Week of November 14, 2001

Nov 14, 2001 at 4:00 am
St. Louis International Film Festival. The 10th annual festival, St. Louis' biggest and best, showcases international, national and local films. Screenings are held at the Hi-Pointe, Tivoli, Plaza Frontenac and Webster University. For a complete schedule of featured films and a listing of special events, sidebars, forums and last minute changes, check What follows are a few recommendations:

Attack the Gas Station. Sang-Jin Kim. Four bored losers decide to rob a gas station (twice), setting in motion a delirious mix of hostage melodrama, theater of absurd cruelty and social critique. Mounted with ridiculous abandon, Kim's Attack the Gas Station is an insta-classic of new Korean cinema. Think of it as a gone-wrong heist movie in the anarcho-slapstick mode. After a long night of remodeled social relations and serial telephone abuse, Attack the Gas Station devolves finally into a triangulated stalemate between the delivery-boy Mafia, a protection-racket goon squad and our dopily intrepid gang of four. By the time the proverbial kitchen sink arrives in the form of a squad of telegenic cops, the place is a riot of close-quarters kineticism. The resultant zippo showdown provides the most hilariously shaggy denouement in recent screen history. In Korean with English subtitles. (JH)

Betelnut Beauty. Cheng-sheng Lin. Writer/director Lin's stylistic, forward momentum and Taipei's dynamic energy intensify, by contrast, the dead-end lives of Fei Fei and Xiao Feng. Their primal screams connecting them early in the plot accurately vent their shared emotional and physical frustrations, ones haltingly relieved through each other. In a transparent booth on the city's streets, wearing revealing tops and miniskirts, Fei and friend Yili hawk betelnuts, for the nuts' stimulant jolt, to passing motorists. Enmeshed in gambling, sex and fights with rival thugs, Feng doesn't want his job as a poor baker in a rich man's city. Fei, awash in high-tech gadgets, longs only to connect with her absent father and to pursue some elusive version of happiness with Feng. Betelnut Beauty contrasts surreal visual brightness with the details of a meandering, aimless, lost generation. In Hokkien and Mandarin with English subtitles. (DC)

Coffin Joe: The Strange World of José Mojica Marins. A defiantly underground Brazilian filmmaker whose 40-year oeuvre includes -- no, wallows in -- sadism, (sometimes real), gore, bestiality, blasphemy and a noticeable touch of narcissism, sometimes tarted up with a nod to Buuel, José Mojica Marins, better known by his onscreen persona "Coffin Joe", comes across as a kind of shock-artist savant, part David Lynch, part Herschell Gordon Lewis ... and just a little bit of a sociopath. There's not a wealth of detail in this documentary; directors Barcinski and Finotti are fans, pure and simple, and they want no more than to provide a lively anthology of Coffin Joe's most outrageous and tasteless moments. Some viewers may share his gross-out fervor; for others, let the buyer beware. In Portuguese with English subtitles. (RH)

Dog Food. Carlos Siguion. Touching and painful, Siguion-Reyna's Dog Food empathizes with the bright, wonderful 12-year-old Lily, becoming a woman under the roof of her abusive father and dysfunctional stepmother. When Lily's 11-year-old dog is sold for slaughter to veteran dog butcher Teban, Lily fights for her pet and wins Teban's respect and friendship, even as recently passed animal-welfare laws threaten his marginal livelihood. Teban emerges as the most complex of the otherwise clearly delineated compassionate versus cruel individuals. But Dog Food (an ambivalent title) is convincing and brave in its honest depiction of the frustration of lower-class life in a Filipino culture of corruption, sexism, gambling and incest. In Filipino with English subtitles. (DC)

Revolution OS. J.T.S. Moore. In computer circles, "Moore's Law" states that computer power increases exponentially in a relatively short period. Some kind of historical equivalent outwits Moore's Revolution OS, a tribute to the "open source" movement in computer programming and to LINUX in particular. Part manifesto, part love letter, the film speaks to the converted with a relentless talking-heads style, but those who don't read Wired from cover to cover may find it hard to share the enthusiasm. Though the participants sometimes live up to computer-geek clichés, their revolutionary fervor is clouded by recent events; there are a few moments of gloating over Microsoft's legal battles and a burst of NASDAQ-fueled high spirits as LINUX-based companies make their first public offerings. The end result seems less revolutionary than quaintly nostalgic, despite the fact that it was filmed barely more than a year ago. (RH)