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Thread: ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL Lincoln Center JUNE 30 - JULY 16, 2017

  1. #16
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    MAD WORLD (Wong CHun 2016)

    WONG CHUN: MAD WORLD (2016)


    SHAWN YUE AND ERIC TSANG CHI-WAI IN MAD WORLD

    Seeking to regain mental balance in a cramped Hong Kong tenement

    Wong Chun's much praised low budget ($258K) Hong Kong feature directorial debut with screenplay by Florence Chan Chor-hang focuses on Tung (Shawn Yue), a stockbroker whose bipolar disorder has caused him to crash. He is released from a psychiatric hospital, then is taken in under orders of the hospital by his estranged truck driver father (everyman type Eric Tsang Chi-wai) to stay in his tiny one-room tenement apartment. Domestic drama, past and present, ensues.

    Right now, it seems tough for someone bipolar to be a stockbroker when financial crisis layoffs are causing many of the "normal" ones to commit suicide, including one of Tung's closest business associates. Flashbacks show how Tung struggled to care on his own for his bedridden, mentally unbalanced and verbally abusive mom (Elaine Jin, in a melodramatic performance), a task that largely triggered his breakdown, and revisit his relationship with his fiancée Jenny (Charmaine Fong), whom he drove away in a fight over caring for his mother. A big fight in the present moment brings out Tung's deep resentments over his dad's suddenly abandoning the family when he was very young.

    The film, innovative for Hong Kong, fills in rich background on Tung's life: but the filling in tends to dampen the punch of the present-day narrative of his current struggle to cope. Moreover there are some segments that are excessive and tasteless, particularly a weepy confession by Jenny of her grievances against Tung at her born-again church, with Tung present. It's a passive-aggressive abuse-by-"forgiveness" rant that reads as a tiresomely heavy-handed attack on fake Christian piety.

    Nonetheless restrained, well-modulated job by Yue, usually a pretty-boy star doing serious stuff here depicting Tung's modd-shifts, makes this primarily successful as a character-driven drama with a realistic look at the poor side of Hong Kong and its financial issues at every level. The film also alludes to the terrible pressures of being an investment banker and the dire shortcomings of the health care system, and to cyber-bullying Tung must endure after his fall from grace. Perhaps it's final message is what Tung's father learns: "Everything in life can't be outsourced."

    Unfortunately, Wong Chun rather tends to undercut the power of his presentation of both Tung's personal issues and of the contemporary urban Hong Kong nightmare with all the complicated back-and forth shifting between present and the past. This typically modern ADD film editing technique tries to show and to tell too much. But this is still an interesting contribution to the usually genre-heavy Hong Kong cinema and worth a watch for students of it and of the aspects of Hong Kong life depicted here. I'm not sure Clarence Tsui's quite justified in calling this film "audaciously unshowy" in his Hollywood Reporter review - but the topic is audaciously serious.

    Mad World (Mandarin: 一念無明), in Cantonese, 121 mins., released 8 Sept. 2016, at Toronto; won Best Supporting Actress and Best New Director at Taipei Golden Horse Festival, with numerous other Asian festival nominations and awards; theatrical release Hong Kong 30 Mar. 2017. Reviewed for NYAFF, New York Premiere: Q&A with director Wong Chun, screenwriter Florence Chan, and actor Eric Tsang, who will receive the NYAFF 2017 Star Hong Kong Lifetime Achievement Award. showtime 12 Jul. 2017 9 pm at Walter Reade Theater.
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    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-12-2017 at 10:36 AM.

  2. #17
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    DUCKWEED (Han Han 2017)

    HAN HAN: DUCKWEED (2017)


    DONG ZIJAN, DENG CHA, EDDIE PENG, AND ZACK GAO IN DUCKWEED

    A time travel youth adventure for millennials

    Maggie Lee of Variety says the most notable thing about Duckweed, by China's "superstar writer-blogger" Han Han, is "its absolute predictability." Lest that seem a bummer, let us say that it's quite fun and probably not so predictable for non-China film specialists. It's about millennials, and their attitude toward the past, which it depicts though a sci-fi story whereby the protagonist goes back to the 1990's.

    The time-traveler is a racing rally driver, Tailang (Deng Cha), who's magically transported back in time by crashing into a train in 2022, which sends him to 1998 and leads him to participate in a gang led by Zhengtai (Eddie Peng), his father. I'd say this is another example of Hong Kong filmmakers' current desire to be relevant while still providing silly fun. Little Ma (Mountains May Depart's Dong Zijan) as the foresighted computer nerd, and Lu Yi (race-car driver Zack Gao) as the lean and mean, thick-headed one make up the rest of "the Zhengtai gang." Tailang has hated his abusive and unsupportive father but now finds the younger version not so bad in many ways. He is most excited to meet his mother, who died shortly after his birth, and that's tricky because at first he doesn't know who she is.

    Thanks to Tailang's joining up with his future father, he eventually gets to officiate at his parents' wedding, when he talks about how significant this is to him. "Why does he make everything about himself?" asks his future mother. "That's just who he is," says his future dad, who's become a best friend. Tailang's emotional speech is full of double meanings, but he doesn't expect to be able to change the course of future events. He entertains by singing nicely; Zhengtai amuses everyone as the happy groom by being completely out of tune. When one of the gang members dies through an act of aggression, he gets a farewell montage.

    And so it goes. The adventures, and regular attempts at kidnapping by and of a rival gang, and schemes to guess the future which Tailang already knows (that cornering the market on beepers isn't a good idea; that video halls will be trumped by regular movie theaters, and so on), are all basically ways to celebrate the comradeship of an undemanding group of twenty-somethings with a sense of nostalgia. This really isn't as good as Hou Hsiau-hsien's Edward Young's memories of Taipei youth, of Linklater's, or Arnaud Desplechin's "Golden Days," but it will do for a mainstream young Chinese audience, and Eddie Peng (with his middle-parted Matt Dillon look) and Liying Zhao, with her provocative innocence, the future mother Tailang almost gets too close to, are irresistible and engaging. A final big fight with their superior gangster rivals is handled with a light touch. There are nice urban village-scapes making use, Maggie Lee tells us, of Changshou, a thousand-year-old city in the southeast province of Zhejiang with canals and arched bridges. Mandolin music make proceedings sound like a 1960's Italian comedy, but Lee things this flashback is millennials' "jaded amusement," but I'd say it's nostalgia for what they never had.

    DuckweedChinese: 乘风破浪 (Cheng feng po lang, "Ride the Winds, Break the Waves"), 104 mins., released late Jan. 2017 in China; Feg. and Mar. in Australia, US, and Hong Kong. Reviewed as part of the July 2017 NYAFF, where it shows 15 July at 12:30 pm at Walter Reade Theater, in Lincoln Center.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-11-2017 at 06:54 PM.

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    SOUL ON A STRING (Zhang Yang 2016)

    ZHANG YANG: SOUL ON A STRING (2016)



    Quest of a home for a sacred object - across desert wilds

    In this Tibetan tale from a Chinese director, Zhang Yang, whose previous work has tended toward the quirky and the comic, Taibei, a desert wanderer, kills a deer and finds a sacred stone in its mouth, which sets him on the mission to bring the divine artifact back to its rightful home, the holy mountain of Buddha. This movie, which has authentic costumes, ruddy-cheeked locals, and epic scenery, doesn't know what it wants to be - but so it goes with Tibetan spiritual quest spaghetti Westerns. Sometimes it's antique; sometimes it's contemporary. Sometimes it's solemn and epic; often it's comic. The cinematography by dp Guo Daming is beautiful.

    There are black market traders and two brothers in search of vengeance but Taibei gathers camp followers, a colorful singing girl he spend the night with and a mute boy with a stringed instrument that she finds when she goes to get a pot she dropped down a ravine. Sometimes we could be in the American West. Sometimes we could be in the land of sacred myth, the world chronicled by Joseph Campbell. This is a pilgrimage, a sacred journey, by a man who has a treasure to present in a holy land. Stay tuned for the Palm Print Land of the Lotus Master. That's where we want to go. This never grabs you like Sergio Leone or the Jim Jarmusch of Dead Man, but it has its moments.

    Soul on a String / 皮绳上的魂 (Pí shéng shàng de hún, "The soul of a leather rope"), 142 mins., from China, in Tibetan, with English subtitles, debuted at Shanghai 2016 in competition, winning the Best Cinematography prize. Some big international festivals, including Toronto, Busan, Hong Kong, Chicago, Golden Horse, Bosphorus and Trento. Reviewed here as part of the NYAFF where it was shown 9 July at the Walter Raede Theater.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-12-2017 at 10:45 AM.

  4. #19
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    SPLIT (Choi Kook-hee 2016)

    CHOI KOOK-HEE: SPLIT (2016)


    LEE JUNG-HYUN, YU JEE-TAE, AND DAVID LEE IN SPLIT

    Bowling, and bonding within the spectrum

    This movie, the generally strong (and great-looking) directorial feature debut of Choi Kook-hee, is an odd item indeed. It's a Korean sports drama focused on bowling whose main focus is a young autistic man - and his found mentor, the once-glamorous, now semi-washed up star who bonds with him. There's a pretty woman who needs help saving her property, and there are bad guys and vicious rivalries, and a final victory. What's not to like?

    The washed up dude, formerly nicknamed "perfect man" member of the national bowling team, downed by a leg injury, is Cheol-jeong (Yu Ji-tae of Attack the Gas Station and Oldboy). He is hanging out with Hee-jin (Lee Jung-hyun), who's likely to lose her father's bowling alley due to heavy debuts, when they discover an oddball bowler in the alley who only makes strikes. He's the diminutive Young-hoon (David Lee), and he could earn them a lot of money and live a dream in his favorite sport, if they can get through to him.

    It takes a while for the macho Cheol-jeong, who's been reduced to being a small-time hustler, makes the adjustments necessary to tame Young-hoon and gain his confidence, though it turns out he has Young-hoon's confidence almost from the first, for a reason that will emerge later. Soon he and Hee-jin figure out why Young-hood thinks he has to bowl only in lane 10, and get around his other peculiarities. The real focus is on Cheol-jeong's gradual bonding with Young-hoon, and the heartening story of Young-hoon's improved relationship with the real world - and his turning into a champion bowler.

    Split has been called a "mash-up of White Men Can’t Jump, Rain Man, and Kingpin," and The Hustler has been alluded to. Unfortunately the latter part of the movie is a mash-up of what it is plus a kidnapping and gangster story, which adds a bad taste minutes before the feel-good finale. But the tall former model (and inexplicably never quite A-list)Yu Ji-tae provides a brooding glamor to his role as the former star athlete discovering his humanity, and David Lee does an impressive job of reproducing the mannerisms of autism. And really, dp Baek Yoon-suk's images are a delight to the eye.

    Split / 스플릿 (Seupeulrit), 123 mins., debuted South Korea 9 Nov. 2016. Covered by Elizabeth Kerr for Hollywood Reporter at Filmart, Hong Kong. Reviewed as part of the 2017 NYAFF, where it was shown in early July 2017.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-13-2017 at 08:18 PM.

  5. #20
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    GODSPEED (Chung Mong-hong 2016)

    CHUNG MONG-HONG: GODSPEED (2016)


    NA DOW AND MICHAEL HUI IN GODSPEED

    A Taiwanese riff on the edge of noir

    A young Taiwanese drug mule (Na Dow) has his foolproof smuggling method thrown out of whack when he catches a ride with the wrong cab driver, in this caper starring veteran Hong Kong comic Michael Hui, here playing a long time Taiwan resident and cabbie who insists on taking him even though he's already been driving all night.

    As an Edinburgh Festival viewer of this film said, "Godspeed walks a weird line between violent gangster bloodshed and buddy comedy that doesn’t always work." It's a strange hybrid for which the word "Tarantinoesque" is a shade too generous. But there are eccentric, highly specific incidents. A Thai gangster is taunted by his Chinese associate for keeping his long sofa covered in its original protective plastic coating for ten years. So they take it of, and the owner proudly chortles over how like new it is. The cabbie stops to get food, and it turns out the line isn't for a restaurant but a gangster funeral. They are forced to go in and pay a donation.

    The drug mule is notable for his laziness. He got the job merely by answering an ad. And instead of arranging a carefully planned, secure form of transportation, he just takes cabs back and forth to carry the drugs the whole way from one end of the country to another.

    In festivals this film has been billed as a "dark comedy," but it is more accurate to call it "a crime drama with moments of levity." Uglier scenes featuring crime bosses that alternate with the road trip carry the greater sense of action: the trip itself verges on a Beckettian futility, alternating with serious mishaps. This is good material for the actors, potentially, at least - but the filmmaker has not quite got his mix of genres in good balance. Nice ending, though, turning this into the kind of lived-in buddy picture this has always aspired to; and the tech aspects are fine. Delicate use of mandolin music adds a pleasantly sentimental note to a very unsentimental, deadpan movie.

    Godspeed / 路順風 (Yi lu shun feng), 111 mins. debuted at Toronto Sept. 2016, also at Vancouver, Tokyo, Taipei, Buenos Aires, Seattle, Edinburgh, Bucheon. Reviewed here for NYAFF, showing 1 pm July 16 at the Walter Reade Theater.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-14-2017 at 01:12 PM.

  6. #21
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    THE LONG EXCUSE (Miwa Nishikawa 2016)

    MIWA NISHIKAWA: THE LONG EXCUSE (2016)


    MASAHIRO MOTOKI, KENSHIN FUJITA IN THE LONG EXCUSE

    Japanese males growing up

    A film about awakenings, Miwa Nishikawa's The Long Excuse shifts focus. First it's on Sachio (Masahiro Motoki, oddly, in his first serious feature since the 2008 Oscar-winning Departures ), a novelist and minor TV celebrity past his prime. When first seen he's a cad who's rude to his hairdresser wife Natsuko (Eri Fukatsu) - he probably looks down on her socially - and totally self-centered when she dies in a bus that crashes into a frozen lake. He's sleeping with another woman when he gets the news; his wife's trip was just an excuse for him to have fun with his mistress. He lays his grieving on heavy for public attention - after all he's a TV personality, if minor - but he feels nothing. Attention shifts to Yoichi (Pistol Takehara), truly and dramatically (or at least simply and directly) grieving his wife, a friend of Natsuko's who was on a ski trip with her and died by her side in the bus.

    Nishikawa, whose screenplay takes off from on her own novel, loads the dice, giving Sachio a life that favors superficiality and making Yoichi a truck driver who's not too bright so he can be a direct, simple guy. It works though. Attention shifts again when Sachio helps Yoichi take care of his pre-middle school son Shinpei (Kenshin Fujita) and preschool daughter Akari (Tamaki Shiratori) because Yoichi can't cope. Now Shinpei, whom his father had taken out of school to care for his little sister, has a chance once more of cramming to get into junior high. This enables Sachio to feel good about himself and delay facing the loneliness of his own grief. Action spans a year and Fujita, visibly growing into adolescence and rebellion, bright, angry, and at odds with his simple dad, steals the show, though the two adult males do some noisy fighting and growing up. Some interesting bonding and reality-checking take place here. Nishikawa doesn't avoid sentimentality 100%, but this is an interesting watch with fresh female angles on Japanese family life.

    Maggie Lee notes in her Variety review that "as in her last three films — Sway, Dear Doctor, and Dreams for Sale all centered on liars and swindlers — self-deception is the theme" of this, Nishikawa's fifth film. Her depiction of men is a bit simplistic, though less so in the case of the vain writer and TV personality, but she is both astute and hopeful in suggesting a child might lead a superficial adult to become more real. In fact the kids and Sachio's bonding with the boy are expanded beyond Nishikawa's original novel. Some of the best details are here, for example the way Sachio draws a blank when left alone with little Akari, who won't answer his silly questions, or go out shopping with him, but will go when it's time to meet Shinpei at the bus. Many little details of the inexperienced adult engaged in the immense task of minding a small child are witty and well observed.

    Midway comes the moment when Sachio's personal manager Kinoshita (Sosuke Ikematsu), young, but with four kids, points out to him that his surrogate parenting is just putting off his own grieving, which he's just dragging out. Kids are a great escape for a man, Kinshita points out: they let him forget "what an asshole I am." According to Maggie Lee's review, the novel was Nishikawa's effort to get at how collective mourning over the great 2011 earthquake led individuals to void dealing with their own real, immediate losses - as Sachio is doing here.

    Sachio's still not really grieving when he starts doing a TV piece about the act of it. He's at the center always in the movie - and Masahiro Motoki bravely a shoulders the role of a jerk, if one who's learning, gradually earning our sympathy.

    The Long Excuse / 永い言い訳 (Nagai iiwake), 124 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2016; also Busan, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Rome, Kaohsiung (Taiwan) and other festivals including SFIFF (where I first saw it) and San Diego. Theatrical release Japan Oct. 2016. Reviewed here as part of NYAFF 2017, expanding my earlier SFIFF review based on a second viewing.


    KENJIN FUJITA AND MASAHIRO MOTOKI IN THE LONG EXCUSE
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-15-2017 at 01:59 AM.

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