SBIFF 2015: Second Chance (2014) & Confession (2014)

SBIFF marquee

Taiwanese film number two of the festival was the frothy Second Chance, directed by Wen-yen Kung. Okay, maybe not frothy exactly, but definitely bubbly. Second Chance is (I assume) one of the only action movies about pool. Yes, that kind of pool, where you stand around a table and firmly poke a series of colored balls. Sure, there’s The Hustler (1961) and The Color of Money (1986)—did you remember Tom Cruise is in that?—but those are hardly action films. Although, Poolhall Junkies (2002) does have Christopher Walken, which is reason enough to watch it. Obviously.


Seriously, the man is a national treasure. But I digress. This is what I was talking about:


Why are they standing in front of a rock slide? Don’t worry—it doesn’t matter.

Second Chance is a sweet and entertaining mishmash of redemptive sports story, redemptive family story, crime story, comedy, drama, and action. Within the first five minutes, it seemed like two different films, with two entirely different tones, had started. The film doesn’t give you a chance to get bored or invite deep contemplation. It’s easily the most fun I had at SBIFF this year—and that’s an oft-underrated virtue at film festivals.

A disgraced former pool champ, played by Jason Wang, is forced back to the table when his independent, spunky orphaned niece has to find a way to hang on to her family’s pool hall (and convince her social worker that she doesn’t need to go to a foster home). Formulaic? You bet. Does it matter? Not at all. Asian films often seem much better at taking formulas and recycling them without making the audience feel like it’s eating a 7-Eleven egg salad sandwich that probably wasn’t very good even before you accidentally left it roasting on the dashboard of your car. Maybe Asian filmmakers choose better formulas than Hollywood studios. (It certainly seems easier to get decent distribution in that part of the world for that sort of film, on which much less money is riding.)


Peijiang Wang plays Shine, the budding billiards champion who finally gets her uncle Feng to stand up and fly right, i.e., quit drinking and find a way to pay off the gambling debts that have brought his old rival to the door of the family pool hall/home, the Outstanding Pool Hall. There are the requisite training montages, which are a lot more entertaining than what is, essentially, golf on a table has any right to be. It’s a tribute to good storytelling that the film doesn’t need a lot of locations, doesn’t need a lot of characters, and doesn’t need a complicated plot to be such a good time.










Also on the agenda was the South Korean “neo-noir” Confession, directed by Do-yun Lee. If the characters from Partners in Crime grew up, they might have ended up like the three boyhood friends in Confession. 


Confession is a solid, enjoyable crime thriller, the first feature by director Do-yun Lee. The three friends grow up to be very different from but still devoted to (or maybe just tied to) each other. Slick insurance agent In-chul (Ju Ji-Hoon) has more in common with the greedy mother (Lee Whee-Hyang) of his friend Hyun-Tae than with either Hyun-Tae (Ji Sung) or their friend, the slightly damaged Min-Soo (Lee Kwang-Soo). The center of the film’s plot is the robbery In-chul and Min-Soo stage at the gambling hall owned by Hyun-Tae’s parents. Playing to the surveillance camera, In-chul and his friend’s mother mime a violent robbery while offering directions to each other. (Which is absolutely as silly as it sounds.) The camera can’t hear them, of course, so why not?

What could go wrong with this plan? Nearly everything, as you might expect.

As with Second Chance, it doesn’t matter a whit that we can see what’s coming. Indeed, in a genre picture like this, being able to see what the characters can’t—the absolutely inevitable disaster they have stupidly, arrogantly set in motion—is essential. As Hitchcock pointed out, that dynamic is what creates suspense. It’s not not knowing what’s going to happen; it’s knowing exactly what’s going to happen when the characters don’t that makes us squirm in our seats and talk pointlessly at the screen.


Min-Soo, In-chul, and Hyun-Tae

One of the things that makes both of these films better than their average American counterpart (assuming it ever got a distribution deal) is that they both spend quality time developing their characters, so that we care about them. Rather than being told the main character’s backstory in dialogue— “My parents were killed in front of me!”*—or having the plot laid out for us in dialogue— “I will look for you. I will find you. And I will kill you.”**—we watch characters do things and interact with each other. And so the characters seem like people rather than placeholders, and the plot appears to be generated by who the characters are rather than by the dictates of a marketing campaign aimed at 14-year-old boys.

I’m sorry. Did I say all that out loud?

Confession calls to mind another South Korean crime thriller traveling the festival circuit, A Hard Day. Seong-hoon Kim’s film about a corrupt cop having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day is, I think, a better movie (though it’s hard to tell having only seen each once). Nevertheless, Second Chance and Confession are both a good time, and if you’re lucky enough that you can get to and afford a film festival, check these out. If not, don’t despair…they’ll be streaming soon.



Up next from my SBIFF adventures… the Chinese thriller Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014).


Colombiana (2011)

** Taken (2008) Really? You didn’t recognize that?

SBIFF 2015: Partners in Crime

SBIFF_2015_Barbara_BorosO woe is me, attending film festivals is getting in the way of my watching classic film. Luckily, I’ve got several blogathons coming up (see banners at right) to get me back into the classic swing of things.

Before we return to our regularly scheduled programming, however, I’d like to tell you about a few of the films I saw at the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival. It’s a good festival with lots of potential celebrity-spotting, as it’s so close to LA. Unlike the heavenly AFI Fest, though, it ain’t free. Movies are $15 a pop. But…they do a great deal on late-night movies—you can get a Remains of the Day pass for $60, which gets you in to every movie that starts after 10pm. If you went to every late-night screening, that more than halves the price of the films. So put that in your back pocket. (You know, for next year.)


Partners in Crime (2014, Jung-chi Chang)

One of several Taiwanese films I saw, Partners in Crime is about high school bullying. Sort of. Three boys who don’t know each other well discover the body of a mysterious classmate on their way to school, Chia, who has thrown herself off her balcony. One of those boys, Huang, becomes peculiarly interested in what happened. He invites the other two boys to their classmate’s funeral. At first, he’s simply lying to the girl’s grieving mother, to make her feel better. Within short order, however, he’s escalated to bringing his new friends, Lin and Yeh, along to break into the girl’s house.

They find a diary suggesting Chia was bullied. Soon after this, things go (more) off the rails. Describing much more of the plot will spoil things. I can tell you that this film boasts the worst school counselor I’ve ever seen on film. In one of the two or three meetings she bothers to have with these kids who’ve found the (bloody) body of a schoolmate who committed suicide, she gives them an essay assignment. In their last meeting, she tells them, “If things come up…deal with them yourself.” The film is more complex than it first seems, just as the plot is more complicated than it first appears to be.

As you might gather from the two stills here, the film is also about loneliness, much more than it is about bullying.

59743busan partners in crime

It’s engrossing, and there are beautifully set up shots like the one in which one of the boys, in the foreground, watches a heated discussion between another boy and a girl, just out of focus, twenty feet away. Definitely recommended.



If you’re in the area, or fancy a trip, there are more films coming up this weekend, for free (!). It’s the festival’s “3rd weekend,” during which they show a series of festival favorites. Click here for the schedule.

Also coming up locally are two “The Wave” mini-festivals:

April 23rd  – May 3: Contemporary Films from Spain & Latin America

July 15 – 19: Contemporary Films from France