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Stone Turtle

Stone Turtle

Screenings at the festival Black Movie Genève 2023 

Ghosts can take many forms: the dead, whose voiceless images remain like shards, at the margins of everyday life, those whose life was always just memory: figments of remote past, of the screen; figures of the myth. The invisible among us, those whose pain and loneliness we choose to unsee. In Woo Ming Jin’s Stone Turtle all these ghosts seem to gather together on the titular island, under the premise, as one character notes at one point, that they’d «rather be alive on an island of ghosts, than dead in the land of the living». The temporality of revenge – climactic, culminational, resolutive – blends here with the cyclical, open-ended time of old folk legends. Structurally, the gamble is ambitious but it works, against all odds, leading to a dark, fairy-tale version of Groundhog Day. Thematically perhaps Stone Turtle reaches a little too far: Woo’s attempt to align feminist and migrant struggles with mythic materials past and present (from Malaysian lore to Marvel comics) seems at times strained, though certainly in vogue (cue Apichatpong Weerasethakul, though an even better example might be Suwichakornpong’s Krabi, 2562). Stylistically however its rather unique strain of magical realism pays off, thanks mostly to Asmara Abigail’s intense yet oddly removed performance. Echoes of Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber run through the plot as bursts of (gendered) violence and moments of documentary-style observation mix with Ghibli-esque animation by Paul Williams. A film to watch twice because only the second viewing makes it clear that the ultimate turtle island is cinema itself: a strange, deceptively close land, populated by figures forever caught between life and death.

First published: January 24, 2023

Stone Turtle | Film | Woo Ming Jin | MAL-IND 2022 | 91’ | Black Movie Genève 2023

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