Whatever international interest there might be in a film obsessed with the most basic bodily functions is likely to be mitigated by the sheer visual ugliness of Hong Kong helmer Fruit Chan's first DV-shot feature. It's hard to endure a film which makes Steven Soderberg's "Full Frontal" look like "Lawrence of Arabia."

Whatever international interest there might be in a film obsessed with the most basic bodily functions is likely to be mitigated by the sheer visual ugliness of Hong Kong helmer Fruit Chan’s first DV-shot feature. Given that some DV-to-film transfers can appear pristine on the screen, it’s hard to endure a film which makes Steven Soderberg’s “Full Frontal” look like “Lawrence of Arabia.” This is one example of a movie that will look better when seen on videotape than it does on the bigscreen. Alongside pic’s visual shortcomings (there’s hardly a shot in which strobing isn’t evident) the film suffers from a murky and at times confusing narrative in which various young people from different ethnic backgrounds travel to different countries searching for the answers to their various problems.

Main character is 18-year-old Dong Dong (Tsuyoshi Abe), who was born, and then abandoned, in a public toilet in Beijing, where he was found by an old woman who adopted him (this scene makes no attempt at realism, with the unfortunate “baby” nothing more than a plastic doll). Now Dong Dong’s grandmother is very ill, and he seeks a cure for her.

Other characters in the film include a mysterious girl who emerges from the sea somewhere in Korea and uses the outside portable toilet owned by a fishing family. Then there’s Sam, a hit-man who plots a murder in a public toilet in New York City, plus a couple of brothers who visit the Holy City of Benares, India, in search of enlightenment.

The adventures of these disparate characters never add up to anything much, and the film’s most striking moments are strictly peripheral, like the scene in which an octopus heaves itself from one glass tank to another in order to attack some crabs. Chan’s obsession with defecating and urinating becomes tiresome after a while, and will be a turn-off for many.

Production values are zero.

Public Toilet

Hong Kong-South Korea

Production

A Digital Nega presentation of a Nicetop Independent (Hong Kong)-KTB Entertainment (Seoul) co-production. (International sales: Golden Network Asia, Hong Kong.) Produced by Cho Sungkyu, Fruit Chan, Carrie Wong, Taesung Jeong. Directed by Fruit Chan. Screenplay, Chan, Kee To.

Crew

Camera (color), Lam Wah Chuen, Wong Man Wan, Henry Chung; editor, Tin Sam Fat; music, Cho Sung Woo; production/costume designer, Ben Luk; sound (Dolby digital), Cheng Phyllis Wing Yuen; line producer, Kenny Chan; associate producers, Waikeung Chan, Chulsoo Kim. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing, Upstream), Aug. 30, 2002. (Also in Toronto, Vancouver and Pusan Film Festivals.) Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Dong Dong - Tsuyoshi Abe Tony - Zhe Ma Kim - Hyuk Jang Cho - Insung Cho Ocean girl - Yanghee Kim Jo - Jo Kuk Sam - Sam Lee
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