Bodyguards and Assassins (Teddy Chan, 2009)
November 28, 2010
The Housemaid (Ki-young Kim, 1960; Sang-soo Im, 2010)
December 5, 2010

Symbol (Hitoshi Matsumoto, 2009)

At the first sight of the trailer for Symbol, my next movie, I came to two reasonable hypotheses: either this movie with its incongruous premise is a masterpiece or it will turn out to be the most ridiculous piece of crap I will see this year.

Less than twenty minutes into Hitoshi Matsumoto’s Symbol, I had deduced the latter to be true. In the film, a Japanese man, trapped inside a square, white room with no windows or doors, discovers that pressing each of the cherubim-sized penises the walls are covered with has beneficial or unexpected consequences. Meanwhile, in Mexico, an aging wrestler prepares for a title fight, assisted by his eccentric family.

The premise for Symbol is so odd and original, it feels like a creative blank slate, opening great possibilities for entertainment. But the movie never lives up to its potential, choosing rather to limit itself to slapstick gags, immature, dull and predictable, every time our protagonist presses one of the aforementioned penises. The movie misses every mark for surprise, every opportunity for relevance, overlooking most of the psychological, semiotic, sociological and philosophical leads of its promising premise. Even the mysterious Mexican side story, which, at first, is a mystery as to how it relates to the principal narrative, evoking the weight of old age and generational conflict, ends up as an unfulfilling, juvenile gag halfway through the running time.

As we get to Symbol’s ridiculous ending, as the protagonist flies up through a long shaft towards freedom or some kind of heaven, I kept asking myself why I didn’t decide earlier to leave the screening and enjoy the sunny Saturday evening outside. I’m not alone; most of the De Seve Theater doesn’t wait for the credits to appear before heading towards the exit. A single man decides to clap frenetically at the rolling credits, compulsorily expressing his jubilation, noticeably compensating for what has been a painful shared experience.

Symbol is one of the worst movies I’ll get to see this year. But its worse transgression stems from its emaciated significance and the filmmaker’s ridiculous vision.

INFO: Symbol