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New York Asian Film Festival 2012 at the Lincoln Center in NY


New York Asian Film Festival 2012

Organized by Subway Cinema in close cooperation with the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Japan Society from June 29 – July 15, The Asian Film Festival has become the most important showcase for films from Asia featuring this year 57 films including 3 programs with short films. For the New York Times critic the NYAFF has become one of the city’s most indispensable film events. The countries represented include Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and the US. Most of these productions were provided by Hong Kong (17), Japan (16), South Korea (13), and Taiwan (7).  A documentary from Cambodia premiered that country for the first time in the NYAFF program. 20 of the films had not been shown before in the United States. As in the previous two editions the festival’s venue was Lincoln Center’s Walter Read theatre, New York’s famed home of the New York Film Festival and other upscale artistically inclined film programs.

The program was organized with four centrals themes. WARRIORS AND ROMATICS showcased the new cinema from Taiwan reflecting the rapid rise and commercial success of Taiwan’s film industry over the last ten years. RETURN OF THE KING focused on movies from Hong Kong since the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region 15 years ago. CHOI MIN-SIK: MR. VENGEANCE paid homage to this Korean star screening his new and classic film performances.  JAPAN CUTS offered a cross section of contemporary Japanese film productions of which 12 were co-presented with the NYAFF in their sixth year of collaboration. The remainder of JAPAN CUTS 39 features was screened through July 28 at the Japan Society.  A review of the Japan Cuts program will follow.

When I first covered the festival numerous years ago at New York’s downtown Anthology Film Archives, I was a amazed about the organizers of the festival giving out screen prices  like videos (now DVDs), posters and books to the audience. An enthusiastic crowd responded which was apparently most knowledgeable about the directors and principal characters of the films screened. To me it seemed like a cult following which I had not seen at any other festival before. Now the festival is held uptown at the well established Walter Reade theatre. It is part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center which normally caters to a high brow audience.  As I noted in an earlier article, the invitation to move the festival at Lincoln Center was probably tied to the film society’s attempt to broaden its audience base and thematic range, yet what I observed at the Anthology still holds. The NYAFF program continues to show a superb selection of martial arts films, popular Asian films known for their commercial success, horror, blood and gore films as well as independent and underground productions.  Thus we can enjoy extraordinary and risky film story telling. Fortunately the NYAFF has not lost the core audience it had at the Anthology, young film fans committed to Asian films.  The NYAFF has grown and has now a larger program and a growing roster of Asian stars and directors at the festival, including this year the famed martial art expert Donie Yen. The NYAFF enjoys a deserved success which is apparently prompted by more efficient fundraising as enhanced by the prestige of the new venue at Lincoln Center. The joint venture with JAPAN CUTS festival is working out. The Japanese program allows for a distinct identity for the Japanese film festival, draws a full audience, and provides a sharp audacious edge to the NYAFF selections.

Among films of note are:

VULGARIA, Hong Kong, Pang Ho-cheung;    
This is a daring excursion into rarely covered themes and images ranging from blow jobs to bestiality. Gangster Tyrannosaurus funds a skin-flick of a hapless director who must present the gangster’s favorite sex object, a mule, have genital parts as culinary items and give the lead role to an aged porn star by providing her with a new body. The title says it all, certainly not a film to be shown on mainland China.

DOOMSDAY BOOK, South Korea, Kim Ji-Woon and Yim Pil-Sung;                       
The film offers three science fiction scenarios about the end of the world. In Happy Birthday   a billiard ball is transformed into a meteor crashing into the planet forcing a family to live underground and emerge after several years as apparently the sole survivors.  Wonderful New World shows the transformation of mankind into zombies caused by a virus from spoiled food. Lastly, the most interesting and thought provoking segment Creation of Heaven features a world run by a corporation which manufactures robots replacing human labor. Their latest creation, the most sophisticated robot RU-4 is attached to a Buddhist temple but achieves enlightenment preaching sermons to the monks. Considered a threat to humanity the corporation tries to destroy him.

GUNS AND ROSES, China, Ning Hao;             
This entertaining caper shares a fast moving and hilarious history of a gold heist in Japanese occupied Mongolia. It features slapstick battles between gangsters, revolutionaries and hapless Japanese troops on top of all parties deceiving each other constantly
DRAGON  , Hong Kong /China, Peter Chan;     Chan  directs this glossy and superb martial arts film  which centers on a former Kung Fu fighter and gangster who has withdrawn into a peaceful village family life until he is tracked  down by an investigator. After acknowledging his true identity he engages in spectacular battles with his former clan, and kills his father who is the chief of the clan. He renounces once more the life of violence and returns to his adopted peaceful village life. Like some other Chinese films, such as Chen Paige’s SACRIFICE, DRAGON showcases extraordinary carefully crafted sets and presents the images of rural everyday life in a most faithful fashion

YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE, Taiwan, Giddens Ko;   
This romantic biographical feature about first love in high school has become the biggest box office hit in Taiwan and had considerable success  in other Chinese speaking areas. It shows a rather compelling group of adolescents discovering themselves and their feelings for the other sex. Principal protagonists are the bratty Ko Ching prone to childish acts and the honors student Shen Chia-yi who is assigned to tutor him. Over the years in high school and, though separated, in college, they grow closer together yet are unable to fully articulate their emotions for each other.  Enacted in the most convincing way,  the tenderness and awkwardness of young love and the refusal to express it openly since it breaks one’s ‘childish’ or ‘serious’ self-presentation is most appealing. It serves as an attraction to young audience groups since each teenager has gone through that phase of unexpressed emotionality. This appeal also holds for another romantic yet musical comedy LOVE STRIKES by the Japanese film maker Hitoshi Ohne. In that film there is a perfect blending of the story line, the lyrics, and the inner dialog of the actor, He engages in self reflection and provides a running commentary about his state of mind. As a young man, aged 31, he is still a virgin and comes across as a nerd who totally lacks social skills, falls in love and does not know how to handle it. He is torn between what he wants to do and what he can do. This discrepancy serves as a perfect attraction for an adolescent audience.

The Cambodian Documentary GOLDEN SLUMBERS by Davy Chou is a long overdue accounting of the golden history of Cambodian Cinema which produced more than 400 films between 1960 and the Khmer Rouge annihilation of culture in 1975. What is simply amazing about the film is Chou’s ability to reconstruct that period though he did not have any useful footage to show and had to rely on photos, posters, the songs from the films, and interviews with three surviving directors and one actress. The Khmer Rouge destroyed the film infra structure and killed as despised urban intellectuals directors, technicians and actors affiliated with the films industry. Those remaining perished in the genocide, Thus of the 30 theaters playing full houses in Phnom Penh  in 1975 there is only one left today in addition to two new ones. Whereas 20 films were produced each year in the golden age, only two or three are completed today. The film infra structure still has to be rebuilt. As the second poorest country in that region Cambodia lacks the public means to support film making and the long planned film school.

Claus Mueller


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