Tuesday, July 04, 2017

NYAFF ’17: Kfc

It turns out the media has lied to us. They have portrayed Vietnam as an island of tranquility, but it turns out the streets of Hanoi are worse than back-alley Manila, without the free speech and press freedoms Filipinos enjoy (still). If you doubt it, brace yourself for the carnal, charnel spectacle of Lê Binh Giang’s Kfc (trailer here), which screens during this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

Supposedly, all the film’s cast of characters regularly pass through a fateful KFC in downtown Hanoi. Frankly, Lê is not excessively fastidious when it comes to establishing those connections, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. One thing is clear. Hanoi is a predatory city, teeming with violence. Justice is dubious, but when payback comes, it is swift and harsh. Take for instance the first five minutes of the film.

Eventually, Lê sets into a pattern of heinous act begetting a violent act of vengeance-taking, which in turn begets more retribution. The various players include a cannibalistic doctor who mows down his victims in an ambulance, his chubby kid who has a taste for both fried chicken and human flesh, the two pickpocket street urchins he befriends, two sadistic rival street gangs, and assorted thieves and prostitutes.

It should be conceded many of Lê’s sequences are undeniably powerful and veritably reek with sinister atmosphere. However, the effect dissipates when it is repeated over and over. Eventually, the Kfc viewing experience becomes akin to watching somebody you don’t know play the most brutal Grand Theft Auto game ever. However, you can’t fault the large ensemble, given the way they all so fully commit to this shocking world.

Throughout Kfc there are obvious references to large Western brands, like the titular chicken franchise, as well as Coke and Pepsi. Clearly, these were meant as an ironic commentary on globalization, but the corporate consumables actually supply the few small pleasures available to its inevitable victims. You could almost consider Kfc a Vietnamese A Serbian Movie, with a taste for fried chicken. If Jane Fonda watched it, she might start demonstrating to renew the Vietnam War. It is impossible to recommended, but it is certainly a bold auterist work, perhaps bordering on outright madness. For those who have to see it for themselves, Kfc screens this Thursday (7/6) at the Walter Reade, as part of the 2017 NYAFF.