Magic and Loss / Lim Kah Wai / 2010 /

Active Ingredients: Unpredictability; Indie charm
Side Effects: Sense of mystery; Lack of cohesion

Cultures and identities blend and sublimate in the international indie curiosity Magic and Loss, which makes its North American premiere at the Koren American Film Festival in New York on June 5th. Produced by and starring Kiki Sugino (“muse of the Asian independent cinema,” according to the Tokyo IFF), the film follows two women, one Japanese one Korean, on a vacation to an eerie Hong Kong resort. They’ve both won some sort of contest, driven together by a mysterious force, the film would have us believe. The two develop a friendship and quickly begin spending their days together, alternately exploring the grounds as giggling tourists or in a trance-like possession. A lonely hotel concierge, representing yet another nationality, becomes intrigued with the ladies, but struggles to communicate through a verbal stew of four different languages.

Magic and Loss is a strange film, quietly and unselfconsciously mystifying the audience with unexplained dalliances and incongruous scenes. I didn’t get much from its narrative besides a vague thematic interest in dreams and connecting with others, but I have to respect the film’s unpredictability and idiosyncrasies. Director Lim Kah Wai and his cast, all collaborators in the Asian independent scene which seems a bit like our mumblecore, certainly don’t want for strange ideas and inspiration, and their film feels unpretentious and confident, but it embraces a thin dream logic without cohesion. Furthermore, though ominous music signals some sort of mystery, Lim doesn’t convey the same mood visually, preferring a staid, low-fi aesthetic to visual abstraction or the varied tempos afforded by montage.

Magic and Loss is unapologetically its own film, and though I get the sense it’s achieved what it intended, I’m not quite sure what that is.