(WKRG) — In my first piece examining the films that played the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival, I discussed three stellar genre films that played during the three-week event.  This time around I’m covering the Best of the Best. Naturally it’s impossible to see EVERY film offered at a festival.  So, we’ll call these My Top 3 Films of the Festival:    

Fast & Feel Love review:

Fast & Feel Love is a delightful and surprisingly complex romantic dramedy out of Thailand set in the world of competitive cup stacking. Kao found his passion for the sport in high school and has retained his world record speed for years.  Now, in his early thirties, an international online competition is being held so every cup stacker from all corners of the globe may compete. No one will be excluded because they can’t afford to travel to the tournament. For Kao, this simply means his competition has grown exponentially.   

Jay has been Kao’s girlfriend since high school and takes on all the burdens and complications of their lives so Kao can devote himself to dominating the world of cup stacking. As Kao begins to doubt his ability to fend off countless younger challengers, Jay feels her biological clock ticking and longs for to start a family and to live a life that considers her needs, not just Kao’s obsessive pursuit of cup-stacking glory. 

Fast & Feel Love is a tonal marvel.  It swings effortlessly from laugh-out-loud humor to touching intimacy. It’s equally accomplished as a tongue-in-cheek “sports movie” and a drama that examines the ways people can grow apart over time. The mind games that unfold during Kao’s grudge match with a middle schooler from Africa are outright hilarious. The little African boy is depicted much like a Bond villain, sitting in his rocking chair, plotting his cup-stacking revenge against the aging champ.   

The film is a satisfying satire of the single-minded (selfish?) pursuits of top athletes. You can almost hear a coach in the background shouting, “Be the cup!” It’s also an astute look at the prices paid by the family and friends surrounding those with extraordinary abilities and what it must feel like to have your dreams and desires, often your entire lives, be subservient to those of your talented loved one.  Fast & Feel Love is about pursuing your dreams … and what that pursuit may cost. 

Next Exit review:

Next Exit is my outright favorite film from the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival. It takes a supernatural paranormal premise and crafts a tale about two flesh-and-blood characters the audience will quickly care about more than the genre packaging surrounding the film.  

Dr. Stevensen has captured actual footage of a young boy playing cards with the ghost of his father. The existence of an afterlife has been confirmed.  One unexpected twist is the rash of suicides that follows – troubled individuals opting for the hereafter over their current earthly circumstances. 

Rose and Teddy are tapped into the ghosts in the world around them.  They aren’t mediums by vocation, but they can be used to further the ground-breaking research being conducted in San Francisco by Dr. Stevensen.  All they need to do is make an appointment to go to the clinic … and cross over.  Euthanasia has never sounded easier or more noble. 

Thanks to a scarcity of rental cars and the lack of a decent travel budget, Rose and Teddy find themselves on a cross-country odyssey, traveling to the clinic together and getting on each other’s nerves. They may kill each other before they can sacrifice themselves for the greater good.  Next Exit expertly toggles from comedy to drama throughout its 105-runtime. Rose and Teddy often laugh at the absurdities of their radical life choices, but the narrative also gives the audience frequent looks under the hood at what makes them tick as people. Why would two attractive healthy people in their 30’s volunteer to die? 

Film critics love to talk about “stakes”, and it’s a legitimate way to analyze a film.  If I’m not invested in the characters, then I don’t really care what happens to them.  When it comes to Next Exit, you will be on the edge of your seat to see what befalls Rose and Teddy.  Not because this movie is constructed as a thriller, but because you care about Rose and Teddy as people.   

Writer-director Mali Elfman should thank her lucky stars that she found Katie Parker and Rahul Kohli to play her protagonists with such nuance and care, and the two actors should be equally grateful for Elfman’s beautifully-written screenplay.  If there were any justice in the world of cinema, Next Exit would be a breakout indie hit. It’s one of my favorite films of 2022.  

Next Sohee review:

Next Sohee:  This edition of Fantasia has made me wonder if the word “Next” in a title bestows a project with some amount of magical mojo.  Last time I sang the praises of the crime thriller Next Door.  This week two more Next films are receiving from high honors from me.  I’m not usually superstitious, but filmmakers might want to take note of this phenomenon just in case. 

Sohee is a female high school student who has been offered a prestigious internship with a local South Korean corporation.  “Prestigious” should be put in big bold quotation marks.  When Sohee arrives at her internship (referred to as an “externship” in corporate speak), she discovers that she’s simply working in a bullpen of telemarketers, fielding calls from annoyed customers who want to cancel services sold by the company.  Incentives are paid to the operators who can survive the verbal abuse long enough to dissuade the customers from cancelling. 

Sohee slowly comes to understand the overall scam. High schools with vocational programs are judged by their “hiring rates”.  The students then become disposable fodder for mega-corporations, often quitting the hostile work environments without being paid the wages to which they are entitled.  Rather than receiving support from their high school guidance counselors, the teens are encouraged to endure the abuse so as not to bring shame on their individual schools by lowering their placement rates. 

For its first half, Next Sohee surveys this bureaucratic nightmare from the perspective of its title character.  Following a development I won’t reveal here, the employment scam comes to the attention of a police detective who begins piecing together a picture of institutional graft and corruption.  Soon the female detective is receiving the same kind of pressure from her superiors that Sohee received from her high school administrators: Don’t rock the boat. This is the way things are done. 

When American corporations receive financial bailouts, the companies are referred to as being Too Big to Fail.  When it comes to institutional corruption, Next Sohee expertly asks if the employment system in South Korea is Too Corrupt to Control.  The country is filled with Sohees, average kids with average skill sets, who may simply find themselves as exploited workers for the remainder of their adult lives.  Next Sohee asks if anything can be done by law enforcement or by society to give these young people hope for their futures.  It’s powerful film-making.   

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