The 12th edition of the New York Asian Film Festival opens tonight with the world premiere of Tales from the Dark Part 1, a three-part horror omnibus based on Lilian Lee’s best-selling novels. The directors: Fruit Chan, Lee Chi Ngai, and Simon Yam. In all, 63 features from all across Asia will be screening through July 15 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and, for a few days in July, the Japan Society as well.
For Indiewire, Howard Feinstein writes up “ten strongly recommended titles,” beginning with Jung Ji-Woo’s Eungyo: “In this masterful melodrama, an honored poet in his seventies is reclusive, save for the thirtyish male protégé who cooks and cleans for him. The latter becomes infuriated when his mentor hires as his housekeeper a beautiful, vivacious, and innocent 17-year-old high-school girl, the titular character. Abused at home, Eungyo welcomes the kindness and attention of a parental figure. His attraction, however, is chiefly sexual. He channels the love scenes he fantasizes into feverishly writing a sexually explicit short story, which he hides. Envious of his mentor’s output and the new employee’s fondness for him, the young man, a no-talent, proves to be a shameless opportunist.”
Three Twitch contributors also have recommendations. Christopher Bourne on Hou Chi-jan’s When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep: “Hou’s charming and beautifully made second feature joins other recent films out of Taiwan that prove there’s still life yet in the romantic comedy genre.” Peter Gutierrez on Jeong Byeong-Gil’s Confession of Murder: “If a psychopath goes on a redemptive book tour, can you make him pay for his crimes, or at least put a dent in his smug smile?… Every ten minutes something patently absurd occurs, but who cares when the tradeoffs in entertainment value are so massive?” And Ben Umstead: “It’s drugs, sex and dubstep in [Gino M.] Santos’s debut feature The Animals, a docu-drama look at, and ultimately a pretty straight indictment of, the privileged teens of Manila.”
As more reviews come in, we’ll make note of them here.
Updates, 6/29: “One of the best offerings has unlikely roots,” writes Mike Hale in his overview of the festival in the New York Times. “Ip Man: The Final Fight is the fifth Chinese-language feature released since 2008 based on the life of the martial arts master Ip Man (often spelled Yip Man), whose students included Bruce Lee. The most prominent of those films, directed by Wilson Yip and starring Donnie Yen, have been solidly made but unremarkable for anything besides their fight choreography and anti-Japanese jingoism. Final Fight, a Hong Kong production directed by Herman Yau, is different. Covering Ip Man’s autumn years in the 1950s and ’60s in that region, where he tries to stay out of the spotlight while teaching wing chun kung fu to an assortment of proletarian types—union steward, prison guard, factory worker—it has a melancholy, jazzy vibe appropriate to the period. Loving re-creations of dim sum parlors and dance halls are as important to the feel of the film as the spectacular fights between rival martial arts schools, and the story moves with the rhythms of an old Hollywood musical.”
In a quick primer for the FSLC, Shelley Farmer notes that NYAFF 2013 features “spotlights on the Philippines with Manila Chronicles: The New Filipino Cinema, the early-80s exploitation cinema of Taiwanese ‘Black Movies,’ and the work of the Korean actor Ryoo Seung-Beom.” And in a followup entry: trailers! Highlights from a playlist of 40.
Update, 6/30: With Eungyo, Jung Ji-woo “elevates a sexploitation-ready premise with a thoughtful and visually arresting approach to his subject matter that freely mixes elements of fantasy within its fabric,” writes Christopher Bourne at Twitch. “However, Jung’s success at this is marred by an unfortunate tendency, especially in the latter scenes, to veer into overheated melodramatic histrionics.”
Updates, 7/6: The FSLC’s Shelley Farmer presents “An Idiot’s Guide to NYAFF, Part 2.”
“Taking cues from The Good, The Bad and the Weird and Let the Bullets Fly, Leon Yang’s An Inaccurate Memoir is a large scale, genre mash-up period piece taking place in dusty Northern China in 1930s,” writes Dustin Chang at Twitch. It’s “a pure wish fulfillment filled with incredibly good looking people… sold as a sleek entertainment. Its half-baked plot makes the film not so entertaining, though.”
Update, 7/8: “Beijing Blues is a police procedural shot in the documentary fashion, taking place in Haidian District’s Shuangyushu neighborhood in Beijing in winter,” writes Dustin Chang at Twitch. “Working with mostly non-actors and unobtrusive handheld cinematography by Wu Di, director Gao Gushu creates an intimate portrayal of Beijing that one rarely sees in films.”
Update, 7/12: “Juvenile Offender, Kang Yi-kwan’s delicately observed, tightly written, deeply humanistic small-scale drama is one of the must-see films of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival,” writes Christopher Bourne at Twitch. “Bracingly tough-minded, this film deftly avoids the traps inherent in its narrative material, especially in a Korean cinema context, of devolving into overwrought melodrama. It does so by concentrating on its characters, and the complex interactions between them, and not forcing it into the mold of a contrived plot. The indelible impression left by this narrative strategy is bolstered by great performances all around, by both its lead actors and others in smaller roles, creating an environment that feels truly realistic.”
Updates, 7/21: “Nobody should walk into a Sono Sion film and expect to anything close to a conventional experience,” writes John Jarzemsky at Twitch. “When Bad Film was first shot in 1995, Sono was mostly known as the leader of Tokyo Gagaga, a performance art collective claiming membership in the thousands. It was with these individuals that Sono completed a rough—very—cut of Bad Film on raw Hi-8 video. As fate would have it, the endless hours of footage never saw the light of day, as Sono’s film career took him down different roads, but now, for the first time in America, Bad Film is available to audiences… and what a film it is.”
And Diva Vélez talks with Andrew Lau about the state of Hong Kong cinema.