LITTLE ROCK The number of foreign filmmakers showing Americans how to make better action movies appears to be growing. Earlier this year, Korean director Joon-ho Bong premiered The Host, one of the most exciting horror dramas in recent years. And now Timur Bekmambetov makes another strong case for Russian cinema with Day Watch.
While the sequel to Night Watch is an imperfect film, it's always interesting, in the same way that Terry Gilliam's films used to be in the 1980s and 1990s and Hayao Miyazaki's animated pictures still are. The plot falls somewhere between The Matrix and Underworld, but the art direction is original, with an explosion of fashions, gimmicks and visual effects that border at times on campy while somehow fitting within the action film narrative.
Night Watch and Day Watch are reportedly two of the most expensive films ever made in Russia, even though their budgets seem middle of the road by American studio standards. The quality and quantity of special effects are approximately equivalent to something like Hellboy or one of the later Blade movies.
That's probably a blessing, because it allows Bekmambetov to focus on the characters, starting with Anton ( Konstantin Khabensky), a Night Watch agent who tries to keep the peace in a centuries-old underground cold war between an assortment of good and evil vampires, witches, warlocks and other superpowered humans.
Anton's trainee and love interest Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina) is an inexperienced but powerful force of good, while his son Yegor is sort of a youngDarth Vader for the bad guys. An inevitable clash between the two - with Anton stuck in the middle - could send both sides into a bloody war.
There are 20 or 30 more plot points, making Day Watch more of a film for the Highlander science-fiction crowd. The movie is reasonably easy to follow (especially if you've seen Night Watch), but it's not going to be a huge crowd-pleaser beyond arthouse audiences. The dialogue is often clunky, and there appears to be a lot of inside jokes that don't make much sense if you haven't spent more than 10 years living in Russia.
But Bekmambetov and his crafty cinematographer Sergei Trofimov have so many different tricks that you'll be smiling at the scenes that make no sense. Even the subtitles have a unique style, fading in and out, pulsating or splattering against a wall like little red water balloons. You won't be seeing that in Live Free or Die Hard this summer.
MovieStyle, Pages 47 on 07/27/2007