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2009 Taiwan Local Voice Film Festival

This inaugural festival showcases nine features and shorts about the environment, labor, indigenous affairs, identity and other issues. Select screenings include appearances by the directors. The festival starts its national tour in Taipei at the Taiwan Human Rights Memorial near Jingmei (景美) from today until Sunday, then visits Hsinchu, Kaohsiung, Taichung, Chiayi and Nantou. See blog.roodo.com/localvoice (in Chinese) for more information.

Crank: High Voltage

Jason Statham returns as put-upon hitman Chev Chelios in this frenetic, wickedly amusing and violent sequel. In the first film he had to keep his adrenaline high to stay alive after being poisoned; in Part 2 he sets off in search of his “indestructible heart” stolen by a triad boss. Co-stars David Carradine, Dwight Yoakam and Bai Ling (白靈). From the same directors as the original, this is a big, beefy slab of testosterone that doesn’t give a *%?# what the critics think — and features one of the more profane official Web sites of recent times.

I.O.U.S.A.

“Fiscal cancer” is the expression used in this creative, user-friendly documentary to describe the US’ financial plight, though it was released more than a year ago, so the most brutal developments in the global economic crisis were yet to transpire. All the more prescient, then, for this film to reflect on the inability of Americans — individuals, corporations and governments — to spend within their means. Taiwanese audiences might be especially interested in the coda of the film, which muses on China’s financial influence over a traumatized US economy.

The Horsemen

Swedish director Jonas Akerlund is a respected music video director with clips for U2, Metallica and Madonna under his belt; his most notorious work was the video for Smack My Bitch Up by The Prodigy. This, a horror film with Dennis Quaid and Zhang Ziyi (章子怡), should have been a step up for him, but it was sparsely released in the US last month after taking years to complete. Quaid is a detective who discovers that deaths at the hands of a serial killer — possibly Zhang — link him to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. “Come and see” is the tagline, though some might find the grisly content unwatchable, if not the biblical mumbo jumbo.

Nomad

The most expensive film ever made in Kazakhstan is an historical epic that sets the scene for the formation of the modern Kazakh state, but the story focuses more on the rivalries, loves and conflicts of national hero Ablai Khan than court intrigue. This is a strange mixture of tired epic structure, international casting and excellent production values. Variety awarded the film a pass mark for being “compelling by dint of old-school sincerity and sheer spectacle.” Also known as Nomad: The Warrior.

Magique!

There’s a lot of nasty violence throughout this week’s releases, so parents desperate for kid-friendly fare could do a lot worse than pick this one. The young son of lonely single mother and honey farmer Marie Gillain thinks up a remedy for her sadness: convince her to lend their land to a traveling circus and its wacky and colorful performers.

Gaping Abyss

Yet another made-for-TV effort from Germany makes it onto Taiwanese screens, and the delicate English title tells the tale. An intrepid geologist investigates when sinkholes start appearing all over a German metropolis, threatening lives and property, and it just so happens that her brother died in a mine accident that may be linked to the subterranean threat. The writers just couldn’t resist starting with a romantic nude swim that turns fatal (Dante’s Peak, anyone?). Showing at the Scholar complex in Taipei and Wonderful Cinemas in Taichung. German title: Der Abgrund: Eine Stadt sturzt ein.

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