Fantasia 2021 brought a host of short films, both alongside features and in blocks around a theme. The Things That Go Bump In The East block places a focus on Asian short films featuring a wide variety of subject matter.
The block’s first short Chewing Gum (Chingum) is a creepy and thrilling one, concerning a man on his way home from work, but not heading home to his wife. As he communicates with both his wife and lover via text, he is suddenly aware of something else in the train carriage with him. Shot in stark black and white, he is pursued across multiple modes of transport. The design allows for the reveal to be spread throughout the film, enhancing the suspense and tension for what might be in the darkness. Suspenseful, stylish social horror. This was followed by the much shorter animation, Carnivorous Bean Sprout and you only get one guess at what this one is about. The animation on this is excellent, as is an undercurrent of tourism, the excitement of fear and how that prompts the neglect of other creatures and concerns.
The next offering was Juan Diablo Pablo, a film about the constant cycle of human misery and how being exposed so repeatedly to the world’s ills can breed isolation. This short is all the more poignant following the suspected murder of lead performer Bobby Tamayo and the continued search for justice. The film focuses on a devil-like figure (played by Tamayo) who exists in a house surrounded by news of atrocities, photographs of fascists and other unpleasant injustices. Each day, he’s brought new bodies to harvest from and the cycle continues. The gothic feel and intricate design gives this a rich quality, even if some of the meanings don’t directly translate at times.
Huh is a departure from the tone of the previous short, but still manages to provide extra context at the end that lends it power. Huh is an energetic, animated rap about a village ritual required to protect the village from lost ghosts. The mix of old Korean folklore and animation styles alongside the more modern soundtrack is engaging and makes for a good insight into the cultural significance of the masks.
Koreatown Ghost Story continued the theme of merging modern society with older traditions. Starring Margaret Cho as a matriarchal figure who takes a cupping and acupuncture appointment with Hannah (Lyrica Okana) to an altogether darker place. The inventive use of the therapy tools as monstrous and slick pacing makes this tale of the pressure on women a successful one with plenty to get under your skin. Next, Taiwanese animated thriller Night Bus packs a lot into its 20 minute run time, meaning it sometimes feels a little overlong. Still, its dark twists sustain it for the most part as a clash of cultures, classes and hidden interests all collide on an ill-fated bus journey.
Indian animation Seen It, takes a simple idea but supports this with such warmth that it’s impossible not to smile all the way through. The film’s creative director Suresh Eriyat has recorded his father Mr. Panicker’s series of strange folklore tales, all delivered with complete sincerity and a real knack for storytelling. The rapport between father and son as the stories come to life is wonderful. The scribbled animation style brings to life his fantastical stories and the mythology is deeply engaging. Last up, Incarnation, a Japanese offering focused on an older woman dealing with a conman. There are plenty of surprises in this one that I don’t wish to spoil, but the early emphasis on dialogue sets up a tense atmosphere while also throwing in amusing observations and even some pathos. The gradual escalation shows a confidence in the material in its head for a punchline.
Things That Go Bump In The East played as part of Fantasia Film Festival 2021. For more information, see their webpage.