September 24th, 2022
STARRING: SIMON ATHENA, GAVIN PHILIP CHE, MILO CHE
DIRECTED BY: SCUD
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 1 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
I went into Apostles knowing nothing about its Hong Kong based filmmaker Scud. For those in the know, Scud is a male erotic auteur who is finishing his career with not only this film but Bodyshop which is also playing at Reeling: Chicago’s LGBT+ International Film Festival. Having now only seen Apostles it is very unlikely I’d want to check out his other work.
The basic premise of Apostles is intriguing enough: a family man/filmmaker/scholar brings twelve young men to his hilltop home to discuss death. Now this could be fodder for a fascinating dialogue between a “teacher” of sorts and his students and the film does begin that way. However, it soon turns into a seeming excuse to show these men, for much of the film, in the nude. There are sex scenes in gyms and restaurants. There is an opening masturbation scene. Later there is an actual death sacrifice. It all becomes more of a very somber and unpleasant visual display.
Sure, there are some brief discussions about reincarnation, the existence of ghosts, and the possibility of immortality but these aren’t given serious contemplation. The one interesting point that is made comes from a mention of Plato, who is quoted as saying that we live on through people’s remembrances of us as well as through art and song. I can buy into that but it’s harder to buy into Scud’s emphasis on this unusual setting complete with a woman named Madonna and a small child playing in the midst of the nude “apostles.” Perhaps anyone that feels an affinity for nudist colonies might appreciate this but it seems a bit unnecessary to what Scud is apparently trying to express.
The technical elements are also mysteriously convoluted. Why, for instance, are some of the scenes presented in reverse motion? There are also flashbacks that get a bit muddled in the proceedings. The sound design is filled with annoyingly repetitive motifs and inexplicable sound cut-offs. Then there’s the film being made within the film about this philosophical summit. Scud’s own previous films are mentioned, especially his 2018 work, Adonis. That title character turns up in a few scenes here and is even forwarded 300 years into the future to suggest that time might not feel as long to the dead. Ok, I get it – another meditation on the various possibilities after death.
Michael Kutza, founder of the Chicago International Film Festival, makes a surprising cameo in the film after Scud has seemingly screened the present film for him. Why? I would guess Scud is once again exploring how we might make art to be remembered. Kutza questions whether we want audiences to like what we produce. It’s a great question and certainly Scud seems less interested in being liked here than in being remembered for a very experimental take reflecting on death. I get this too and I do admire the boundary breaking of many non-traditional films. But this one left me more confused than appreciative. There’s a scene near the end of the film which is pretty tasteless – in more ways than one. I finished Apostles not feeling good about what I just saw rather than inspired by a coherent and stimulating exploration of death.
APOSTLES SCREENS SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 25TH AT LANDMARK’S CENTURY CENTRE CINEMA.
1 ½ STARS
Written by: Dan Pal