Book of Fate (2003) Movie Review

Movie anthologies are very hard to critique. With some, like the Japanese “Twilight Zone”-esque “Tales of the Unusual”, I reviewed each segment as individuals, and that seemed to work. And so, with that in mind, we take a look at the Finnish movie “Book of Fate”, about a strange book that (a lengthy voiceover tells us) is some cosmic entity that “fell” to Earth thousands of years ago. In any case, the book seems to recount the many lives of a man and a woman as they are reincarnated through the centuries, always coming into contact with said book.

The first segment has male lead Juha-Pekka Mikkola as a cowardly priest and female lead Johanna Kokko as a woman bitten by a vampire. The segment is set in Transylvania, during the time of Dracula, and pits Mikkola against the vampire and his female legion. It’s not entirely successful, and one wonders why co-writers/directors Tommy Lepola and Tero Molin decided to start the film with such a weak story. In the case of most anthology movies, the strongest segment is put first, with the weakest in the middle, and the second strongest closing the movie out. But apparently writing the segments as taking place in progressively later years has tied the filmmaker’s hands. Then again, who told them they had to use this particular story?

The weak vampire segment (each segment lasts about 13-minutes or so) is followed by a western taking place in the American Wild West. Mikkola is a nameless gunslinger and Kokko is a prostitute in a saloon. This turns out to be one of the movie’s shortest segments, or maybe it just flew by faster than the others. (I didn’t sit there with a stopwatch, in case you were wondering.) There is some good action here, but it’s mostly all cliché of American westerns, in particular Clint Eastwood’s Spaghettis. It’s all very familiar, but is a minor improvement over the vampire nonsense that preceded it.

The 3rd segment opens strong, and turns out to be the film’s strongest. Mikkola is now a hardened but sensitive soldier during the Finnish-Russian war of 1939, and Kokko is his faithful wife back home. The segment is shot entirely in grainy black and white, which gives the battle scenes authentic grit. The whole thing looks quite good washed in stark white and dark black tones, even if it falls short of the massive carnage of “Winter War”, the epic Finnish war film about the same World War II event. Of note is that at this point we still have no idea what the purpose of all these incarnations is, because Mikkola’s character seems to do nothing in regards to the Book of Fate.

Segment 4 casts Mikkola as James Bond-lite and Kokko as the lesbian henchwoman of one of those generic Mad Scientist villains. After the attempt at realistic battle scenes with the previous segment, number 4 is a major letdown. After reusing the opening sequence of James Cameron’s “True Lies”, the segment devolves into a series of clich’d action scenes and gunfights that lead to an embarrassing martial arts fight between Mikkola and a fellow agent versus Kokko and her lesbian partner. It’s pretty silly, poorly executed, and is quite cringe-worthy.

The film’s last 20 minutes takes place in the far future, where Mikkola is now an android courier. He’s alone on a ship traveling through space, taking the Book of Fate to some alien species called the Thors as a peace offering from the humans. Kokko has a cameo as a video recording, and then as Anyai’h, an alien with Klingon-like nose ridges. This is probably where most of the film’s budget went — the elaborate set designs and some extensive CGI work pops up. Coming off the goofy last segment, the somber tone of segment 5 earns high marks as the second best segment in the movie.

“Book of Fate” closes with a denouement that manages to be, surprisingly, very satisfying, and even a tad haunting. If one were to approach the film as a campy take on different genres, I suppose it isn’t so bad. The film seems to have a decent budget, although one wouldn’t know it from the amateurish action choreography and the weak acting by the two leads. In almost all the segments, the background characters make bigger impressions than our stars. The one exception is the war segment, which is probably Mikkola’s best effort and only because the segment doesn’t zero in on his character. Johanna Kokko’s best segment is the campy take on James Bond, which the actress seems to be having a lot of fun with. This is no surprise, especially since she’s relegated to little more than a background face in most of the other segments.

“Book of Fate” is one of those light and airy films that makes no real contribution to cinema. It’s sometimes entertaining but oftentimes embarrassing. But you can’t say it’s dull or boring, mostly because the segments are so short that you rarely have time to get tired of them before it’s time to move on to the next one. It’s a goofy film to be sure, and could have been executed much, much better.

Tommi Lepola, Tero Molin (director) / Tommi Lepola, Tero Molin (screenplay)
CAST: Juha-Pekka Mikkola
Johanna Kokko
Jenni Ahola …. Agent Janita Dahl
Karoliina Blackburn …. Sofia
Mika Eirtovaara …. Clerk Pyykkö

Buy Book of Fate on DVD