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Thread: ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL Lincoln Center JUNE 29 - JULY 15, 2018

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    NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2018

    FULL LINEUP (58)
    Titles in bold are included in the Main Competition; the list excludes the surprise screening.
    ===
    CHINA (7)
    Co-presented with Confucius Institute Headquarters and China Institute
    – Dude’s Manual (Kevin Ko, 2018)
    – End of Summer (Zhou Quan, 2017) – New York Premiere
    – The Ex-Files 3: The Return of the Exes (Tian Yusheng, 2017)
    – Looking for Lucky (Jiang Jiachen, 2018) – International Premiere
    The Looming Storm (Dong Yue, 2017) – North American Premiere
    – Old Beast (Zhou Ziyang, 2017) – New York Premiere
    – Wrath of Silence (Xin Yukun, 2017) – New York Premiere

    HONG KONG PANORAMA (9)
    Presented with the support of Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York
    – Beast Stalker (Dante Lam, 2008) – Tribute to Dante Lam
    – The Big Call (Oxide Pang, 2017) – North American Premiere
    – The Brink (Jonathan Li, 2017) – New York Premiere
    – The Empty Hands (Chapman To, 2018) – New York Premiere
    – House of the Rising Sons (Antony Chan, 2018) – World Premiere
    Men on the Dragon (Sunny Chan, 2018) – World Premiere
    – Operation Red Sea (Dante Lam, 2018) – Tribute to Dante Lam
    – Paradox (Wilson Yip, 2017) – New York Premiere
    – Unbeatable (Dante Lam, 2003) – Tribute to Dante Lam

    INDONESIA (1)
    – Buffalo Boys (Mike Wiluan, 2018) – US Premiere

    JAPAN (14)
    Blood of Wolves (Shiraishi Kazuya, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – Dynamite Graffiti (Tominaga Masanori, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – The Hungry Lion (Ogata Takaomi, 2017) – North American Premiere
    – Inuyashiki (Sato Shinsuke, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – Kakekomi (Harada Masato, 2015) – Tribute to Harada Masato, New York Premiere
    – Kamikaze Taxi (Harada Masato, 1995) – Tribute to Harada Masato
    Liverleaf (Naito Eisuke, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – Midnight Bus (Takeshita Masao, 2017) – North American Premiere
    – One Cut of the Dead (Ueda Shinichiro, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – River’s Edge (Yukisada Isao, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – The Scythian Lamb (Yoshida Daihachi, 2017) – New York Premiere
    – Sekigahara (Harada Masato, 2017) – Tribute to Harada Masato, New York Premiere
    – Smokin’ on the Moon (Kanata Wolf, 2017) – International Premiere
    – The Third Murder (Kore-eda Hirokazu, 2017) – New York Premiere

    MALAYSIA (2)
    Crossroads: One Two Jaga (Nam Ron, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – Dukun (Dain Said, 2018) – International Premiere

    PHILIPPINES (6)
    – BuyBust (Erik Matti, 2018) – Tribute to Erik Matti, World Premiere
    – Neomanila (Mikhail Red, 2017) – New York Premiere
    – On the Job (Erik Matti, 2013) – Tribute to Erik Matti
    Respeto (Treb Monteras, 2017) – North American Premiere
    – Sid & Aya: Not a Love Story (Irene Villamor, 2018) – New York Premiere
    – We Will Not Die Tonight (Richard Somes, 2018) – World Premiere

    SOUTH KOREA (10)
    – 1987: When the Day Comes (Jang Joon-hwan, 2017)
    – After My Death (Kim Ui-seok, 2017) – North American Premiere
    – The Age of Blood (Kim Hong-sun, 2017) – International premiere
    – Counters (Lee Il-ha, 2017) – North American Premiere
    – Hit the Night (Jeong Ga-young, 2017) – North American Premiere
    – I Can Speak (Kim Hyeon-seok, 2017)
    – Little Forest (Yim Soon-rye, 2018) – New York Premiere
    Microhabitat (Jeon Go-woon, 2017) – North American Premiere
    – The Return (Malene Choi, 2018) – East Coast Premiere
    – What a Man Wants (Lee Byeong-hun, 2018)

    TAIWAN (5)
    – Gatao 2: Rise of the King (Yen Cheng-kuo, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – The Last Verse (Tseng Ying-ting, 2017) – New York Premiere
    – Missing Johnny (Huang Xi, 2017) – New York Premiere
    – On Happiness Road (Sung Hsin-yin, 2017) – North American Premiere
    – The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful (Yang Ya-che, 2017) – New York Premiere

    THAILAND (3)
    – Premika (Siwakorn Jarupongpa, 2017) – North American Premiere
    – Sad Beauty (Bongkod Bencharongkul, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – Tears of the Black Tiger (Wisit Sasanatieng, 2000)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-05-2018 at 06:28 PM.

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    THE LOOMING STORM (Doug Yue 2017)

    DOUG YUE: THE LOOMING STORM (2017)


    DUAN YIHONG IN THE LOOMING STORM

    Theme: "A man who is laid off from a steel factory desperately wants to chase a serial killer in a small city in Southern China."


    This is a mood piece and a psychological study on top of a meandering police procedural whose "police" lack real skin in the game and may not have their head screwed on quite right. A better title might be the French one, Une pluie sans fin (but the Mandarin one is , Boxuě jiāng zh,"Blizard is approaching"), because the rain, and later worse, storm, doesn't just loom during the main action of this film but pour down continually on the gloomy dark decaying factory and on protagonist Yu Guowei (Duan Yihong), who is in charge of security, only a minor role at the factory. His main job is catching out petty thefts. But his dream is to be a full-scale detective who can unlock the secrets of the serial killings going on in the region. Details of these are threaded through the narrative, but Yu Gowei's relation to them is shaky. Weaving genre and psychological study with political commentary in a rich and complex and visually pleasing way, much of this film is quite marvelous, even if it's a bit overlong, but toward the end it loses direction, failing to reach a satisfying finale.

    The main action takes place in 1997, time of the death of Deng Xiaoping and the handover of Hong Kong, and also when China is shutting down a lot of underperforming factories and casting out most of the workers, a sequence of events talented first time director Doug Yue is registering quiet protest to, along with allusion to the general brutality and crushing effect on the common man of modern China's rapid "progress." It's suggested that many of the employees, once fired, are cast out of their humble dwellings as well. Yet Yu Guowei gets an award as Model Worker of the Year at an annual meeting of the factory for zealously catching thieving workers, and gives an impromptu acceptance speech full of hope. Is this indication of a sudden change of affairs, or of Yu Guowei's cluelessness? Or has he imagined this whole episode? The shakiness of his hold on reality is continually, subtly, referred to. But finally his pursuit of a scrawny individual he intuits is the killer leads to dire consequences. The award ceremony may be real, but it is intensely ironic in relation to the brooding landscape and dire fates of the factory and its workers.

    At the outset Yu Guowei appears ten years later in quite a different mode. He has just been released from pirson for an unspecified crime. Eventually we find out what it was. This opening, the present time of the film, is 2008, a time of natural disasters. When Yu Guwei is asked to spell his name on release, for an I.D., his explanation is that it's "yu" for "unnecessary remnants," "guo" for "nation," and "wei" for "glorious." So at the outset there is an allusion to how the "glorious nation" has turned many of its citizens into castoff remnants. And he is one of them.

    But in the rained-on main action, Yu Guowei gets minor involvement in investigating serial killings, examining the body of a brutally murdered woman as in so many noir mystery genre films. But there are actual police assigned to the case, primarily Chief Zhang (Du Yuan). Yu Guowei is only called in to give evidence of any absent workers from the factory: but this gives birth to his delusion that he is one of the case investigators.

    To bolster Yu Guowei's confidence, but only in a comically inadequate way, he has a dumb but cute assistant, Xiao Liu (Zheng Wei), who clumsily follows him around, gumming things up but praising his brilliance and calling him "maestro." This assistant is deluded too, if in a more benign way. But his eagerness and his boss's indifference to him lead to dire consequences.

    Unlike them is the dance hall prostitute, Yanzi (Jiang Yiyang), whom Yu Guowei befriends mainly in hopes that she will have clues about the killer. In a way she is deluded too, notably in thinking that Yu Guowei cares about her. But her dream is practical: to go to Hong Kong and have her own beauty parlor. She gets a humble beauty parlor, and Yu Guowei helps her with that. But she says "There won't be any customers in this weather." We don't see any. Jiang Yiyang's sad, droopy beauty and tawdry elegance give this film much of its atmosphere and beauty - along with the magnificently brooding lineaments of the dark satanic factory, which seems like a decayed building out of Kidnapped even though it is still nominally functioning. The constant rain makes it seem like a grand outhouse of hell.

    A long (doubtless too long) late-middle section follows the dreary relationship between Yu and Jiang, the asexual obsessive and the wan dreamer. Does she imagine he cares for him, though they never have sex? Probably not really, certainly not when she discovers he is not mooning over her but spying on her, imagining she may have a relationship with his imaginary killer.

    Yue is a subtle and sophisticated weaver of mood, but he needs to find his way to a tighter plotline and clearer action. The Looming Storm melts away in the rain, because when it returns to 2008, it seems to undercut too much of the (intentional) unreliable narrative that has come before, so the viewer can't get a grip on the action at all, and the film's complexities seem to overwhelm it. But Doug Yue is clearly a new director to watch.

    The Looming Storm/ 暴雪将至, Boxuě jiāng zh, 120 mins, debuted at Tokyo Oct. 2017, and premiered in Paris 14 June 2018, but its French release to cinemas as Une pluie sans fin ("Endless Rain"") was 25 July: there were good reviews in major journals (AlloCin press rating 3.5). . Screened for this review as part of the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival, where it shows 9 July .
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-25-2018 at 09:57 AM.

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    THE BLOOD OF WOLVES (Shiraishi Kazuya, 2018)

    SHIRAISHI KAZUYA: THE BLOOD OF WOLVES (2018)


    TORI MATSUZAKA AND KJI YAKUSHO IN THE BLOOD OF WOLVES

    An old genre reappears

    "The yakuza movie used to bestride the Japanese film industry like a colossus," wrote Max Cchilling of The Japan Times," but now clings to its margins." Perhaps it should stay there. Of course diehards sometimes take a crack at the genre again, Schilling notes, Like Takeshi Kitano with Outrage Coda "but a true revival has yet to come." Kitano has done more interesting such films already, even if one watches them in vain for hints of deeper meaning that isn't really there.

    The Blood of Wolves features a sleazy bent cop, Shogo Ogami, played by Kji Yukusho, who is accompanied by a new rookie partner, a recent Hiroshima University graduate called Shūichi Hioka (Tori Matsuzaka), a pretty boy type who holds back his jujitsu skills and also the fact that he's from Internal Affairs and sent to lay bare Ogami's corruption - and get hold of his diary, packed with insider information. Hioka's relation to Ogami is interesting at times, as it swings passionately between shock and admiration. Yukusho and Matsuzaka both have juicy roles, and make the most of them.

    There is plenty of violence, right off the bat, including a castration, a clipped off finger, victims fed pig offal, a severed head in a urinal, and the like. The two cops are getting in the way between two rival gangs - Kakomura-gumi and the Odani-gumi - you know the drill. It's slickly done, and there are occasional surprises, particularly coming from a young female pharmacist. There is also an occasional austere-sounding voiceover.

    Shiraishi Kazuya's The Blood of Wolves is "more of a homage than a revamp," suggested Schilling. It is a cop thriller based on Yuko Yuzuki's novel, but the director has acknowledged his greater model is Kinji Fukasaku's Battles Without Honor and Humanity, a five-part 1973-74 series. "It would be interesting," Film Alert 101 speculates, "to know just how [The Blood of Wolves] made its way into the festival circuit." Maybe to remind us how the non-festival circuit world lives? Really Blood of Wolves, for all its genre thrills, is far too familiar, and too long. But still, at times, it's pretty great, too.

    The Blood of Wolves / 孤狼の血 (Kor no chi, "Blood of solitary wolf"), 126 mins., debuted at Udine Far East Festival 24 Apr. 2018, opening in Japan 12 May. It showed in the Nippon Connection festival in German in May and at Sidney in June. It was screened for this review as part of the NYAFF at Lincoln Center where it shows July 2 at 9:15 pm.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-21-2018 at 09:26 PM.

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    ONE CUT OF THE DEAD//KAMERA O TOMERU NO! (Shin'ichir Ueda 2017)

    SHIN'ICHIR UEDA: ONE CUT OF THE DEAD//KAMERA O TOMERU NO! (2017)


    HARUMI SYUHAMA IN ONE CUT OF THE DEAD

    TRAILER

    Careful with that axe!

    This movie plays in an original and hilarious manner with the zombie movie genre. It is also a virtuoso display of self-reflection, a making-of a making-of, and it's in three parts. The first part is the film you saw on TV. Later, we learn that it was shot as the first episode for a new all-zombie channel, in a live broadcast single take - no time for edits - so "one cut" has a double meaning. The premise is this: A director whose claim is being "fast, cheap, but average," is making a zombie movie with a small crew in an abandoned water filtration plant in a remote location. During a break caused by the director's discontent (to put it mildly) with the female young lead Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama) for flubbing 42 takes of the scene where she's threatened by her zombified bf, Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya), real zombies begin to attack, and mayhem ensues. After that the director returns and, heedless of the danger and doom coming on the cast, shoots the attacks of the real zombies with delight, maniacally yelling "Action!"

    All this movie was in fact made with virtually unknown actors and on a tiny budget, and part of its charm lies in its revelation of Japanese teamwork and artisanal ingenuity.

    The whole first segment, ending with the title and credits for "One Cut of the Dead," is a tour-de-force nearly forty-minute take. That cheap zombie movie shoot that turns real is just the beginning.

    Part two, set one month earlier, loses the energy and ferocity of the first part, but modulates into a homier, more self-conscious mood. It's from the point of view of the director, Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) and shows his family life, then how he got hired to do the movie, and its peculiar demands. We learn that his wife Nao (Harumi Syuhama) is an actress who's stopped acting, but comes to his shoots, and that his daughter, Mao (Mao) who comes for the rehearsals and later is recruited into the cast, has a crush on the young man in "One Cut's" cast, Ko, apparently a heartthrob, who emerges as a prima donna. What this segment lacks in excitement it makes up on gemtlichkeit. It humanizes the whole affair and takes us to the human stories behind the making-of that is to follow.

    At the last minute, the actress who is to play the older woman can't make it, and Higurashi's retired actress wife Nao steps in. The actor who is to play the director can't make it either, and Higurashi is forced to play the make-believe director as well as the real one. One of the crew members who turns into a zombie, we learn, is an alcoholic who needs a drink to stop his hands from shaking, but if he has one, risks passing out. Another cast member (and make-believe crew member) has something like irritable bowel syndrome, and must be reassured that there will be "port-a-loos" brought in, as the facility has no restrooms.

    Now we begin the third part, the complete "making of," of the film we saw in part one, which we fully appreciate now that we understand, as we must, that this has to be by-the-skin-of-your-teeth guerrilla filmmaking at its most demanding. It's a tribute to Ueda that as everything goes wrong in the shoot and the cast brilliantly improvises, you half expect something to go so terribly wrong that a cast member will actually get his or her head or arm hacked off. There are multiple axes in play.

    The third segment is the most important, and the most complete, but our appreciation of it entirely depends on our having seen the film as it appeared broadcast on TV. Not only do we see the cast running around in "One Cut of the Dead" T shirts moving equipment, splashing blood, and inserting fake chopped-off heads and limbs. We also observe the tribulations of the cast member with the loose bowel problem and the effort necessary to make him appear when the script calls for it. The director must personally revive the drunken actor.

    The hilarity is lightened by the production's success in spite of every malfunction and missed cue. As the TV people watch remotely, things repeatedly go wrong. Yet the cast's improvisations are more gonzo and original than the original script - to which they always return, like a masterful pianist picking up the theme of a concerto after the cadenza. The drunk's wobbly condition makes him an excellent zombie, once they can get him standing up. It's nice to see the prima donna turn into a team player who improvises brilliantly, and it is astonishing to find out why the director's wife is so impressive and even scary as the older woman in the cast.

    One Cut of the Dead /カメラを止めるな! Kamera o tomeru na! ("Do not stop the camera!"), 93 mins., opened in Japan 9 Nov. 2017. It gained international notice at Udine and has been in nine international festivals, including the New York Asian Film Festival, as part of which it was screened for this review, showing 13 Jul. 2018 at 10:20 p.m.


    TAKAYUKI HAMATSU, FOREGROUND, IN ONE CUT OF THE DEAD, WITH YUZUKI AKIYAMA, HARUMI SYUHAMA, KAZUAKI NAGAYA
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-03-2018 at 01:15 AM.

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    CROSSROADS: ONE TWO JAGA (Nam Ron 2018)

    NAM RON: CROSSROADS: ONE TWO JAGA (2018)



    Eeny meeny, mene mene

    Malaysian filmmaker Nam Ron’s third feature is a messy little movie all seen through yellow filters, that aims to show that corruption is everywhere. A longhaired guy carries out his more powerful father's dirty work, starting with burning the body of a worker who died in a fall. He takes a kid along with him who wants to be tough. His older brother hides his sister at a sleazy hotel while arranging for her to return home, because she hates working here. She has lost her passport. Their are other subplots, too many. The main focus is a corrupt cop going around with his new young partner, only 23, whose face is twisted into a scowl of distaste at all the bribes and payoffs he sees. The rookie tries to remain pure, but he turns out to be a loose canon whose desire to play by the rules leads only to tragedy.

    The framing scene shows the rookie, but we don't know him yet, after a beating by interrogator. The next shot is of kids playing a Malaysian "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe" game that separates cops from robbers, both emblematic of how the two are indistinguishable, and referring to the boy, Jaga, who will be caught up in all the mess. The director, Nam Ron, deserves credit for juggling his excessive number of small plot lines clearly enough, for those who are capable of taking them all in. There are too many, though, and a third of them should have been left on the cutting room floor. The trouble is, we don't care deeply about anybody except, briefly, for the rookie cop, who, like everybody else, betrays out trust.

    The film uses Indonesia’s Ario Bayu (Buffalo Boys) and the Philippines’ Timothy Castillo (Neomanila) playing illegal immigrants. (NYAFF festival blurb.)

    See David Pountain's review on FILMDO (penned at the Udine Far East Festival).

    Crossroads: One Two Jaga/One Two Jaga, 80 mins., debuted at Udine 22 Apr. 2018, also showing at Shanghai 16 Jun. It was screened for this review as part of the New York Asian Film Festival, where it shows 29 Jun.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-08-2018 at 11:25 AM.

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    MICROHABITAT (Jeon Go-woon 2017)

    JEON GO-WOON: MICROHABITAT/SO-GONG-NYEO (2017)


    AHN JAE-HONG AND ESOM IN MICROHABITAT

    A winter's tale

    Microhabitat is a Korean debut feature by a woman director who's part of an independent collective called Gwanghwamun Cinema. It's a unique, meditative character study as well as a series of vignettes that serve as a small panorama of a variety of Seoul lifestyles and economic situations. But it doesn't come off as quite so cold and formal as that sounds. It's governed by the unpredictability of Miso (Esom, Lee So-young), an independent, freewheeling woman of 31. When we first meet her she's working as the housekeeper of a well-off young woman, who treats her as a friend.

    Then, Miso discovers the price of a pack of cigarettes has just gone up 80%. It turns out her other essential indulgence is single malt scotch. She considers her carefully allocated finances, and makes the radical decision of moving out of her tiny flat, whose rent has also just gone up $100. She parts on friendly terms with her landlord, who's none too well off himself; the rent on his apartment has just gone up $150.

    Miso is now homeless, but she can afford to smoke and order a glass of good whisky in a bar. She's a spartan kind of sybarite. An IMDb plot outline says she suffers from a deep depression that she assuages with chain smoking and heavy drinking. That is not in the least true, and just shows how Miso's nonconformity can be misread. She is a bohemian. Later, when people whom we've seen her serially visit in the film gather several years later for a funeral and talk about her, they speak with admiration of her good cooking, her skill as a housekeeper, the two dozen eggs she arrived with, and the way she "dressed in layers," which seemed "chic then."

    Miso is a mystery. But she has a boyfriend (Ahn Jae-hong, a regular of the Gwanghwamun Cinema productions), who's a cartoonist. They are very much in love, though rough digs and a cold Seoul winter cause them to put off having sex till spring. Then, he springs a disappointing but practical surprise: he is giving up cartooning, to "live like a normal person," and has volunteered for a job in Saudi Arabia that will last for two years, so he can save up a lot of money, $50,000, he calculates.

    Living with less as she does already, being without her boyfriend for two years is really tough. But Miso is never daunted, never saddened. She smiles, she copes. Each stay with someone - a brother and a sister, neither of whom is as happy as she is by a long shot, a lonely man who lives with his parents, a former classmate who was once needy, but now married to a rich guy. She has a healthy baby boy, and a Freudian slip suggests he may be a torture as much as a joy. When Miso joins her husband for a smoke after dinner, she reveals her insecurity.

    Each visit shows us a different "habitat," a different house or interior and lifestyle. And one of the film's triumphs is a scene where an agent shows Miso a series of increasingly disastrous possible rentals, each one with a worse window with a worse view, higher up in one of the poorest and cheapest parts of Seoul. Each of the vignettes makes a perfectly turned little short story that is at once a sly, often droll psychological study and a look at current Korean manners and economics. And all the while this is a flowing portrait of the free spirit, living on the edge, that is Miso. This is a wise, comical, meditative debut that makes for enjoyable watching. There are little flaws. Some of the transitions are abrupt, the editing is a bit rough. And the English subtitles need some polishing. An interesting film, though, and a budget production that looks great.

    Microhabitat / 소공녀 (So-gong-nyeo,"A Little Princess"), 106 mins., debuted at Busan Oct. 2017, opening in Korea 22 Mar. 2018. It was screened for this review as part of the New York Asian Film Festival at Lincoln Center, where it shows 10 Jul. 2018 at 6:30 p.m.

    The film was reviewed at Busan by Pierce Conran for Screen Anarchy.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-21-2018 at 10:15 PM.

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    RESPETO (Treb Monteras 2017)

    TREB MONTERAS (ALBERTO MONTERAS II): RESPETO (2017)


    ABRA IN RESPETO

    The Philippines seeks a voice and finds a cycle of violence

    Respeto begins as a hiphop coming-of-age movie, a sort of Filipino Eight Mile whose protagonist, Hendrix (Abra), comes from the very poor down-and-dirty world of the Pandacan slums, the underside of Manila, in which underground rap is the new anthem-maker. But first time filmmaker Alberto Monteras II has things to say about every aspect of the Philippines. Rap is only one voice of a story about politics and society. The oppressive Duterte regime is awakening in older Filipinos horrifying memories of the days of Marcos' dictatorship they thought they had gotten rid of. Monteras and his cowriter Njel De Mesa weave this movie into a powerful myth of ongoing conflict and cruelty.

    Petty crime brings Hendrix close to Doc (Dido De La Paz), one of those older Filipinos, a bookseller and protest poet during Marcos, whom Hendrix first tries to rob and then adopts as a mentor. It turns out Doc was a practitioner of balagtasan, a Filipino art of debate conducted in verse, so he was a kind of ancestor rapper.

    Hendrix lives with his sister Connie (Thea Yrastorza) and her boyfriend Mando (Brian Arda), and robs the latter to have money to enter the big local "Versus" rap contest, the movie's first big noisy vrit scene, since like Eight Mile, real rappers are used. He goes first, so we know he's going to lose. He fails miserably, trying to better a large female rapper opponent Luxuria with crude fat jokes. She easily destroys him and he is so daunted he pisses himself, which makes him notorious.

    Then with his sidekicks Betchai (Chai Fonacier) and Payaso (Yves Bagadion) he conceives the idea of robbing Doc to repay his sister's boyfriend. Thus another world enters his life. The movie is in no hurry. Gradually it emerges that 'Drix's sister and boyfriend are selling drugs and use him as their runner. Getting to know Doc through repairing damage they cause breaking in, Hendrix steals a notebook of poetry and uses lines for his raps. But Doc, who may have early stage dementia, and turns out to have suffered traumatically under Marcos, is watching Hendrix and sees worth in him.

    As we learn more about Doc he reveals that his family was abused by Marcos' government thugs and though he smashed one of them in the head with a rock, it felt ineffectual. A parallel was struck early on when at a club Hendrix sees his love Candy (Kate Alejandrino) raped by his perfidious rival Breezy G (Loonie) and can do nothing to stop it. And this mirrors the nation forced to watch impotent as two brutal regimes wreck havoc. In this context while rap contests like Versus are clearly a place where the urban poor can raise a loud voice, they're not seen as saving anything but instead, like the current regime, only play with more conflict, the drug lords bringing awful violence, and the vicious cycle going on.

    Sometimes Respeto seems mired in the vulgarity and crude humor of a third world B-picture. On the other hand local reviewers fall into the airy generalizations of a term paper. It's hard to explain how Monteras welds mud into a meaningful shape, and his movie is so deeply vernacular no outsider can appreciate the message of its constant wordplay. But imperfect as it is, Respeto has more meaning and emotion in it than other more polished entries in the festival, and means a great deal to many Filipino viewers.

    From Susan Claire Agbayani in Rappeler we learn that "National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, and poets Vim Nadera (who had a cameo in the Balagtasan scene in the movie), Frank Rivera and Mark Angeles contributed poems to the film," as well as that actual Filipino rappers Mike Swift, Apekz, Abbaddon, J Skeelz, Mike Kosa and M-Zhayt and female rap artist Luxuria" perform in the Versus scenes speaking their own lines.

    This feisty little movie won several awards including Best Picture at the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival and received a ten-minute standing ovation Aug. 2017, and was released theatrically in the Philippines in Sept. 2017. It surprised and pleased the filmmakers by also winning awards at Cyprus, and it gained more international attention with a Rotterdam screening. It was screened for this review as part of NYAFF, where it shows at 7:30 p.m. on 14 July 2018.


    Poster by V.Aseo and M.Lazarte (from Esquire)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-29-2018 at 05:01 PM.

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    Rivers Edge Isao Yukisada (2018)

    ISAO YUKISADA: RIVER'S EDGE (2018)F


    FUMI NIKAIDO AND RY YOSHIKAWA IN RIVER'S EDGE

    Angsty and chic Japanese high school drama set in 1994

    Ichiru Yamada (Ry Yoshizawa) is the formerly bullied, closeted gay friend of Haruna, the main character (Fumi Nikaido), whose dreams of UFOs doubtless owe something to Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin , but everything in Isao Yukisada's River's Edge is adapted from a popular manga strip by Kyoko Okazaki. This must explain its appeal to an adolescent audience and also the shallowness of the characters. The title, "Ribzu ejji" in the original, a transliteration of the English, references the more tightly plotted 1986 American movie that helped bring Crispin Glover and Keanu Reeves to public notice. Perhaps this is nostalgic for Japanese forty-somethings? The veteran director Isao Yukisada is now 49.

    Ichiiru is still bullied, because Haruna rescues him locked naked in a locker. His victimizer is her own boyfriend, the tall, longhaired wild boy Kannonzaki (Shuhei Uesugi). There is also Kozue Yoshikawa (Sumiru), a bulimic classmate who is in TV ads. Ichiru dates the naive Kanna (Aoi Morikawa), who's unaware that he's gay, just thinks he's "fashionable and mysterious" (using the English word 'mysterious'). Only Haruna knows. Kannonzaki is having sex and snorting coke with the class slut, Rumi (Shiori Doi) - leading to a couple of surprisingly graphic sex scenes. The sequence where Ichiru takes Haruna out into the high grass to show her the decayed corpse he has discovered a year or so ago, having shared this secret earlier with Yoshikawa (they call each other by last names), may evoke Gregg Araki. Araki's Apocalypse Trilogy is more vivid, more fun, but less cool and chic than River's Edge. This film has a ghoulish side, but is also funny; it makes sense to call it a "tragicomedy."

    These are Tokyo sophisticates, yet the atmosphere, the "river's edge" being rough and industrial, is also rather seedy. Rather than developing a coherent plot (though there is plenty of action 3/4 of the way through), the manga narrative seems more designed to show what urban Japanese high schoolers were up to in the Nineties, which could be a revelation for the younger and more naive, and titillation for the older who may have missed out on some of this, or anyway are past it now. But no one would want to be up to all these things, which are both idiotic and terrible. We are witness to crimes. It's manga.

    River's Edge / リバーズ・エッジ ("Ribzu ejji"), 118 mins., debuted in the Panorama section of the Berlinale 15 Feb. 2018 and opened in Japan the next day. It also had festival showings at Hong Kong, South Korea's Jeonju International Festival and Nippon Collection in Germany. It was screened for this review as part of the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival, where it shows 3 Jul. 2018 at 6:30 pm. Jonathan Romney wrote a Screen Daily review from Berlin.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-16-2018 at 11:25 PM.

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    LOOKING FOR LUCKY (Jiang Jiachen 2017)

    JIANG JIACHEN: LOOKING FOR LUCKY


    DING XINHE (LEFT) IN LOOKING FOR LUCKY

    Getting ahead and falling behind

    Looking for Lucky is a Chinese comedy-satire about contentiousness and insecurity. The latter exists for nearly all of us, particularly millennials, in a world where there are hardly any truly secure jobs anymore. In fact this film is so realistic, if ramped-up, and anxious, it's hard to see it as a comedy at times. Nonetheless if may have wide appeal, and Jiang Jiachen stands out in his first feature for his original methods and style.

    Though the film speaks to today's universal insecurity, it uses very specific regional details of Chinese and more precisely northeastern Chinese culture and language. The director says that in Shenyang, the big city in northeastern China that's his hometown and the setting, "people argue continuously." The continuous quarreling involves everybody. As elsewhere in China, bribes are carefully calibrated, even refereed by the police. If you cause any harm that may be actionable, an immediate payoff is expected, and advisable.

    This issue comes up immediately, and maybe nothing quite matches the opening sequence for comedy, or absurd heightening of Shenyang argumentativeness. Zhang Guangsheng (Ding Xinhe), about to finish his master's degree after three years, has been taking care of his Professor, "Old Niu's," white bulldog, Lucky (certainly an ironic name for him). As somebody pointedly declares later, Guangsheng is Old Niu's dog himself. He's momentarily put the care of the dog in the hands of his father (Yu Hai), a laid-off factory worker. A fat woman with a squalling little boy is accusing Guangsheng's father of allowing the dog to bite the kid's finger. The father begs to differ. A little crowd has gathered. Everyone is shouting at the top of their lungs. The dog, however, has disappeared. Guangsheng's father didn't have it on a leash and has let it get out of his sight.

    When Guangsheng arrives, he is immediately in a panic. He vociferously blames his father for his negligence. Guangsheng and his father are continually arguing through most of the movie. But this is a father-son buddy picture. Before the end, the dad's true caring emerges from beneath the contentiousness. Guangsheng's panic leads him into other traps and payoffs besides the fat lady. His (also fat, and comedic-intense) printshop owning buddy insists he must offer a reward for a finder of the dog, and when the notice goes up, some scammers offer a whitish bulldog, then force him to take it by threatening to eat it if he doesn't.

    For contrast, view, if you can, French comic maaster tienne Chatiliez's 2001 comedy Tanguy. That too is about a graduate student whose future is uncertain, and is full of feelings of anxiety, sometimes on the part of the student, Tanguy, more often on that his beleaguered dear maman and pap. His speciality, incidentally, is Chinese. Chatilliez's highly-crafted film maintains a light atmosphere even when the parents are being driven nutty by their pretentious, though exemplary, son who just never seems to be going to move out and leave them in peace. But the posh bourgeois setting of Tanguy and its elaborately constructed, and more leisurely, scenes allow the viewer more breathing room to enjoy the fun at an enjoyable remove, even though stay-at-home adult children are becoming more familiar in the first world.

    In his director's statement for Hong Kong the thirty-four-year-old director lays claim to "a sense of absurdness" in his premise of "a young guy" who is "looking for a dog and a job upon graduation." There is confidence and intensity in Jiang's Cassavetes-style improvisation and a structure that disappears in the action. But it is the 61 long takes of unrelieved nervous action whose exhausting intensity makes it harder to see this movie as laughable or a satire because the comedy is so high strung.

    The dog serves as a symbol of subservience, the subservience of Guangsheng to his professor, the subservience of everyone, especially millennials, to the system. Guangsheng's vague love interest - though he's too busy being servile to his professor to pursue it, if that were even allowable - is a young female student in his year who turns out to have her own way of getting ahead. As the film brings in fellow students Jiang's strong sense of the milieu and particularly of economic factors comes through even more. Though Guangsheng departs for some job as a finale and Old Niu has been suitably dealt with, Looking for Lucky isn't about resolution. It's about the problem, and the absurdities and extremes it leads people into.

    Looking for Lucky debuted at Hong Kong (see listing), also showing at Shanghai, receiving the Asian New Talent Award and two nominations there. It was screened for this review as part of the NYAFF, showing 8 July at 2:30 PM.


    DING XINHE AND YU HAI IN LOOKING FOR LUCKY
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-03-2018 at 12:09 AM.

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    OLD BEAST/LAO SHOU (Jhou Ziyang 2017)

    JHOU ZIYANG: OLD BEAST/LAO SHOU (2017)


    TU MEN IN OLD BEAST

    Family relations

    Lao Yang (Tu Men), the center of this tale, is a despicable sixty-something pater familias who at first just seems a wretch. His wife is dying in the hospital and he is lavishing expensive gifts on his mistress and grandson and blowing cash at cheesy massage parlors and Mahjong dives. And it gets worse. His married siblings wrangle over the cost of an operation for his wife, their mother, and when they reluctantly agree and put money together, he steals it and blows it. Then an old shepherd buddy leaves him his camel, which is awaiting the vet, and he sells the camel and pawns his little motorbike to buy a cow, which he fobs off on his naive friend as more profitable than the camel. The family are so angry they lock him in a cellar. But cell phones are wonderful, and he gets the police to let him out, and sues his family. That, later, he regrets, when he wins.

    But in this beautifully photographed film (by Belgian China resident Matthias Delvaux) with its compelling lead performance there is more than just the picture of an aging rogue digging himself into a deep dark hole. This is a grim watch but also a complex and original one - even if its picture of modern China, with its failed new city and squabbling, mercenary and selfish youngsters, is not so unusual.

    The setting plays a constant role. It is the city of Ordos. And therein lie Lao Yang's extenuating circumstances. In Inner Mongolia, it's perhaps the government's most spectacular failure among its new towns to resettle populations in (hopefully) growing industrial areas. It's a vast cluster of old slums and abandoned new highrise developments laced with grandiose statuary. As Lao Yang tools around on his little motorbike, with his small, plump body and big head topped with a grand mound of pearly gray hair, his bravely youthful leather jacket and pseudo-stylish sunglasses, the Neverland of failed urban development hovers with mocking indifference behind him.

    Here, real estate collapsed, and Lao Yang was in real estate. But before that decline of his fortunes, he was successful, and from his manner, probably powerful (the actor, Tu Men, once notably played Genghis Khan). He worked hard to get his children educations and set them up with careers and spouses. Now, they don't need him. In this context, his dissolute behavior is an act of protest in the face of ingratitude. The spouses of the children are chillier than the children themselves. These general facts either you know or you figure out, in watching. They are embedded in the action, emerging in remarks Lao Yang makes. "You don't like Lao Yang?" this movie says: "Well, just look at the rest of his family." There's no one to like.

    At first, with his late night gambling and his outer polish and mask of white hair Lao Yang made me think of Roger Duchesne in Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le Flambeur. But Bob is a benevolent, failed crook, whose gambling hurts nobody. His elegance doesn't get tarnished. He is nice to his concierge. Still Lao Yang is an unusual choice of protagonist and he makes you cast around. Later as events stayed gloomy and got darker and Lao Yang got blood on his nose and mud on his shoes, my thoughts turned to the films of Robert Bresson. But that won't work either because here the struggling is menial and never ennobling as in Bresson.

    There are indications in this feature debut that Jhou Ziyang is a quite original voice. He has found a unique point of view in this unlikable protagonist, and a specific place in this big hulk of a city.

    What is Lao Yang doing at the end when he returns home to care for his dying wife? Has he reformed? Has he repented? Or has he merely found the only comfortable birth for himself and a new maliciousness behind a new mask? At times he has only his cigarettes and his flip phone, and his cigarettes are rumpled and his flip phone is losing power. Lao Yang is one of the loneliest men in Chinese cinema. And that's something to see.

    Old Beast / 老獸 Lǎo shu ("Old Beast"), 108 mins., first appeared in July 2017 at Xining, then was noticed at Tokyo in Oct., and Taipei in Nov. and it was reviewed by Richard Kuipers in Variety and Clarence Tsui in Hollywood Reporter. It won three prizes and four nominations, getting the FIPRESCI Prize, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay (and Zhou penned his own screenplay) at Taiwan's Golden Horse awards. It received theatrical releases in China (Dec. 2017) and Taiwan (Jan. 2018), with other festival showings (Miami, Singapore); it was screened for this review as part of the New York Asian Film Festival at Lincoln Center, where it shows Tues., 3 Jul. 2018 at 9 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-01-2018 at 09:53 AM.

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    WRATH OF SILENCE//BAO LIE WU SHEN (Xin Yukun 2018)

    XIN YUKUN: WRATH OF SILENCE/BAO LIE WU SHEN (2018)


    JIANG WU IN WRATH OF SILENCE WITH "A SQUIFFY HAIRDO" (ELLEY) - A MARCEL WAVE, A RURAL LUXE LIKE FOREIGN CIGS?

    Mute revenge in the wilds

    Derek Elley of Sino-Cinema as usual provides informed and linguistically savvy comments on this film, summarizing its elaborate plot, then evaluating the execution, comparing it favorably with careful assessment of the 33-year-old Chinese filmmaker's previous efforts. Clarence Tsui makes further claims for this new film in his Hollywood Reporter review.

    The lead character is a mute miner, Zhang Baomin (Song Yang), who returns to the dusty Inner Mongolian hills to find his 12-year-old sheep-herding son missing and foul play, not for the first time, going on among the mining companies on the part of the local tycoon, Chang Wannian (wuxia movie vet Jiang Wu). Chang is "villainous," with all that implies of the slightly over-the-top. In between is Xu Wenjie (Yuan Wenkang), a cleancut looking but morally tainted lawyer under investigation for activities with Chang.

    Reviewers consider this to be a film that plays impressively with elements of Western and noir genre. Elley comments that Xin's 2014 debut had "unnecessarily arty" elements, but this movie "falls somewhere between commercial and arthouse cinema in consistently interesting ways."

    Whether the balance feels right depends on the viewer's commitment to the action, which for me wavered at first. It seemed the opening scene's exploitation of the photogenic quality of sheep; a suddenly missing small boy; a vengeful, angry mute man; and a sleazy local boss stuffing his face with greasy chunks of meat were laying on the cinematic gestures rather thick for just the first fifteen minutes. But isn't one of my favorite modern movies, Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, pretty much an oddball, arty Western through and through? There's no doubt that Xin Yukun wields his version of a cowboy revenge movie with skills equal to ambition,helped by a Korean martial arts director for fight sequences and a cadre of accomplished and known professional actors in key roles.

    It's nothing like Dead Man, of course. It does not subvert genre in such an original way and is more just an actioner. Despite occasional artful juxtapositions by the editor, Hu Shuzhen, the arty feel fades by midway when the film settles into a lot of chasing around, with two missing children and Baomin taking on crowds of bad guys singlehanded. It's modern western, basically, with an Asian martial arts vibe, in which people just have flip phone rather than smart phones. Actress Tan Zhuo, by the way, stays at home, underused, as Baomin's wife, Xia Cui.

    Wrath of Silence / 暴裂无声 (Bao lie wu shen, "breakless silence") 119 mins., debuted Jul. 2017 at First International Film Festival Xining, then showing at London, Taipei, Singapore, Macao. It was screened for this review as part of the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival, showing 9 July 2018 at 6:30 p.m. New York Premiere Q&A with director Xin Yukun and actor Jiang Wu, who will receive the Star Asia Award.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-17-2018 at 12:15 AM.

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    PARADOX (Wilson Yip 2017)

    WILSON YIP: PARADOX (2017)


    CHRIS COLLINS AND LOUIS KOO IN PARADOX

    A trip to Thailand

    Paradox is as adept as many other Hong Kong action movies, including the two previous of the 'SPL' franchise to which it is linked. This one takes us from Hong Kong to a new location and a kidnapping for very nefarious purposes. The themes of pregnant daughters and organ theft are interwoven in a pretty disturbing way. But they're there not so much for any depth of exploration as to function as engines for action requiring a variety of bad guys and some frenetic running around.

    At the center is Hong Kong cop Lee Chung-Chi (the handsome and buff and newly martial-arts-ready Louis Koo). His teenaged daughter Wing-Chi (Hanna Chan) brings the unwelcome news that she's pregnant by some uneducated stranger she wants to marry now. Rather than blessing this union, Lee gets the boy arrested, and this leads Wing-Chi to flee to Thailand, where's she's kidnapped by organ thieves to provide a heart transplant for the aging and ailing mayor of Bangkok seeking reelection. Given that his brutality has set off the fate of his daughter, the heroic Lee isn't so heroic after all, an aspect that might have made for richer treatment than it gets here.

    The mayor and his breathtakingly unscrupulous manager Cheng Hon-Sau (Gordon Lam) provide one subplot. The organ theft kingpin, a burly and crude American called Sacha (Chris Collins) whose cover is a meatpacking plant, is the other. Lee links up with local cops Chui Kit (Wu Yue) - whose wife is pregnant (another, parallel, subplot) and ranking officer Chai (Vithaya Pansringarm) - a little too close to local government bosses to be honest. They are joined, all too briefly, by the acrobatic Thai martial arts star Tony Jaa, as a another local cop. As Lee pursues his search sometimes with fellow cops, sometimes on his own, he's occasionally also helped by a good-hearted hooker (Jacky Cai).

    If a righteous, vengeful cop wiping out a horde of bad guys in a warehouse is your thing Paradox will be all you need. The action sequences are relentless and hyper-active. The scenery is pretty. The bad guys are really bad. But there isn't enough complexity to the plot to make this stand out from so many Hong Kong action movies with cops and bad guys. The local industry is shown by this festival selection to be producing this genre as well as ever, but it becomes ever harder to bring out a truly original one.

    If Paradox stands out from its peers, it could be for the preponderance of brutal hand-to-hand combat, which includes a wealth of knife-cuts and spurting blood, all executed with precision and clarity. A man listening to a beating heart may be the most memorable image, however. Sammo Hung was in charge of the fight choreography. The work of dp Kenny Tse is impeccable. The writing of Nick Cheuk and Lai-Yin Leung could have been more plausible. For a convincing tale of organ theft, go to Stephen Frears' 2002 Dirty Pretty Things , or for a truly great film about a dicey heart transplant, watch Claire Denis' 2004 L'intrus/The Intruder.

    Paradox / 殺破狼・貪狼 (Sha po lang: taam long, "The Killing Wolf"), 98 mins., opened in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand in Aug.-Oct. 2017, showing at San Diego and Taipei Nov., releasing i South Korea and Japan in 2018. Screened for this review as part of NYAFF, showing 4 Jul, 2018 at 7:45 p.m.

    Reviewed in Hollywood Reporter and Screen Anarchy .
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-03-2018 at 12:25 AM.

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    HIT THE NIGHT (Jeong Ga-young 2017)

    JEONG GA-YOUNG: HIT THE NIGHT (2017)


    PARK JONG-HWAN AND JEONG GA-YOUNG IN HIG THE NIGHT

    Boy hunting in the rough

    Jeong Ga-young is most known in Korea as an actress, but as she turns to directing as well, she invites the description of "female Hong Sang-soo" with this film consisting, like Hong's, of long scenes of talking and drinking. This variation lacks the polish or the charm of Hong, but in its relative crudeness and its flipping of the gender roles, it may have more bite.

    An aspiring female director, also called Ga-young and played by Jeong, seeks to seduce male acquaintance Jin-nyeok (Park Jong-hwan) through a lengthy, provocative interview, ostensibly conducted as parparation for a film (she takes notes). Ga-young delves into Jin-nyeok's love-life over a night of drinking. Jeong is small, with short hair. Jin-nyeok is tall, with bushy, boyish hair (Park has worked as a fashion model). Jeong started as a director with the 2016 Bitch on the Beach, which references Hong Sang-soo directly. This Ga-young is neither subtle nor romantic, starting right out with questions about how many times Jin-nyeok masturbates, whether he thinks of his girlfriend as he does so, and so on. Jin-nyeok is a sufficiently complex (and understated) personality to make the outcome uncertain.

    Jin-nyeok may be the boy of Ga-young's dreams, and at least she hints that she's interested, but he repeatedly says that he isn't. Given her laughably inappropriate approach, that's no surprise. We also understand that she is paying him for this "interview," though its purpose as preparation for a film seems dubious. On the other hand, Jin-nyeok doesn't walk away.

    The evening starts with dinner, then moves on to drinks, and ends with karaoke. The drinking they do at a kind of club with booths. When Jin-nyeok goes to the bathroom, he has a hard time remembering which booth they were in. At the Karaoke club, a plump, bespectacled friend of Jin-nyeok's appears. She goes walking with this new guy,who unlike Jin-nyeok, is quite willing to kiss her. They seem to hit it off. But she won't allow him to accompany her home. She calls back Jin-nyeok, saying the interview wasn't over, and there is more conversation, unsatisfying for her.

    There is discussion of a film Ga-young made or wanted to make, a sort of knockoff of Park Chan-wook'sOldboy, and uncertainty about the ending. And so Jeong prepares us for the non-ending of this film, with Ga-young alone, back at her apartment, sitting at a desk.

    As one who has watched with pleasure a dozen or so of Hong Sang-soo's prolific output, it was natural to be curious about a female version, but I was somewhat disappointed, since this movie not only lacks the fluency and sparkle of Hong, but also Jeong, as an actress, is blatantly no match for the beauty and vivacity of Hong's current muse, Kim Min-hee. On the other hand, one can see how Park Jong-hwan could have won an acting prize. He disappears into his role seamlessly, making every reaction and answer feel spontaneous. And there is finally something solid here. In the relative crudity of Jeong's film compared to Hong's, the awkwardness of the situation, with the confident but abashed man and the timid predatory woman, is allowed to feel complex without any external effort, and the role reversal, coming in Korea in the "Me Too" era, has resonance.

    But all is not aces here. The minimal situation and talky two-hander wears out its welcome half way through if not before. The tech aspects are only so-so, with some imbalances in the sound.

    Hit the Night / 밤치기 (Bam-chi-gi, "Chestnuts"), 85 mins., debuted at Busan, where it won the Actor of the Year Award (for Park Jong-hwan) and the Vision-Director's Award. It also showed at Rotterdam in Jan. 2018 and in competition in the Seoul International Woman's Feature Festival Jun. 2018. Screened for this review as part of the New York Asian Film Festival, showing July 6, 2018 at 6 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-03-2018 at 12:39 AM.

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    THE EMPTY HANDS (Chapman To 2017)

    CHAPMAN TO: THE EMPTY HANDS (2017)


    STEPHY TANG IN THE EMPTY HANDS

    A girl can't be herself

    In his second outing as a director, in which he also costars, Hong Kong actor Chapman To (Du Wenze) takes on the amusing and original tale of a young woman called Mari (Stephy Tang, in what has been heralded as a career-best performance) and her struggle to break away from the strict lifestyle of her Japanese karate master father (Kurata Yasuaki) after he suddenly dies. Here is female empowerment, accompanied by many droll as well as serious ironies.

    Mari has had to grow up in a not-so-huge Hong Kong apartment that was mostly a karate dojo. Set design is one of this movie's special delights, particularly of the apartment, with its austere, zen dojo and the little, cramped living space it allows, a mass of crushed-together clutter. Daddy forced Mari to participate fully in his karate world, training and competing intensely, which she never liked, despite a gift for it. She finally quit, and they became estranged, while she snuck away frequently to enjoy a love affair with a married man, a radio DJ named Calvin (Ryan Lau). Then, when her father dies, Mari rejoices at the prospect of closing the dojo, whose business has dwindled lately anyway. She will live a free life, subdividing the well-located apartment into tiny apartments and living idly as a Hong Kong slumlord.

    But that is not to be. Cue to lawyer-reading-the-will scene. Her father, it transpires, has left 51% of the dojo to a former student Mari can't even remember, the - to her - mysterious Chan Kent (Chapman To) a man who turns out to have just been released from prison. And so, to Mari's distress, Chan Kent comes to take over the running of the dojo with Mute Dog (Stephen Au), her father's main teacher, whose gruff ways she had hoped to be rid of. To make matters worse, Mari's boyfriend, Calvin, has just broken up with her. Her only comfort is her longtime friendship with buxom and down-to-earth BFF Peggy (Dada Chan), who works in a massage parlor with bj finales.

    The movie unfolds all these complex details efficiently and entertainingly in the first half hour, including flashbacks to Mari's force-fed karate childhood, love-scenes with boyfriend Calvin, combative cuddles with Peggy, and noble, solitary karate workouts by Mari's chilly but distinguished-looking Japanese father, accompanied by the occasional splash of baroque music. Later an elegant flashback shows how Kent was rejected by Mari's dad for using karate selfishly, then got his several years' jail time for assault using it as he would like, to protect a little girl against a sexual predator. It is at this point, on his release, that he and Mari meet.

    Then, when she makes her objection to life with him running the dojo clear, Chan Kent has a proposition: if she will enter a karate contest and simply remain standing, whether she wins or loses, he will sign off his part of the property to her and she'll never see him again. She does this, encountering a small but muscular and rough opponent who smashes her bloody. Many flashbacks - neatly done - show how her father's teachings have fortified her, though, and in the end she triumphs. The fight, despite all the cross-cutting, is very convincingly staged, Stephy Tang's karate chops convincing throughout.

    Director To delivers a final sequence that neatly contrasts with this busy action. He takes a step that's so artistically valuable and so rare: he lets the film stop to breathe, with Mari alone in the dojo, having an imaginary dialogue with her father. As the film ends. nothing is decided, and we are left to contemplate its themes of rebellion, responsibility, and self defeat.

    THE EMPTY HANDS / 空手道 Hung sau dou ("Karate"), 87 mins, opened theatrically 2 Nov. 2017 in Hong Kong, and in early Jan. 2018 in Taiwan; also was shown at Singapore May 2018. It was screened for this review as part of the New York Asian Film Festival, showing 6 Jul. 2018 at 8:15 p.m. Q&A with actress Stephy Tang, who will receive the Screen International Rising Star Award.

    See Derek Elley's sino-savvy review on Sino-Cinema for further details, including the actual Chinese names of the actors, etc. Elizabeth Kerr wrote a review for Hollywood Reporter ("One of the strangest martial arts dramas ever made").


    [SIZE] DESIGNER CLUTTER: MARI'S BEDROOM IN THE EMPTY HANDS.[/SIZE]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-28-2018 at 07:51 AM.

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