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Public Toilet
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Tsuyoshi Abe
Year: 2003
Director: Fruit Chan Gor
Producer: Fruit Chan Gor, Cho Sung-Kyu
Writer: Fruit Chan Gor
Cast: Tsuyoshi Abe, Jang Hyuk, Cho In-Sung, Kim Yang-Hee, Zhe Ma, Shirwa Mohammed, Pietero Dilletti, Sam Lee Chan-Sam, Jo Koo, YSun Yi-Sheng, Wang Zhi-Hong, Du Guang-Pei, Li Wan-Hui, Gavtam Banerjee
The Skinny: Beyond the average human being's understanding. You may get something from Public Toilet, but chances are it won't be the same as the guy sitting next to you—that is, if he hasn't already left the theater.
by Kozo:

     Fruit Chan has left the building! Or, to be more specific, the structure which houses his usual keen filmmaking sense. Hong Kong's most stylistic non-commercial director returns to the screen with Public Toilet, but the result is something which could baffle the most cinema-minded. A shot-on-digital-video exploration of the world, its people, and its public toilets, this 106-minute exercise in auteur excess is bound to find some fans thanks to its unique vision and dense, exclusionary narrative. At the same time, it could lose some of Chan's supporters, not to mention totally turn off Average Joe Moviegoer, who would swear off Chan's films if they came in contact with Public Toilet. Granted, Fruit Chan's films are not for everyone, but in Public Toilet's case, the question might be: who is this movie for?
     To discuss the film's narrative would be a disaster in the making, as the film really seems to have none. Various characters in various locales (China, New York, Korea, India) wander the globe searching for miracle cures for their terminally ill beloveds. However, other than that tidbit, what draws these people together is the overwhelming need to hit the john—or at least visit it to witness a possible hit, or help an old gentleman with his pants. Some characters have closer connections to the toilet: Tong (Tsuyoshi Abe) was born in a public toilet, and more than one character leaves this world within spitting distance of a urinal. Other plotlines are more far-fetched, such as the one where a Korean beauty (Kim Yang-Hee) shows up in a porta-potty and claims to be from the sea. She has no inner bone structure, and likes to reside in the toilet because it's near her home. She feeds on waste, or has for years, a connection which is brought full circle when it's suggested by more than one source that urine has healing properties. Tong even videotapes a couple of midnight urine thieves stealing from the sewage outside the local public toilets. Maybe it's presumptuous to ask such a crass question of art filmmaking, but who pays money to watch a film that spends this much time in the crapper?
     There are things going on beneath the ostensibly obtuse narrative of Public Toilet, but finding a genuine thematic thread is a difficult one. The film seems concerned with globalization, and the possible loss of individual cultures. Characters struggle to find identity and hope, while the unifying daily visit of every human being—the toilet—is shoved in our faces like some sort of universal scatological equalizer. Fruit Chan's characters seem real and not like inhabitants of a movie (a shared aspect of his films), and as usual his messages are buried beneath copious stylistic choices and opaque intimacy with the characters. However, the emotional surprises or daring narrative choices of his previous works is lost here. Pretty Korean sea-creatures aside, Public Toilet seems overly concerned with reality in a way that's more obvious than interesting. The search for miracle cures is not portrayed with tense dramatic need, but more as a languid journey for some sort of hope or place in the world. In the end, it seems that we're all one being, who all share the same daily experience: doing #1 or #2 in the can. Cue toilet cam—and yes it does happen!
     To say that Fruit Chan has lost it is probably a knee-jerk reaction, as there are probably many average filmgoers who wondered why anybody liked his films in the first place. Still, there was something about Chan's films that evoked feeling—a welcome change from the usual prepackaged popstar vehicles. Public Toilet evokes feelings too, but they're not really welcome ones. Other than puzzlement and unadvised curiosity, stomach-churning dread is evoked by various sequences which threaten to take us deep into the bowels of the sewer and all its earthy-colored glory. Thankfully the film never gets truly scatological on us (a viewing of Jackass: the Movie does more for those who like to watch), but that relief hardly registers as a positive qualifier. Public Toilet is an ugly-looking film (digital video wins no points here) which nevertheless seems to celebrate some human beauty, but the way it does it is likely more interesting to Fruit Chan than to anyone else out there. This isn't saying that the film has no value—indeed those who take the time and effort to give the film multiple visits might gleam something within its murky depths. Then again, the average filmgoer might find a personal trip to the toilet to be time better spent than an intense viewing of Fruit Chan's Public Toilet. At least they're guaranteed to get something out of that trip. (Kozo 2004)

Awards: 40th Annual Golden Horse Awards
• Nomination - Best Art Direction (Ben Luk Man-Wah)
• Nomination - Best Make-up and Costumer Design (Ben Luk Man-Wah)
• Nomination - Best Original Song ("I'm Still Young", performed by Kim Hyo-Soo)
• Nomination - Best Sound Effects (Phyllis Cheng Wing-Yuen)
10th Annual Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards
• Recommended Film
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Asia Video Publishing
International Language Track (Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, English)
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

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 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen