Christophe Gan's has made a very big name for himself off of just a few projects. CRYING FREEMAN, a hit in it's native France, is a love letter to the violent hong Kong action thrillers from the 80's. There's even kung fu! But it being a film made and set in modern day France does make one scratch their head. His follow up BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF took a well known and fascinating piece of french history and turned it into everything. No really, LITERALLY everything. The kung fu Gan's is clearly so enamored with but also Gothic horror complete with seedy brothels, secret assassins disguised as prostitutes (sent by the pope no less!) and more smoke, fog, and multi colored shafts of light than a Lady Gaga concert. He even films all the period costumes and Asian influenced battles in Matrix style slow motion. Lens flairs and gaudy unrealistic (but gorgeous) filters. There are folks out there that will take one look at a native American in a loin cloth running up the side of a building and roundhouse kicking three bad guys while doves fly across the screen and just roll their eyes. It IS ridiculous. It is over the top and not for one second realistic. But what his films lack in common sense, they more than make up for in sheer stamina and passion. Nobody pays for UNDER the top. This is a director that wants to make you FEEL, not think. His Silent Hill was his most divisive film yet. It isn't just unrealistic, a trait most horror film fans can look past. It's ANTI realistic. It almost seems to purposefully want to confound and irritate. The vague religious themes never really seem to go anywhere, and the sudden explanation of a Cult being behind everything just seems pointless and out of left field, because non of it adds up anyway. But once again the visuals are unmatched. The Sheer amount of atmosphere thats pumped into every scene in the film is a sight to behold.
So it would seem that IF you were crazy enough to adapt Beauty and the Beast once again, you'd need someone as crazy as Christophe Gan's to do it. As expected, what he delivers is odd, idiosyncratic, and if your willing to go along with the ride, the most audacious movie he's done yet. First off he's adds some nice character moments that didn't exist in the admittedly slight original material. Belle now has some siblings that come into play towards the end. The Gaston role now has some more meat to it. The beast himself gets the biggest upgrade, with a much more heart breaking and layered back story that goes a long way to help invest in the character, where originally Belle was always the only real concern to past story tellers. However pleasant these additions are, they never amount to any seismic shift in the story itself. It's the same one you've heard and seen before. Where Christophe chose to add his trademark flair is of course in the visuals. Not just to atmosphere this time, here he visually insinuates quite a lot of subtext. It never occurred to me until this version just how sleazy it is that a father would let his daughter give up her chastity, and freedom, TO AN ANIMAL NO LESS! This is also the first time I've seen this tale bring up the notion that just maybe Belle isn't in love with the beast at all, and is just suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Interesting ideas, and certainly these kinds of things were tucked away in the crevices of the original fable, but never have they been brought out so vividly. It's easier to gloss over that stuff and water it down for the kiddies.
This is where the film will get divisive for some audiences. Christophe films this movie with all the crazed energy of those old HAMMER British horror movies. Stormy nights, foreboding castles, a menacing beast. The story never calls for anything as graphic as what he's done in the past, but that doesn't mean he censors himself either. There is so much cleavage in this film, I'm honestly convinced I saw areola......on SEVERAL occasions.No matter anyway, there's also a sequence that involves a fully nude woman. It's not in a sexual context, and nudity is per the course for Gan's, but in a kids movie? And thats precisely what this is. Belle's siblings are goofy and obnoxious and slapstick. The Beasts castle doesn't have plates and dressers come to life, but it does have a litter of cute and adorable puppy/gremlin creatures that really serve no other purpose other than to be cute and adorable (and I'm sure in France right now the toys and merchandise is flying off the shelf). Fans of CRYING FREEMAN are probably not going to warm to these elements. Conversely I'm not sure what parent in their right mind would let their kids see full on nudity or sit through the long passages of Belle turning down Beasts sexual advances. Oh I almost forgot, though nothing is ever explicitly shown, there are SEVERAL "rapey" moments throughout the film.
In the past Christophe Gan's' work was polarizing due to the mash up of genres. Here he not only has that element in full effect, but there's the added conundrum of just who the hell the audience IS for this. Too dark for kids. Too soft a subject matter for die hard genre fans. That juxtaposition of elements are a trademark of the filmmaker at this point, and it's almost comforting to see that he refuses to let go of this element in his craft, even in the face of critics, the general public, or even good taste.
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