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Asia’s dark pics make a splash at Cannes

Cannes — Asia made a splash at Cannes with films from Korea, Hong Kong and the Philippines this weekend, almost all throwing dark violent blood-spattered visions of the world onto festival screens.

Hong Kong’s Johnnie To offered "Vengeance" starring aging French rock idol Johnny Hallyday as a father out for blood after a family murder. A gangster movie shot like a western peppered with Triad shoot-outs, it is one of 20 films competing for the festival’s coveted Palme d’Or.

A crowd of around 10,000 chanting "Johnny, Johnny" swarmed for a glimpse of the 65-year-old rock star for the evening premiere. "Do you have an invite? Johnny is my whole life," said one French fan.

Hallyday was last seen in a movie 24 years ago by Jean-Luc Godard.

From the Philippines, and also vying for the Palme, controversial love-him-or-hate-him director Brillante Mendoza’s "Kinatay" (meaning "massacre") notably features corrupt cops hacking a prostitute to pieces with blunt kitchen knives.

Lone exception to the blood-and-gore on offer was "Mother" by Korea’s young cult director Bong Joon-ho, although he is no stranger to violence in previous films such as "The Host" and "Memories of Murder".

His latest movie is a highly intense emotional tale of a mother’s readiness to fight to the extreme to save her son, and it won the award-winning 39-year-old a standing ovation at its Cannes premiere.

But even that film, running for the Un Certain Regard prize for fresh upcoming talent, revolves around a murder and is fraught with contained tension.

"I’m interested in violence, but in this film I wanted the violence invisible though just as intense," Bong told AFP.

Casting veteran 70-year-old Korean star Kim Hye-ja as a mother ready to do the worst to save her mentally challenged son, Bong said in an interview that "after exploring Korean society in previous films, this time I wanted to concentrate on psychology."

"When a father or mother loses their reason because of love for a child, they can return to the state of beast," he added. "A mother can be a noble figure or a savage."

Mendoza, at Cannes for the second year running, (last year was the first time since 1984 the country had a film competing for the Palme) again split the critics, drawing both hisses and applause for "Kinatay".

Last year’s "Serbis" was set in a Manila porn-theatre with long close-ups of festering boils and overflowing toilets, as well as the poverty and distress on the streets.

Still determined to portray the social reality around him, Mendoza in "Kinatay" traces 24 hours in the day of a trainee policeman, happily beginning with his wedding in the morning to close with the young man’s first outing at night with a band of corrupt colleagues.

To his surprise, fear and anguish, they pick up a prostitute accused of betrayal and wind up torturing, raping, killing and hacking her before disposing of the body parts across Manila.

"This is not just entertainment, these kinds of stories are real," Mendoza said at a news conference.

Asked about his novel style and the lack of action and slow rhythm of his films, Mendoza said "I want people to have a different kind of experience, to be with the character rather than just watching from outside."

To’s fast-action flick came as a stark contrast but failed to wow critics.

"This time I approached the movie like a western," To told AFP.

"I am a big fan of Sam Peckinpah, so this movie follow these codes," he said, referring to the legendary director of violent, but beautifully shot westerns such as "The Wild Bunch" and "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid".

Commenting on Hallyday, who variously speaks French and English in the film, To said: "I would describe him as an authentic tough guy. His eyes, you feel they carry a lot of stories, a lot of history, a lot of past with them."