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The Cinemas of East Asia program at Vancouver Fest

Festival Director Alan Franey and programmer Tony Rayns today announced that the 25th annual Vancouver International Film Festival will feature a total of 39 features, three mid-length films and 35 shorts in the Festival's cornerstone Dragons & Tigers: The Cinemas of East Asia program. Again presented this year thanks to the generous support of Brad Birarda of Research Capital, the Dragons & Tigers program is one of the preeminent showcases of East Asian films in the world. The series will feature 26 International Premieres, 17 North American Premieres, two World Premieres and one Canadian Premiere.

“It is a long and strong Dragons & Tigers series this year, with a balanced mix of mainstream, arthouse, documentary, avant-garde and animation titles, designed to scan what's happening at all levels of production in the major film cultures of East Asia,” explains programmer Tony Rayns, who has been programming for VIFF from his London, England base since 1989. “This is my last year programming the Dragons & Tigers series – although not, I hope, the end of my association with VIFF. I want to sign off by thanking all those who've supported the series since we launched it in 1992. We've covered a lot of ground over the years. We've done more to introduce new films and filmmakers than many festivals twice our size, and we gave several current ‘stars' of world cinema their first international breaks. It couldn't have happened without your interest and encouragement. So: thanks!”

To which Festival Director Alan Franey adds, “Tony Rayns has meant a very great deal to this festival and to many of the influential guests who have attended regularly because of him. His support of young talent has been as generous and tireless as his views regarding lazy films have been unabashed. We are extremely grateful to him for his painstaking perfectionism and for the tens of thousands of kilometres he has travelled on all of our behalf fighting the good fight.”

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS: THE HOST AND THE KING AND THE CLOWN

Two Korean films lead off this year's Dragons & Tigers series, both Special Presentations. A former Dragons & Tigers award runner-up for Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000), acclaimed director Bong Joon-Ho will be attending the VIFF with his latest film, THE HOST. Already South Korea's all-time box-office champion, THE HOST reached a massive 12.3 million admissions in South Korea in one-third of the time as the previous record-holder. In Bong's latest, pollution in the Han River (blame the US Army) creates a rapacious monster, and one averagely dysfunctional family has to pull together to rescue its youngest daughter from a watery grave.

The VIFF will also be showcasing the film whose record THE HOST just eclipsed. Lee Jun-Ik's historical drama THE KING AND THE CLOWN is the film that Farewell, My Concubine wanted to be. Sixteenth-century Korea is going to the dogs under the tyrannical rule of King Yeonsan; two street entertainers (one in drag, the other macho) win a place in the royal court by satirizing the king. But their presence in the palace causes unexpected trouble...

It promises to be a VIFF loaded with Korean talent, as also expected to be in attendance is the star of NO MERCY FOR THE RUDE, Shin Ha-Kyun (of Save the Green Planet and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance fame), who will attend the international premiere of his latest film along with the director, Park Chul-Hee, a former assistant to noted Korean filmmaker Jang Sun-Woo.

DRAGONS & TIGERS COMPETITION FOR YOUNG ASIAN CINEMA
For the 13th year running, the Dragons & Tigers Award for Young Cinema, which includes a prize of $5,000 to the film's director courtesy of sponsor Brad Birarda, will be awarded for the most creative and innovative first or second feature-length film by a new director from Pacific Asia. This year's VIFF features films directed by seven former winners or runners-up. The award will be handed out in a ceremony on October 7 before the screening of THE KING AND THE CLOWN. The nominees are:

BETELNUT (Yang Heng) – China World Premiere

DOG DAYS DREAM (Ichii Masahide) – Japan North American Premiere

DO OVER (Cheng Yu-Chieh) – Taiwan International Premiere

FACELESS THINGS (Kim Kyong-Mook) – South Korea North American Premiere

GEO-LOBOTOMY (Kim Gok, Kim Sun) – South Korea North American Premiere

LOST IN TOKYO (Ikawa Kotaro) – Japan International Premiere

STORIES FROM THE NORTH (Uruphong Raksasad) – Thailand North American Premiere

TODO TODO TEROS (John Torres) – The Philippines North American Premiere

The distinguished jury for the 2006 award is comprised of: Jean-Michael Frodon, editor of the legendary French film publication Cahiers du Cinéma; Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Dragons & Tigers award runner-up in 2000 for Mysterious Object at Noon , and attending the film festival with his latest feature, Syndromes and a Century ; and Jessica Winter, freelance film critic and former associate editor of The Village Voice and Time Out London film sections.

2006 DRAGONS & TIGERS FEATURE PROGRAMS BY COUNTRY

CHINA
BETELNET (Yang Heng) World Premiere
Yang Heng's haunting debut is an archetypal long-hot-summer movie, and the year's sharpest portrait of young love/lust/jealousy. Four near-delinquent teenagers hang out in a town on the river in Hunan; no great dramas, but plenty of piercing insights. Dragons & Tigers Award nominee.

DONG (Jia Zhangke)
The documentary project that sparked Jia Zhangke's feature Still Life , a portrait of China's foremost modern painter Liu Xiaodong at work in Sichuan (a vista of men) and Bangkok (a vista of women).

KARMIC MAHJONG (Wang Guangli) International Premiere
Crazy comedy, Chinese style. Francis Ng plays a mechanic who falls under the influence of a blind fortune teller and (in a gambit straight from Strangers on a Train) tries to exchange murders with a girl he meets in a car crash. Wang Guangli vents the humour that was latent in his earlier films, and brings guest-stars Wang Xiaoshuai and Jia Zhangke along for the ride.

THE POST-MODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT (Ann Hui)
Written by Li Qiang ( Peacock ), Ann Hui's excellent new film charts the tragi-comic downfall of a middle-aged woman in Shanghai, bewildered by the changing times and the new materialism. With a great cast (including Siqin Gaowa, Lisa Lu and Zhao Wei) – and a memorable turn by Chow Yun-Fat as a charming, poetry-spouting conman.

STILL LIFE (Jia Zhangke) North American Premiere
Closely related to his documentary Dong (also in our programme this year), Jia Zhangke's superb new feature tells two stories of people looking for missing partners in a town about to disappear under the Three Gorges Dam flooding. Both have good and bad experiences and find some kind of peace. Visually extraordinary, emotionally peerless.

TAKING FATHER HOME (Ying Liang) World Premiere of the Newly Re-subtitled Version
Headstrong village boy Xu Yun heads to town for the first time in his life to find his absentee father, determined to bring him back or else. A smart tragi-comedy with a devastating ending, Ying Liang's multi-award-winning debut is one of the best Chinese indies of recent years. Brilliant long-take mise en scène and a great non-pro cast.

WALKING ON THE WILD SIDE (Han Jie) Canadian Premiere
The digitally shot debut by Han Jie (Jia Zhangke's long-serving assistant) won a deserved Tiger Award in Rotterdam this year. Three young men go on the run from their dying mining town in Shanxi when they think they've killed someone. But the bonds of friendship turn out to be skin-deep and the road throws up some traps of its own...

WITHERED IN A BLOOMING SEASON (Cui Zi'en) North American Premiere
VIFF regular Cui Zi'en, the godmother of queer culture in China, switches from allegory to something like a riff on Noel Coward's Design for Living . Feng loves his sister Wen so much that he thinks his gay buddy Xiao Le should date her, just to keep her away from other boys. The emotional tangle reaches a surprising outcome.

INDONESIA

LOVE FOR SHARE (Nia diNata) International Premiere
Polygamy is surprisingly common in Muslim Indonesia, although never openly discussed. Nia diNata's new movie (her first since Arisan! ) breaks the taboo with three slightly linked stories of men taking more than one wife. Funny and entertaining, with a backbeat of anger. Features an electrifying screen debut from newcomer Dominique.

OPERA JAWA (Garin Nugroho)
Garin Nugroho's incredible new film invents an entirely new form: a fully sung drama, at the same time traditional and modern, based on – but radically opposed to – the episode in the Ramayana in which Sita's “purity” is tested by her jealous husband. Designed by Indonesia's leading sculptors and installation artists, this is erotic, provocative, seductive... everything you might expect from a masterpiece.


SERAMBI (Garin Nugroho, Tonny Trimarsanto, Viva Westi, Lianto Luseno) North American Premiere
Garin Nugroho leads a team of four directors in this semi-documentary reportage on the aftermath of the tsunami in Aceh. The disaster itself is captured in some extraordinary home-movie footage, but the focus is on the rebuilding as considered by a very wide range of local people, from a gang of ex-radicals to the kids who dance on the beach. If there's such a thing as philosophical documentary, this is it.

JAPAN

ALTERNATIVE ANIME: CROSSING BORDERS (Japan/South Korea)
The latest in our always-popular series of indie animation anthologies, this year combining amazing work from Japan and Korea. It includes the most loving homage to old sci-fi serials on TV you ever saw, a rethink of Genesis and a conceptual paradox as brilliant as an Escher drawing.

BIG BANG LOVE, JUVENILE A (Miike Takashi)
Matsuda Ryuhei and Ando Masanobu are lifers in love in Miike Takashi's truly extraordinary prison movie, the most overheated homo-erotic fantasy of its kind since Fassbinder's Querelle. The cosmic riddle of masculinity straddles a movie that's wild, sexy and (whisper it softly) just a touch avant-garde.

CAIN'S DESCENDANT (Oku Shutaro) International Premiere
A seriously weird indie feature starring Watanabe Kazushi (he played ‘Visitor Q' for Miike) as a man stuck in a grungy industrial zone, trying to create a gun disguised as a TV remote control. Director Oku Shutaro has an idiosyncratic eye for mankind's “fallen” state, somewhere between born-again religion and illicit sex in the backroom.

DOG DAYS DREAM (Ichii Masahide) International Premiere
He collects paper for recycling, she works in a Korean barbecue restaurant and they happily share a small room until... Irresistible Japanese indie from Ichii Masahide, with a fine comic edge. Dragons & Tigers Award nominee.

HANA (Kore-eda Hirokazu)
Kore-eda Hirokazu's first period movie (set in 1702) centres on a samurai waiting to avenge his father. Two problems: he's in love with the young widow-next-door (Miyazawa Rie), and he's Japan's worst swordsman. Balanced between drama and comedy and intensely moving, it stars Okada Junichi and has Asano Tadanobu in a key cameo.

THE LOST HUM (Hirosue Hiromasu) North American Premiere
The team behind D&T Award-winner The Soup One Morning returns with a disquieting fantasy. A young woman kidnaps the man who killed her elder sister and posts an announcement on the internet: people are invited to visit the apartment where he's held to judge him and do whatever they like to him... Directed by Hirosue Hiromasa, who also plays the killer.

LOST IN TOKYO (Ikawa Kotaro) International Premiere
Cinematographer Ikawa Kotaro turns director with an impressive homage to Cassavetes' Husbands . Two 30-ish guys spend the 36 hours after a friend's funeral hanging out together (drinks, billiards, karaoke, the usual things), taking stock of their lives... and reaching some sobering conclusions. Dragons & Tigers Award nominee.

SINGLE (Nakae Kazuhito) International Premiere
Nakae Kazuhito's no-budget indie is an often-droll exploration of a dawning father-son relationship: a 35-year-old businessman becomes the guardian of his estranged son when the boy's mother dies. Wryly observed, well acted—all the signs of a promising director.

SWAY (Nishikawa Miwa) North American Premiere
Nishikawa Miwa (remember her Wild Berries ?) returns with another compulsive story of sibling tensions. Takeru (Odagiri Jo) is a hot commercial photographer in Tokyo, while his brother Minoru (Kagawa Teruyuki) runs a gas station in the sticks. During Takeru's visit, a girl falls from a rickety suspension bridge and dies. Was it an accident or did Minoru push her? Did Takeru see what happened, and what will he say in court?

TACHIGUI: THE AMAZING LIVES OF THE FAST-FOOD GRIFTERS (Oshii Mamoru) North American Premiere
Animation giant Oshii Mamoru ( Ghost in the Shell , Avalon ) offers an alternative history of post-war Japan as seen through the rise of fast-food chains—and the “careers” of various legendary figures who expertly conned free meals from them. Bursting with ideas and weird gags, this is as “experimental” as early Greenaway and as pointed as the best of Oshima.

TOKYO LOOP (various) North American Premiere
To complement our Alternative Anime program, here's the international premiere of a new anthology from Japan: 16 directors (including such veteran greats as Kuri Yoji, making his first film in 20 years) contribute short impressions of contemporary life in Tokyo. Made to celebrate 100 years of movie animation, this is a dream potpourri of ideas, colours, musics and rhythms.

YOKOHAMA MARY (Nakamura Takayuki)
Nakamura Takayuki's fascinating documentary pieces together the legend of “Yokohama Mary,” a white-faced, white-dressed hooker who prowled the streets of Isezaki-cho in Yokohama until she was 83. The aim is partly to find out what Mary did and what happened to her, and partly to uncover the secret (largely gay) subculture that revolved around her, from butoh dancer Ono Kazuo to S-M novelist Dan Oniroku.

MALAYSIA

THE LAST COMMUNIST (Amir Muhammad)
Amir Muhammad (director of The Big Durian and the best cine-essayist in current practice) goes looking for traces of the exiled leader of the former Communist Party of Malaya and comes back with a sardonic account of the fault-lines in Malaysian society today. Always amusing, sometimes wildly funny. And did we mention the songs?

RAIN DOGS (Ho Yuhang)
Ho Yuhang's exquisitely observed film centres on Tung, a boy between school and college, between Kuala Lumpur and a country backwater. Plenty happens (he's held up by a pimp, there's a violent death in the family, a gun is stolen and lost) but the pace is tranquil and it seems uneventful. Demands close attention and rewards it handsomely.

THE PHILIPPINES

THE BET COLLECTOR (Jeffrey Jeturian)
Three decisive days in the life of Amy (the magnificent Gina Pareño) as she criss-crosses her slum neighbourhood in Manila, taking bets on an underground lucky-numbers draw. Jeffrey Jeturian's powerful film has already won two festival prizes, giving the surprise revival in Filipino movies another boost.

THE BLOSSOMING OF MAXIMO OLIVEROS (Auraeus Solito)
Maxi, a 12-year-old pansy with cross-dressing tendencies, happily plays homemaker to his criminal dad and two macho “brothers”... until the day he develops the mother of all crushes on the new neighbourhood cop. Auraeus Solito's wonderful movie redefines Filipino cinema and will conquer the straightest heart.

TODO TODO TEROS (John Torres) North American Premiere
Part-collaged from existing diary footage, John Torres' experimental feature is a sophisticated reflection on boho life in contemporary Manila. It asks some interesting questions, such as whether all Filipino artists are terrorists, whether lovers can be said to terrorize each other, and how exactly Berlin differs from Manila. Full of music, mystery and poignantly unrequited love. Dragons & Tigers Award nominee.

SINGAPORE

PASSABE (James Leong, Lynn Lee) North American Premiere
Now that East Timor's experiment in democratic nation-building seems to be falling apart, James Leong and Lynn Lee's documentary about the first, faltering steps of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission couldn't be more timely. It focuses on Alexio Elu, a farmer in the village of Passabe, who is determined to speak about his involvement in the massacre of 1999.

SOUTH KOREA

FACELESS THINGS (Kim Kyong-Mook) North American Premiere
Some viewers will be so disgusted and shocked by the content of Kim Kyong-Mook's debut feature (it's about gay sado-masochism) that they'll be blind to its dark poetry and its formal/conceptual ambitions. It comprises only three shots, each with its own level of reality. Dragons & Tigers Award nominee.

GEO-LOBOTOMY (Kim Gok, Kim Sun) North American Premiere
Known for their interest in politics, economics, death-metal music and funny stories, twin brothers Kim Gok and Kim Sun have come up with a comic fable set in a dead mining town. Ghosts, casinos, gold teeth and dark secrets all crop up in the film's post-Marxist riddles. Dragons & Tigers Award nominee.

MY SCARY GIRL (Son Jae-Gon) English-Canadian Premiere
Sohn Jae-Gon, director of the best-ever riff on Hitchcock ( The Man Who Saw Too Much , VIFF 00), makes his overdue bow in the commercial mainstream with a kind-of comedy about a timid college lecturer who embarks on the terrifying adventure of dating a woman—and discovers that women have secrets.

NO MERCY FOR THE RUDE (Park Chul-Hee) International Premiere
For his debut feature, Park Chul-Hee (former assistant to Jang Sun-Woo) has imagined a perfect outsider: an orphaned hitman (with a speech impediment that stops him speaking) who dreams of becoming a matador and agrees to kill only the bad-mannered. Who better to play him than Shin Ha-Kyun ( Save the Green Planet )? It delivers thrills, laughs and some real surprises.

TALK TO HER: DIGITAL SHORTS BY THREE FILMMAKERS (Darezhan Omirbayev, Eric Khoo, Pen-ek Ratanaruang) North American Premiere
Jeonju Film Festival's annual project to commission digital featurettes from three Asian directors came up trumps again this year. Darezhan Omirbayev's About Love (Kazakhstan) is a sensitive Chekhov adaptation, full of repressed emotions. Eric Khoo's No Day Off (Singapore) is a cool anatomy of Singapore's reliance on (and exploitation of) Indonesian maids. And Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Twelve Twenty (Thailand) is a clever riff on a Marquez story about imaginary relationships between travellers on a long-haul flight.

WOMAN ON THE BEACH (Hong Sang-Soo)
Hong Sang-soo's latest, written while he was in Vancouver as a Dragons & Tigers juror, revolves around a filmmaker who meets a woman in a strange place; they drink heavily and end up sleeping together on the first day. The rest of the film deals with the struggles as one of the two clings to the relationship and the other tries to get out of it.

THAILAND
SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
After the sublime Tropical Malady , Apichatpong Weerasethakul constructs another beautiful film in two overlapping parts: one about a woman doctor in a country hospital, the other about a male doctor in a modern, urban hospital. (The characters are inspired by Apichatpong's parents, before they became lovers.) Their encounters with an orchid farmer, a dentist with a crush on a Buddhist monk, a lady who hides liquor in prosthetic limbs and others yield a dreamy, romantic movie about life's limitations and possibilities.

STORIES FROM THE NORTH (Uruphong Raksasad) North American Premiere
There are nine of them in all, each one a carefully judged vignette of life in and around the village of Lanna in northern Thailand. Uruphong Raksasad's startlingly beautiful film is a poetic (and gently surreal) portrait of a time, a place and a people. Dragons & Tigers Award nominee.

TAIWAN

I DON'T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE (Tsai Ming-Liang)
Shooting in Malaysia for the first time, Tsai Ming-Liang adds an emotional glow to his usual mixture of humour and horror. The homeless Hsiao Kang is beaten up and left to die on the streets of Kuala Lumpur; rescued and nursed by an immigrant labourer, he revives to find himself at the apex of a romantic triangle...

MY STINKING KID (Tsai Ming-Liang, Lee Kang-Sheng) International Premiere
Co-directed by Tsai Ming-Liang and his regular actor Lee Kang-Sheng, this TV film (a prizewinner in Taiwan, here getting its international premiere) is based on the true story of a boy with a rare medical condition whose foul-tasting medicine makes him reek of ammonia. An intense and moving account of a fraught mother-son bond. Followed by a screening of a special 30-minute surprise film.

The Vancouver International Film Festival has a reputation for presenting the best in world cinema. More than 150,000 patrons are expected to attend 550 screenings of more than 300 films from 50 countries, making it one of the largest and most successful film festivals in North America. Beginning September 8, comprehensive information and schedules will be available at www.viff.org and the Starbucks Hotline at (604) 683-FILM (3456). Tickets go on sale September 9 through the VISA Charge-by-Phone line at 604-685-8297 and on the web at www.viff.org .

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