The ugliness is more deep-seated than this movie can accommodate. Still, the film’s failures are more provocative than the successes of most police thrillers, which aim only to show how hip and tough-talking cops are. Shelton no doubt would like to be regarded as more than a director of sports movies, but in a way, he’s still at it in Dark Blue. He’s made a movie about blood sport.
The painter Jang Seung-ub lived and worked in Korea in the second half of the nineteenth century and became a legend as much for his brawling as for his art. Most “difficult” geniuses in the movies turn out to be closet pussycats, but in Chi-hwa-seon, directed by Im Kwon-taek, Jang (exuberantly played by Choi Min-sik) is pretty much a terror from beginning to end. For him, heavy drinking and whoring were practically a prerequisite for creativity. Im doesn’t try to resolve the paradox of Jang’s artistry; the painter behaves disgracefully, but then we see the extraordinary delicacy of his world as viewed through his impassioned eyes. Captured on canvas, the night tides and grasses waving in the wind have a deeply disquieting beauty. The mystery of the artistic process is left mysterious—as it should be.
Lee Hirsch’s Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony is about apartheid with a beat. The freedom songs from South Africa’s black townships are the lifeblood of this scattershot but rousing documentary, in which political activism and liberation music are shown to be inseparable. Exiled South African musicians such as Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela describe their harrowing ordeals; when we see them perform, they have an indomitable grace. As a bonus, we see what may be the only extant footage of Nelson Mandela dancing. He takes soft, slow steps and sways contrapuntally and looks happier than any man alive.