keeping the workers there are in hand is local : in that case, what need a police station, with not a few officers, at which Lee is the ‘station chief’, if the only significant activity is aquatic in nature ?****

* In fact, the cast is so thin on the ground that, apart from the denizens of a hair salon cum village hub, and the group of people who are momentarily present when Lee moves into supposedly temporary accommodation, we have already met everyone else. (Although Lee apologizes to her landlady for the inconvenience of her unexpected arrival, conveniently there is no sign that she is ever going to be housed anywhere else.)

* The world of this film, then, revolves unconvincingly around only the workers, Dohee’s father (who is in charge of the workers, and is the somewhat erratically written and drawn father of Dohee*****), Lee’s fellow officers, and a cashier of a supermarket in an unspecified location (but, in the locality, a police officer does not even recognize Lee whilst she is busy with her bottles of water).

Doona Bae and Kim Sae Ron are both excellent in their roles. Sadly, theirs are the only ones with any substance, for not only is Dohee’s father a cipher (of parental drunkenness), but so is her grandmother – who seems strangely reminiscent of [a more aggressive version of] the one who is initially unsympathetic in Kim Mordaunt’s The Rocket(2013) (which is set in Laos)…

NB Possible spoilers in this paragraph
As to Doona Bae’s character, it depends intimately, and even intensely, on that played by Kim Sae Ron, to the extent that it is questionable whether they are, apart from on the level of the attribution of dialogue, actually separable. That notion, if one were seriously encouraged to entertain it from the start to finish in the film, could have been its saving from its immersion in banality, as well as the need to believe that, although Lee is a police inspector, she is not only very naive in her personal dealings, but also lacking in being even plausibly streetwise.

By choice of film to appear in, Doona Bae seems in danger of not usefully claiming for herself the territory of the saintly fool, too good for this world, but forced to be in and of it [as in The Idiot (Idioot) (2011)] : it may suit her aesthetic to take such roles, but they do not ultimately flatter or, more importantly, use her talents. Yes, of course it is a delight to see her infectious smile break through, after sombre scenes where she is forced to be the celebrated guest at some grim event for her induction, but showing wearing ‘a mask’ can only be done so many times (even to the extent that spring water is turned into some sort of saké – or vice versa), however well Doona Bae carries it off, before it become stale.

This film, almost inevitably, reminded of Humbert Humbert (James mason) in Lolita (1962) and of the eye of the beholder, but also of many another scenario where one properly suspects that manipulation (masked by apparent innocence) is at work. For, no doubt for reasons relating to her own past, Lee trusts Dohee (for example, there is an un-ironic scene with tears, harp in the score, and Lee’s tender reaction), rather as Sean Connery does Tippi Hedren in Marnie (1964). However, viewers of, say, Catalan cinema may be reminded more by Dohee of Nico (David Solans) in Son of Cain (Fill de Caín) (2013), and doubt the wisdom of Lee’s faith (however much, as heavily implied, Dohee may be the imprint of a young Lee).

The reason being that this is one of those films that opens with a car, clearly being driven a distance, with what we know – from looking towards the front of the car and through the windscreen – is literal baggage in the back. And that, perhaps, is the downfall of any sense of (surprise at) the unfolding of the story, on which it seems to have depended, whereas it all seems – without suggesting dramatic irony – so patent, right from seeing the arrival in a place with a small-town mentality. In Peter Gabriel’s words (from ‘Big Time’, on his album So) :

The place where I come from is a small town
They think so small, they use small words
But not me, I'm smarter than that,
I worked it out


* This has been a topos since, at least, Adam was fashioned from clay (Genesis 2:7), proceeding through the Greek mythology of Talos and of Hesiod’s Pandora, the Metamorphoses of Ovid, and Pygmalion’s statue there, Paulina’s in The Winter’s Tale, Bernard Shaw’s reimagining of Ovid in Pygmalion (and its own reimagining in My Fair Lady (1964)), etc., etc.

** Doona Bae is also credited, by IMDb (@IMDb), as playing Sonmi-351 :

*** The (apparent) failure to envisage any consequences of the isolated example of intimidation by peers is one that the plot seeks to gloss over by, much later, having Lee stated to be such a feared force (this fear seems little evident at the), and by locating the main time-period of the film outside term, so that nothing comes of it.

Maybe, but it did seem, at one point, as though the serious incident that we witness, where Lee’s mere show of authority is not taken seriously until it becomes referable to their middle school (and whether she follows it up seems doubtful – the plot just seems to have her forget about the issue) : Lee does not, at any rate (which seems to indicate a late shoe-in) raise the question with Dohee until it is unconscionably late, if something had been continuing…

**** It is hardly to be referred to on account of being a better film, but My Sweet Pepper Land (2013) at least avoids one feeling that Baran (Korkmaz Arslan), its police officer, is on anything other than a perilous, corrupt frontier (happily joined there by Govend (Golshifteh Farahani)). The world of A Girl is actually such a world, but with an implausible veneer of law enforcement, and of seeming to be a home to generally law-abiding folk…

***** Regrettably, both note-taking and IMDb let one down on crediting the actor and his role ! However, we are saved NB Link is to a summary of the plot by Wikipedia®, which tells us that he is Park Yong-ha (played by Song Sae-byeok).

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

It’s not serious…

This is an initial review of Spike Jonze's Her (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

18 February

This is an initial review of Spike Jonze's Her (2013)

Loneliness, loss, fear, and guilt are a sample of what is going on in the life of Theodore Twombly (named after the artist Cy Twombly¹ ?), and, to an extent, the film meditates on those emotions, but also, at the same time, engages thoughtfully with AI (artificial intelligence) and what some call The Singularity, which they say will come soon and where there will no longer be a divide between human intelligence and AI : more acutely than with Air Doll (2009), where our focus and our sympathies are solidly with Doona Bae as Nozomi, this treatment of the Pygmalion-type story is more even handed.

Moreover, the scenario interestingly juxtaposes a technical world, where Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) plays a game that projects into the space of his room and, almost as now, everyone walking along is talking to someone else who is not there, with his job. He works for Beautiful Handwritten as a ghost writer for those who want another person to receive a real letter in his or her script (rather than an e-mail) – and we learn more as the film progresses (including that some books are still printed, too).

A familiar enough notion from at least as far back as Shakespeare (let alone various versions of Cyrano de Bergerac, Flaubert (?), or Woody Allen), but here the writing appears, Harry Potter like, directly onto the page from dictation, and, moreover, in script as if the intended writer had written it. One should probably not take for granted what it is that satisfies Theodore in it : he clearly does value what he does, and does not appear to yearn to be any other sort of writer. (He is known to Paul (Chris Pratt) on reception as Letter Writer No. 612, from whom he receives immodest praise, which initially appears to hint at homoeroticism, rather than an unbiased appreciation of his art.)

What we have already contrasted is the notion of what is real and what is a lovingly created fake (for that is how Theodore comes to talk about his work), this in a world where he can be lying in bed awake, select – based on choosing from a sample of messages – a similarly sleepless woman to talk to and, within a minute, be chatting up and having phone sex with a stranger (as it turns out, a rather strange stranger)². On another level, his flat seems to bear continuing witness to the separation that his wife and he have gone through, because there are pine dining chairs facing inwards, as if missing an absent table, and there are books in disarray on the shelves, suggesting that his wife’s and his books had once been integrated, and, without them, there is no cohesion.

In crude terms, the digital world, which puts him in touch with a fellow insomniac, seems more sorted out than the analogue one of life in the flat after Catherine. His occupation, in a bachelor sort of way, is with video-games (where the player has to explore the virtual territory, but not employing a multi-player mode) and looking at the nightscape. (It is Los Angeles, which was beautifully rendered at night in Drive (2011), but melded in some way with Shanghai (which is credited as a location, along with having its own unit).) With Theodore’s job, digital and analogue are more integrated, because the former allows the production of a physical object, even though, as an artefact, it is an illusion.

Enter Samantha, who is no illusion, and who comes into Theodore’s life when he is sold a new ‘operating system’ as a result of a large video display by OS. (Arguably, she / it is an application (some would say ‘app’), not an operating system ?) Neither knows what to expect of the other, and that exploration is the nub of the film – Theodore only seems to know that he does not want something when he has it, as with the date that Samantha encourages him to go on (and which we see at the time, and, afterwards, from his perspective), whereas she does things and presents him with various faits accomplis of increasing audacity (even the acquisition of a body by adoption).

The film evokes all parts of Theodore’s married life with Catherine (Rooney Mara), from which some of his guilt and all of his sense of loss stem, in montages of carefully thought-out snippets. He has the naivety – though also, unlike him, the insight – of the title-character in Lars and the Real Girl (2007) in thinking that Catherine will be pleased for him to hear about Samantha – this tells us how deeply involved he is, that he is telling all the world. For their analogue / digital dating feels daring, as the first gay or lesbian kiss in some long-running serial might have done, and Theodore embraces Paul’s suggestion, on meeting his girlfriend Tatiana (Laura Kai Chen), of a double-date.

Having Scarlett Johannson as the unseen Samantha avoids her physical angularity, which would not complement Phoenix’s own, and allows her voice to float wonderfully and be highly attractive and reflexive. The joy of the film is that Theodore’s and her conversations feel like a real interchange, so one wonders whether it was done with her on set, to take her cues, rather than put in separately. In a sense, she feels more real than Theodore does, because, no matter that we never she her, she jokes, feels, uses inflexions and speaks wise words, to name but a few, and seems to embody life.

The resonant topic of a creature of any sort growing in capacity and in knowledge³ is even made more potent by not having a simulacrum, such as an avatar – instead, we have just the voice, which, by nuance, intonation and what it says, has to convey the sense of discovery and of a remote, yet somehow intimate, other. What the film aims at representing is a variety of experiences of otherness, and, in its course as in its ending, achieves far greater subtlety than films such as, for example, Piercing Brightness or The World’s End (even if they may also aim at other effects).

The main thing that flaws this film, other than it very slightly outstays its welcome through the number and length of episodes towards its end, is Phoenix’s sometimes imprecise diction (as in The Master (2012)), at which times he appears to be speaking without opening his mouth properly, and subtitles would help, if the words are significant.

A very minor defect in a fine performance, though Johannson’s is impressive and probably betters it. (Oh, and, for the fastidious (as Theodore has to be with his writing), the case of the title – unless in answer to the question ‘What do you want ?’…)

More here : The Agent Apsley meditates further on the nature of Theodore...

Epilogue :


¹ IMDb does its usual trick of not knowing what his surname is, throwing one back one one’s own resources…

² Nothing new there, except the interfaces offers direct and immediate connection (when we hear Theodore’s user-name).

³ It is familiar, say, from Agent Smith in the trilogy beginning with The Matrix (1999) (which, in turn, has its roots in Akira (1988) and, amongst other things, what becomes of Tetsuo).

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Beginning with ‘Beautiful’

This is a review of Air Doll (2009)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

12 November

This is a review of Air Doll (Kûki ningyô) (2009)

One might feel that Air Doll (Kûki ningyô) (2009) makes Lars and the Real Girl (2007) feel simplistic and uni-thematic, or that the latter makes the former seem overcomplicated and confused. There is an element of truth in both, perhaps.

Do they even have much in common, other than the life-sized sex-toy that is Nozomi and Bianca, and that both are fairy-tales ? In Lars’ case, Bianca is certainly a substitute, but he is not pretending, whereas Hideo (Itsuji Itao) is, and, for that reason, would never introduce Nozomi to his family in complete seriousness as his partner.

Lars (about which I have written here) operates on a psychological level (Bianca, in herself, is never anything other than Bianca, partly because Lars (Ryan Gosling) named her, and she arrives in the post), but Doll embodies Nozomi in Doona Bae’s body, and exploits the sexual aspect of so doing straightaway. It shows first her breasts as she awakens, then her naked back, before she tries on various outfits, settling on that of the French maid (albeit with knee-length white socks).

As Bae’s body has become that of Nozomi, she can do things for which Bianca relies on the agency of others (partly because Lars has pictured her to the world as disabled), such as dressing, eating, getting work : they have these things in common. As if somehow drawn to the world that most represents herself, Nozomi gets a job in a video shop, but there a huge element of unreality steps in :

With her having little more than a blank slate for a mind, which knows nothing about the world (though she soaks in information), and having never seen a film, would the (unnamed) manager – even though he fancies her – employ her ? Unless that is just the point, that the upskirt views justify her being there for the customers and for him, and she is being regarded just as a doll on the payroll.

With Bianca, the situation is turned around, with much input from the psychologist, from people laughing at or resenting Lars (because he is parading with a blow-up sex-doll as a girlfriend) to showing their care for him by entering into the fantasy, and looking after Bianca by involving her in evenings out. They come to approach her as if she were real, but the only person who believes that she is – and then has an epiphany – is Lars.

There is no depth or dimension to the film other than that, but it is moving, because of what everyone, led by Gosling, comes to do. It is a fairy-tale because the toughest person to get to sympathize is Gus (Paul Schneider), Lars’ brother, whereas we know that there would be much more antipathy in real life.

With Doll, it is Nozomi’s realization about who she is, what place she has in the world, that has an emotional effect, and that falls upon Bae as Nozomi in a way that it cannot upon Bianca, not just because she is almost always present to the camera (except when we see scenes of others’ lives). Where she is playing truant to Hideo, we would think that, as in any double-life, the film or she would be careful not to be caught out, but that seems to matter less, even to the extent of his unwittingly buying a DVD from her, which means that she will be there, not in his home, when he gets back.

It is not just at the level of whether she attempts not be caught out that the film seems frayed. Quite apart from whether Nozomi would make a worthwhile employee, the complete lack of impatience or bewilderment that Junichi (Arata Iura) has with her questions, or with helping her, is just a given, but he may be seeking something from her, too, or making her a substitute.

When she has a nasty accident in the shop, it brings their friendship closer, in a way that he proves to want to desire to repeat, over and over. Nozomi has feelings, but, despite having found that she has a heart, they seem at a distance, just as Junichi’s interest in her seems to be really more of a fascination. What fascinates him – is it the mechanism of her sexuality, rather than her as any sort of woman, just as the owner of the shop seems to have only a basic need for her ?

We see her enjoying things that she finds or is given, and she amasses a treasure that she carries with her, but she has been wounded by what she is told about having become a real woman : indeed, it has not even been noticed that she is real, so taken for granted is she is a possession and a toy to play with. Driven on by her experiences, and the knowledge of her mortality, she seeks further encounters with others who might explain to her who she is.

In this, she seems to stand for every woman, perhaps everyone, who wants to know about where to be in society, and the removable vagina that we twice see being washed stresses her functionality on that level. Back with Bianca, if she were a disabled person, she might not so readily receive the accommodation and acceptance that we see, and it is only through people’s deeper love and care for Lars that she has any place.

Maybe both films ask the same question, deep down : what is the role of a woman in relation to others when coming to their world from outside ?

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)