(WKRG) — Curation is the name of the game when it comes to film festivals, and the Fantasia International Film Festival is one of the best in the world when it comes to programming a compelling slate of genre releases.  The emphasis is on the word “international”.  Every year I find some of my favorite foreign language films at Fantasia: The Incredible Shrinking Wknd (2019), The Divine Fury (2019), The Columnist (2020) and Punch Drunk Boxer (2020) to name a few recent gems. At risk of lapsing into sports metaphors, the Fantasia International Film Festival has a deep bench when it comes to curation. 

In my film critic fantasies, I hop a flight annually to Montreal and stay there for two-and-a-half weeks to take in all the Fantasia goodness on the big screen. I feel certain the on-the-ground vibe at this festival is something special. Their passion for cinema is reflected in their festival slate every year.  

This is the first of several articles looking at the films offered during the 2022 edition of this fabulous festival. 

The Killer:  Ever since John Wick combined martial arts and firearms, inadvertently spawning a new action genre (“gun-fu”), filmmakers across the globe have been ripping off its frenetic, stylized violence with mixed results.  While the new South Korean film The Killer isn’t as revolutionary as the Keanu Reeves film series, this 90-minute thriller is still a worthwhile riff on the subject. 

Eui-Kang (played by Jang Hyuk) is prevailed upon by his wife to “babysit” Yoon-Ji, the high school daughter of a friend, so the two women can go on a Girl Trip abroad together. Things quickly turn dark and gritty when Yoon-Ji falls victim to the world of human trafficking. Luckily for her, Eui-Kang has a “special set of skills” that extends beyond his work in cyber security.   

The action choreography in The Killer belies its modest budget and makes a believable action star out of Jang Hyuk who perfectly treads the line between sociopathic assassin and husband with a heart of gold.  K-Pop fans may be surprised to see Anne from GWSN portraying the teen in peril. The Killer is certainly style over substance, but then again, so was John Wick.  It’s the kind of film where you’ll find yourself thinking, Why is this fight in an office building lit in neon purple? And then you’ll wonder why you’re being so picky when you’re having so much fun.  

Eui-Kang in The Killer

Missing: This Japanese/South Korean co-production is a dark psychological thriller that examines just how far people might go to climb out of their precarious financial circumstances. One day Santoshi tells his young daughter, Kaeda, that he thinks he spotted the notorious serial killer “No Name” on his daily commuter train ride. Santoshi’s comment is more than idle chit-chat. Law enforcement is offering a sizeable reward for information leading to the murderer’s capture. Kaeda’s reaction is that of a teenager who has heard one too many Get-Rich-Quick ideas from her ne’er-do-well father. When Santoshi disappears without a trace, Kaeda begins to wonder if he may have actually been on the trail of the murderer. 

Missing unfolds Rashomon-style with portions of the narrative being shown multiple times from differing points of view. Each depiction of a pivotal moment changes the audience’s understanding of the events and deepens our empathy with the central characters. No one emerges from the film unscathed including the viewers. Missing is never what you expect it to be, and that originality makes it one of the standout films from Fantasia 2022.     

Next Door:  Chan-woo has been trying to join the police academy for years. He’s failed the entrance exam five times. Everyone from his landlady to his postal carrier knows that he’s about to take the test yet again. In a moment of weakness, Chan-woo agrees to abandon his studies and hit the town with his buddies. The next morning he awakens hungover in his neighbor’s apartment with scattered memories of the night before … and a dead body on the floor. 

The first eight-and-a-half minutes of Next Door take place at multiple locations: Chan-woo’s apartment, local drinking establishments, the corridors of the apartment complex, etc.  The remaining eighty or so minutes transpire in his neighbor’s apartment as Chan-woo tries to figure out what happened and how he can avoid becoming the most viable suspect in a murder investigation. Did I mention it’s the same day that the landlady is supervising the repair of the hot water heaters on the Chan-woo’s floor? He can’t leave the neighbor’s apartment without being spotted by numerous witnesses and eventually she’ll be coming into the neighbor’s apartment where he’s hiding. 

Writer-director Yeom Ji-Ho has constructed a nifty little locked room mystery that always seems to find another gear just as the premise threatens to become stale.  Next Door is even more impressive because it’s the filmmaker’s big screen debut. Ji-Ho’s blend of suspense and dark comedy reminds me tonally of his South Korean countryman Bong Joon-Ho. I, for one, look forward to seeing what he does next.     Fans of clever crime thrillers should seek out Next Door in the months to come when it inevitably arrives on VOD platforms and streaming services.