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Thread: ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL Lincoln Center June 28-July 14, 2019

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    FULL LINEUP (53)
    Titles in bold are included in the Main Competition; the list excludes the secret screening.

    More detailed list of films H.E.R.E

    CHINA (11)
    Co-presented with Confucius Institute Headquarters and China Institute

    – The Crossing (Bai Xue, 2018)
    – A First Farewell (Wang Lina, 2018) – U.S. Premiere
    – If You Are Happy (Chen Xiaoming, 2019) – New York Premiere
    – Jinpa (Pema Tseden, 2018) U.S. Premiere
    – Push and Shove (Wu Nan, 2019) – North American Premiere
    – The Rib (Wei Zhang, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – Savage (Cui Siwei, 2018)
    – Uncle and House (Luo Hanxing, 2019) – International Premiere
    – Winter After Winter (Xing Jian, 2019) – North American Premiere
    – White Snake (Amp Wong, Ji Zhao, 2019) – North American Premiere
    – Wushu Orphan (Huang Huang, 2018) – North American Premiere

    Presented with the support of Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York

    – The Attorney (Wong Kwok Fai, 2019) – International Premiere
    – The Fatal Raid (Jacky Lee, 2019) – North American Premiere
    – G Affairs (Lee Cheuk Pan, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – Iron Monkey (Yuen Woo-ping, 1993) – Tribute to Yuen Woo-ping
    – Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (Yuen Woo-ping, 2018) – Tribute to Yuen Woo-ping
    – The Miracle Fighters (Yuen Woo-ping, 1982) – Tribute to Yuen Woo-ping
    – Missbehavior (Pang Ho-cheung, 2019)
    – See You Tomorrow (Zhang Jiajia, 2016) – North American Premiere
    – Still Human (Oliver Siu Kuen Chan, 2018) – New York Premiere
    …and the secret screening!

    – 212 Warrior (Angga Dwimas Sasongko, 2018) – North American Premiere

    JAPAN (11)
    – 5 Million Dollar Life (Moon Sungho, 2019) – North American Premiere
    – Complicity (Kei Chikaura, 2018) – New York Premiere
    – Dare to Stop Us (Kazuya Shiraishi, 2018) – New York Premiere
    – The Fable (Kan Eguchi, 2019) – U.S. Premiere
    – Fly Me to the Saitama (Hideki Takeuchi, 2019) – New York Premiere
    – The Gun (Masaharu Take, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – Hard-Core (Nobuhiro Yamashita, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – Jam (SABU, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – Lying to Mom (Katsumi Nojiri, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – Mr. Long (SABU, 2017)
    – Samurai Marathon (Bernard Rose, 2019) – North American Premiere

    MALAYSIA (1)
    – Walk with Me (Ryon Lee, 2019) – North American Premiere

    – Ma (Kenneth Lim Dagatan, 2018) – International Premiere
    – Signal Rock (Chito S. Roo, 2018) – New York Premiere


    – Zombiepura (Jacen Tan, 2018) – North American Premiere

    Presented with the support of the Korean Cultural Center New York
    100 Years of Korean Cinema KOFIC program
    – Another Child (Kim Yoon-seok, 2019) – North American Premiere
    – Dark Figure of Crime (Kim Tae-gyoon, 2018) – New York Premiere
    – Kokdu: A Story of Guardian Angels (Kim Tae-yong, 2018) – U.S. Premiere
    – Maggie (Yi Ok-seop, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – Money (Park Noo-ri, 2018) – New York Premiere
    – Move the Grave (Jeong Seung-o, 2018) ) – International Premiere
    – The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale (Lee Min-jae, 2019) – North American Premiere
    – A Resistance (Joe Min-ho, 2019) – North American Premiere
    – Sub-Zero Wind (Kim Yu-ri, 2018) – North American Premiere

    TAIWAN (4)
    Presented with the support of Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York

    – Han Dan (Huang Chao-liang, 2019) – North American Premiere
    – It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Show (Hsieh Nien Tsu, 2019) – North American Premiere
    – The Scoundrels (Tzu-Hsuan Hung, 2018) – North American Premiere
    – Someone in the Clouds (Mitch Lin and Gary Tseng, 2018) – International Premiere

    THAILAND (1)
    – The Pool (Ping Lumpraploeng, 2018) – North American Premiere

    VIETNAM (2)

    – Furie (Le Van Kiet, 2019)
    – Song Lang (Leon Le, 2018) – New York Premiere
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-23-2019 at 10:12 AM.

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    SAMURAI MARATHON (Benard Rose 2019)



    Runners world, Tokugawa style

    It's difficult to know what to make of this film, set in 1850's Japan, shortly after the arrival of Commodore Perry (Danny Houston, in the director's Frankenstein four years ago), breaking the country's centuries of isolation with his "Black Shiips." It's based on a presumably tongue-in-cheek 2014 novel by Akihiro Dobashi. This is not historical, you can count on that. Some aspects feel like a YA novel - blown up into a disorganized but pretty flashy film. And some of it is just wacky. It premiers as the Opening Night film of the 18th edition of the New York Asian Film Festival. It's a Japanese sort-of samurai movie, in Japanese, made by a British director known for Tolstoy adaptations admired by the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, the Beethoven biopic Immortal Beloved, and the horror movie Candyman. Go figure. It doesn't fit into any category. It had to stand by itself.

    The Japan Times' reviewer James Hadfield has commented on an uncertainty of tone. He calls it "not-quite-comedic." But is that like not-quite-pregnant? Rose achieves visual beauty, has an all-star cast, and a score by Philip Glass that's energetic and elegantly stirring. The plot is too complicated to summarize and its early presentation is a jumble. If you want to see a motley crew of actors running an extended marathon (as described it's about 36 miles) through forests and mountains, this is your movie.

    Along the way you've got a lot of cheaters, a lot of blood and mayhem, a little kid with an old samurai sensei, a repentant spy, a trigger-happy madman, and a runaway princess. And some pretty tired guys. There only seems to be one fellow, described as a "foot soldier" and therefore looked down upon, who's in any way trained as a runner when it all begins. Some elements are certainly comedic. But you'd need a sick sense of humor to laugh at all the disgorgements and beheadings, with realistic sound effects that must be holdovers from the director's horror film, Candyman.

    The marathon is an offbeat way for a feudal lord, Itakura Katsuakira ((Hiroki Hasegawa) of the Annaka clan, to get his men in shape for the tricky situation of having foreigners in the country. Unbeknownst to Katsuakira, there's a spy for the Shogun in his midst, Jinnai (Takeru Satoh), and he mistakes the marathon preparations for the planning of a rebellion and sends off a secret report that will lead to all the runners being killed. When he finds out his mistake he frantically sets off on a marathon of his own to ward off this action. Meanwhile there is Princess Yuki (Nana Komatsu), who can't get past the checkpoint.

    For a while running of the marathon gives the cinematographer a chance to provide gorgeous displays of Japanese scenery and provides the tangled up action with some solid focus. Everybody seems to want to join in, like the Boston Marathon or the Bay to Breakers, wearing whatever they've got on, and that includes the (unsuccessfully) disguised Princess Yuki and the kid with the elderly sensei. There are understandable efforts to cheat with shortcuts and stolen horse-rides. There is blood, several beheadings, some awful use of the Colt 45 "Peacemaker"; sword fights, of course; some nasty uses of rope; even a bow and arrow. The marathon gets a bit lost. I was confused (not for the first time) about why the runners were being identified and given chits and turned around at a checkpoint, while some runners avoided that.

    The focus on the marathon gets diffused as the vigorous conflicts between rival bands lead to fighting the neat lining up of corpses, but still there is a remaining band of brave samurais back in the race, and when there's a shot of them speeding away with feet bound in frayed cloth, as a former participant in modern marathons myself, I winced. But the race is still on, and the arguments rage about who'll allow whom to win. Then more stuff happens. The crazy plot-spinner pulls out all the stops. It's funny, violent, silly, and strangely stirring the way things end. Darned if I wasn't kind of touched.

    Samural Marathon/サムライマラソン 103 mins., was released in Japan Feb. 22, 2019, and gets its US debut Jun. 28 as the Opening Night Film of the New York Asian Film Festival, 7 pm, at the Walter Reade Theater.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-21-2019 at 10:31 AM.

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    JINPA (Pema Tseden 2018)


    [NYAFF blurb.]

    Stoic truck driver Jinpa picks up a silver-dagger-wearing hitchhiker in the desolate Kekexili plateau. The stranger suddenly reveals he’s going to kill the man who murdered his father. After they part ways, Jinpa starts to reflect and goes looking for him, ostensibly to prevent further bloodshed. Pema Tseden’s sixth feature, produced by Wong Kar Wai, boasts mesmerizing cinematography, striking mis en scene, and a deceptively minimalist story for an existential road movie of spiritual transcendence. Dream and reality meld in this stark tale, with its Tibetan locales conjuring the feel of a philosophical art-house Western.
    Received the Orizzonti award for Best Screenplay at Venice.
    Reviewed by Boyd van Hoeij in Hollywood Reporter and Jonathan Romney in ScreenDaily and in Asian Movie Pulse.
    Sat., June 29
    3:30 PM
    Walter Reade Theater
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-22-2019 at 02:21 AM.

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    THE GUN 銃 (Masaharu Take 2018)



    Chekhov's gun rule observed

    One senses a nihilistic streak in Japanese culture and aimless university student Toru Nishikawa (Nijir Murakami) has one that gets a dangerous boost when he comes across a pistol by the riverside one night, takes it home, and begins polishing and admiring it. It's a handsome .357 magnum, and it's loaded with bullets. Toru lives alone. He has a pal at the fac, a cheerful boy in a pork pie hat who wants to join him in picking up babes, but Toru keeps his babes to himself. There's one for sex, the other, the emotionally delicate Yukio (Alice Hirose) he really cares about and is shy with. The gun makes Toru feel sexier.

    Apparently it's okay to smoke everywhere in Japan, even on the subway. Toru lights up with the satisfying ka-ching of his Zippo every time he goes anywhere, the school cafeteria, cafes with the babes, after sex. We know that Toru, a foster child with little connection to his adopted parents, and here, a proven disinterest in his real father, would rather light up than express his feelings. A voiceover where he narrates helps us guess what's in his head, but just barely.

    Next door to Toru's solitary apartment there is a time bomb. A woman moves in who is loudly abusive to her small son. The boy doesn't talk to anybody, but his pain shows to Toru when he leaves behind a plastic bag containing live crayfish with their legs torn off. Toru is watching the irresponsible mother, noting her habits, when she grocery-shops.

    This screenplay by the director and Hideki Shishido is a kind of existential horror story. It's also stylish, style taking the place of morality or inner self-worth for the young existential protagonist. In fact Nijiro Murakami is a fashion plate. Waif-cute, a look that the popularity of skating superstar Yuzuru Hanyu showed appeals to Japanese women of all ages, as Toru Nijiro has anime hair and, for summer, wears long white open-top T shirts, loose white blouses, and a long half-length white smock like a lab coat, his slim jeans fashionably rolled at the bottom, black shoes immaculately invisible. Toru starts supplementing his sharp-looking, demonstrably empty day-pack with a black slung pouch containing the pistol, because he decides since he has it, he might as well start carrying it around. It feels so good to have it!

    The whole idea of a weapon probably carries a frisson in relatively peaceable Japan that it would lack in the gun-crazy States.

    Is it a surprise that somebody notices him when one night he shoots a cat, wearing his white smock, and, wildly excited, runs away from the scene? Soon an umbrella-toting detective shows up at Toru's door. .357 Magnums are a bit thin on the ground in Tokyo, and he left a bullet in the cat that matches the one in the dead man where Toru found the gun. The all-knowing visitor is played by the always excellent Lily Franky, who sets the parameters of the situation with crushing thoroughness in his words to the tight-lipped Toru when they adjourn to a coffee shop. To go out for this interview, Toru dons a black smock instead of the white one, but that doesn't fool the cop. The film suffers from a lack of options. But perhaps that is the point. For Toru, life is a dead end.

    As Mark Hadfield noted in his Japan Times review, though The Gun is adapted from a the 2002 debut novel of Fuminori Nakamura, it would "feel familiar" simply if you're read Crime and Punishment or "the works of Albert Camus and Kobo Abe" - though, as Hadfield adds, this movie isn't on that exalted level. It's more simply a mood piece that plays with the sense that youths who aren't motivated at university or have good family backgrounds may be, as it were, loaded guns.

    Hiromitsu Nishimura is responsible for the black and white cinematography, which goes well with Murakami's alternately black or white outfits. Sometimes the style seems the only thing, but as Hadfield notes, despite some "weak soundtrack choices," Take sustains a nice combination of tension and despair to the end. The Gun has the qualities of a good short story, and it could come back to haunt you.

    The Gun 銃 (J), 98 mins., debuted at the Tokyo film festival Nov. 2, 2018 winning the Japanese Cinema Splash Best Director award; Nijir Murakami won the Tokyo Gemstone award for his performance. The Japanese theatrical release was Nov. 17, 2018. Reviewed for Filmleaf as part of the NYAFF, where it has its North American debut.
    Sunday, June 30
    6:15 PM
    Walter Reade Theater

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-23-2019 at 01:58 AM.

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    WUSHU ORPHAN 观武林孤儿 (Huang Huang 2018)



    Yearnin' learnin'

    In the late ’90s, the clean cut geeky Lu Youhong (Noah Jin) takes a first teaching job as the instructor in Chinese (to which maths and English are quickly added as faculty members defect) at the remote Zhige Wushu Academy for martial-arts for young boys. It's an arid environment for humanistic learning. The wushu lessons, intensely physical, leave little time or energy for book learning and that's okay with the headmaster. Moreover Lu isn't anybody special. He's gotten this job because he's the dean's nephew. The dean wants him to serve as a "catfish," stirring some life into the sluggish, bored other faculty members.

    This is an atmospheric period piece that charms by reveling in the simple life of inland China more than two decades ago, when there are no computers or smart phones and you pay someone to use a local phone if you need to talk outside. The school buildings are big and old and rustic.

    These boys in the early teens, all wearing identical red and white school sweat suits, are in fine shape, visible at shower time, an anonymous cast that seems to have been carefully screened for athletic talent. Their mass displays of uniformly choreographed martial arts moves led by harsh coach You Hu are impressive. This is an old fashioned tale of boarding school sufferings and life lessons. But this is a special place because 99% of the students live only for the dream of becoming another Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or Jet Li.

    Of young novice teacher Lu's many students, only one visibly cares about academics: Zhang Cuishan (Hou Yunxiao), who excels at schoolwork but hates martial arts and tries to run away all the time, getting caught on one of his escapes in fact on the very day of Lu's arrival - by bicycle - the way most people got around in China before the industrial capitalist boom time came. As Lu tries to form a protective bond with the bullied Zhang, whose parents live on a boat and have sent him away because he can't swim, he also develops a crush on the school’s pretty young doctor An Lan and receives insider tips and wisdom from the principal’s quirky grown son Jiang Qin, who ranks lower in his father's eyes than his beloved pet falcon. Jiang Qin likes to chew gum and smoke. He's a slacker who hangs around at the school, out of favor with his father but ever present on the fringes.

    There is also an elderly marshal arts guru, a distinguished-looking Mr. Miyagi type with goatee and eyepatch, who wanders the country looking for opponents. Only later in this longish two-hour film does this season-marking subplot make sense. Huang Huang's movie, simple and crowd-pleasing but ambitious in its way, almost wants to be a TV miniseries, the director seeming as enthusiastic and willing to take on additional subjects as his young schoolteacher protagonist.

    Whushu Orphan 武林孤儿, 120 mins., premiered at the 31st Tokyo International Film Festival, where Huang Huang was awarded the Spirit of Asia Award for a promising new director presented in the Asian Future section. Reviewed in Asian Movie Pulse.
    Sunday, June 30
    8:30 PM
    Walter Reade Theater
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-23-2019 at 09:16 PM.

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    THE SCOUNDRELS 狂徒 (Hung Tzu-Hsuan 2018)



    The mayhem and the speculation

    It would seem strange for a fan of Edward Yang and Ho Hsiau Hsien to think of a violent crime movie out of Taiwan, but a story from Vancouver dated less than two weeks ago is headlined "Crime dramas dominate this year’s Taiwanese Film Festival." So there you are. One title listed, strangely, is from 2017 and was in last year's NYAFF, The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful - but that's because it's the Taiwanese Film Festival of Vancouver. A brief but knowledgeable review of The Scoundrels comes from LP Hugo of Asian Film Strike, a young Parisian who writes in impeccable English and who's clearly a big fan of Asian actioners.

    The Scoundrels is an actioner, alright. In fact you have to sift through the nearly nonstop violence of the first twenty minutes to locate the plot elements, in particular a protagonist, Ray (aka Rui aka Liao Wen-jui) (JC Lin), who's a pro basketball player so disgraced after he beats up a member of the crowd in a terrible fit of anger during a game that he's not allowed to play ever again, and, because his debt to the injured party leaves him broke, drifts into servile tasks for a crime boss, setting up hits for a sophisticated car theft ring.

    Through an attempt to do good that goes awry, he becomes the sidekick of the anonymous Raincoat Robber aka Ben / Wu Shun-Wei (Wu Kang-Ren). This relationship between Ray Ben LP Hugo calls a "love/hate bromance," and once it gets going and one has gotten used to the high speed, adrenaline-drenched action, things start to make sense, though Elizabeth Kerr is right her in Hollywood Reporter when she says this film "zips by so economically there’s no time to register its flaws." That's part of what's going on.

    The NYAFF blurb explains that /Ray has been "hijacked and framed for robbery" while he is "trying to help an injured woman." The robbery he's framed for was done by the Raincoat Robber. The latter stops Ray from helping the woman to escape in a car driven by him, and it's thus that Ray gets drawn into what the blurb calls "a downward spiral of crime, treachery, and violence." And then you realize this idea of a Raincoat Robber, who holds up armored cars wearing a motorcycle helmet and raincoat, in heavy rain, is another way of inducing a heavy dramatic mood in scenes where the viewer also can't make out all the details. LP Hugo unintentionally points to another flaw when he describes Ray and Ben respectively as "coarsely juvenile" and an "amoral cipher." Their volatile, shifting relationship may be interesting, but they're not very worthy of our time otherwise.

    We join the obligatory young-old cop duo, chatting in a car, at thirty minutes. They go to the hospital to interview the injured woman. This interlude provides a rather overdue interlude of relative quiet. But their roles are vastly overwhelmed by the mayhem perpetrated by Ray and Ben, first acting as a team, in gang boss Hsiao-Hei's gambling den trying to get some money back. The Ray/Ben action goes too fast, and the two-cop one goes too slow. Another thread involves Shin-jei (Chien-Na Lee), Ray's former girlfriend, a physiotherapist.

    The interesting thing about this film is that while some people are quietly trying o figure out what happened, we're also following Ray and Ben's evolving relationship and eventual partnership in crime, so what happened becomes irrelevant. And there is a real and structurally nice contrast between the mayhem and the speculation about it. However the end is in mayhem and violence and a grimly ironic finale that gives a sense of an ending, yet is absurd. Well done, one must admit, for someone who previously made only short films.

    The Scoundrels 狂徒 (Kuang tu), 105 mins., debuted at Busan Oct. 8, 2018 and also showed in Oct. 2018 at Kaohsiung and BAFICI - Buenos Aires. Screened for this review as part of the NYAFF.
    Monday, July 1
    6:00 PM
    Walter Reade Theater
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-26-2019 at 10:24 AM.

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    COMPLICITY (Kei Chikaura 2018)



    Being Chinese in Japan

    In this painfully touching tale of illegal immigration, Chen Liang (Lu Yulai, in an intimate, committed performance), is a young Chinese man burdened with debts after the death of his father. He becomes "Liu Wei" when he takes on a false identity to seize a job opportunity in Japan, hoping to return with a pile and restart his dad's garage. Immigrant labor is much needed for Japan's aging population, yet foreigners aren't welcome in Japan, and there is a continual threat of deportation if Chen's false identity is discovered. It was not the wisest financial decision to move to a country not only resistant to foreigners but long economically stagnant. Chen/Liu was, obviously, spurred by optimistic rumors. Yet he takes to his new life with a quiet passion that makes its frailty heartbreaking.

    Flashbacks show what it was like living with his sick mother and poisonous grandmother before he leaves. Selling stolen water heaters with some others is how he makes up the money to pay for his smuggler and fake ID papers when first arrived in Japan. He buys the latter on the black market, then takes the job, offered to the original owner of the phone number, without knowing what it'll be. Soon he is apprenticing in a rural soba shop, lugging huge bags of grain, cleaning up and politely serving at table, and most importantly being shown the trade by a fatherly old man. Unlike the others who were buying fake ID's with him, who go into shifty work under the radar, Chen's job is perfectly legitimate. He is terribly sincere to, and treated extremely kindly by, his rural Japanese employers, save for the fact that he is lying to them about who he is. Whatever structural weaknesses Chicaura's film may have (it can seem meandering and prolix at times), he makes his protagonist's complex, stressful situation intensely clear and emotionally vivid for us.

    They give him a low-ceilinged room upstairs, scrupulously clean, and treat him like family, though understanding Japanese may be a struggle for him. What's said to him is translated in subtitles for us; how much he gets isn't always altogether clear, but he seems to follow quite a lot even if he doesn't talk much.

    The immigrant is a nice looking, low-keyed guy and he not only bonds with his soba chef boss Hiroshi Inoue (Tatsuya Fuji of In the Realm of Senses) but also with Hazuki (Sayo Akasaka), an artistic young women he meets through delivering a meal to her studio on the edge of a beautiful forest - who takes to him immediately. She has been learning Chinese, so they can communicate, though the more wordless communication with Hiroshi seems just as intense. Part of Chen's bonding with Horoshi turns out to be shared opposition to the son's stubborn desire to close the restaurant. In one fraught scene where the son comes to visit with his wife, Chen/Liu's "complicity" as a near-family member in the house becomes clear.

    How would Ozu have treated this subject? The scene where sister and her visiting brother fight loudly in one room and Chen putters around in another listening and looking worried, is the most powerful and strangely intimate moment in the first half of the film. Later, when authorities suspect that Liu is Chen, the other meaning of "complicity" appears as the relationship between the young immigrant and his soba chef "dad" deepens.

    Kei Chikaura’s aim in his feature debut is to perform an act of sympathy, providing insight into an experience rarely observed on screen. This story doesn't depict moving from one conflict zone into another like Jacques Audiard's Palme d'Or-winning 2015 Dheepan. Chikaura need not go to such an extreme. He succeeds by staying close to its protagonist, following him up and down stairs, even calling out attention to the various T shirts he wears and how he adjusts the fan in his attic room. A little more detailed sense of Chen's personal motivations for immigration would have improved the writing, especially since the screenplay focuses on Chen/Liu's private experience much more than on political issues and has numerous little flashbacks, some of them unnecessary. But the intimacy and emotional closeness to the protagonist make a strong impression.

    Kei Chikaura started a career as a filmmaker with his first short film Empty House in 2013. His second, The Lasting Persimmon, was selected for the Clermont- Ferrand International Short Film Festival in 2016. In 2017, his third short film Signature, which focused on a Chinese immigrant and featured the same lead actor, premiered at Locarno.

    In fact Chikaura, coming from shorts to a feature, seems trying to include too much and having trouble integrating different elements - the grim details of illegal immigration, the sudden intimacy in a family not one's own, and lighthearted and sentimentalized romantic moments with a semi-girlfriend don't quite mesh. This film could have used some sharpening up and paring down. But it also shows intense humanism and takes us pretty deeply into the world of its hopeful traveler.

    Complicity コンプリシティ (katakana transliteration of "Complicity"), 115 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2018 and also showed at Busan, Tokyo FILMeX, and the Berlinale Feb. 2019. Screened for this review as part of the NYAFF June 29, 2019. Asian Film Pulse review by Marko Stojilković, Eye for Film review by Jennie Kermonde, Windows on Worlds review by Hayley Scanlon, Moviebreak review by Lida Bach, Filmrezensionen review by Oliver Armknecht.
    Saturday, June 29
    1:00 PM
    Walter Reade Theater
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-24-2019 at 12:01 PM.

  9. #9
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    THE FABLE (Ken Eguchi 2019)



    Being "normal" is too difficult for a yakuza hit man

    This wildly absurd, over-the-top gangster film (but aren't they all?) has just that extra edge of absurdity that is explained by one thing: it's from manga. The central figure, "the Fable," pronounced "za faburu", a legendary yakuza hit man whose existence some think is purely mythical till they find out otherwise, is Sato (Jun'ichi Okada), an ace, invincible professional killer put on leave by his boss (Kichi Sat). His orders are to act "normal" for one year, because his boss thinks "top assassins need that skill." Sato goes underground in Osaka (at first exaggeratedly imitating the rural Osaka accent) with his hotshot female sidekick. He starts dressing in casual, nondescript clothes. He is commanded to get a "normal" job. It's hard for him to find work because he refuses to pretend he likes any activity he might be hired to do. Finally Sato meets Misaki (Mizuki Yamamoto), a charming woman, who helps him work at a publisher as a handyman. There, he develops a new talent, raising his pay from 800 yen an hour to 900 (laughably little either way for a hit man), by doing childlike doodle-drawings that seem so charming to the boss because they "make people happy." These drawings indulge a kind of cuteness peculiar to the Japanese taste.

    This film notably also notably contains Yya Yagira, who won the Best Actor award at Cannes in 2004 at the uniquely young age of 14 for his first movie role n Hirakasu Koreeda's extraordinary Nobody Knows (誰も知らない Dare mo Shiranai). Here Yaqira takes the role of Kojima, a wild, absurdly egotistical and histrionic young gangster type just released from eight years in prison. The boss has trouble keeping Kojima in check, being, through much of the film, in the hospital for a stroke. (He has to have someone else keep an eye on Sato.) The boss has ordered Kojima to do nothing till he is up and about to watch over him. But that doesn't quite work. This story is about the need for control. Yagira's wild histrionics, his facial expressions and drawn out, comically menacing or chortling speech, help make this clear manga material and more a caricature of a gangster movie than a serious one.

    Misaki has posed for "art" photos. When Kojima finds this out and starts trying to force her to pose for porn, she is in danger, and when Sato finds out about this, he cannot allow it. He is going to have to find a way of getting around his overlord's restrictions on his behavior. This finally leads to a prolonged sequence of violent martial arts action involving hand-to-hand combat and shooting. The movie is quite restrained till then, late in the game, it explodes into wild but carefully choreographed chaos on a network of railings and metal and concrete stairways. The sound of the bullets clatters deliciously and so does the click of feet on metal. All this is reportedly staged "by Jackie Clan's crew." The festival blurb concludes, "The Fable is a vibrant pastiche of kinetic storytelling, wry humor, nail-biting suspense, and hyperbolic action." It's kinda true, but you might enjoy this a lot more if you keep reminding yourself, "Forget it Jake, it's manga."

    The original manga is by Katsuhisa Minami,the screenplay by Watanabe Yutsuke.

    In his "normal" life Sato keeps a parakeet in his room, his only decoration, which reminded me of Alain Delon's canary in Jean-Pierre Melville's classic Le Samoura . But if Eguchi could achieve the iconic austerity of Melville, he'd have made quite another movie. I didn't even get to the legendary origin story of this chock-full film.

    The Fable ザ・ファブル (kitagana transliteration for "Fable"), 125 mins., has four festival releases listed in June and July 2019, starting with Shanghai June 15, and including the NYAFF, where it was screened for this review.
    NYFF showtime
    Tuesday, July 2
    6:00 PM
    Walter Reade Theater
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-22-2021 at 10:43 AM.

  10. #10
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    IF YOU ARE HAPPY (Chen Xiaoming 2019)

    CHEN XIAOMING: IF YOU ARE HAPPY 学区房72小时 (2019)

    Bourgeois stress, Shanghai style

    This film's ironic (English only) title comes from a relentlessly jaunty American kiddie song ("If you're happy and you know it, clap you hands"). That's what plays in Professor Fu's car, to feed his little girl English. She is in kindergarten but, welcome to the life of contemporary Shanghai yuppies: all focus is on preparing her for getting into the best schools. For getting ahead. And at the moment in this virtually real-time film progressing over less than a week, Prof. Fu's whole focus is on buying an apartment in the Huanuang distrct, where there's a good school for the child.

    In the opening scene Fu looks at a classically shitty flat many flights up with dangling electrical wiring and a "view" of the school you have to climb up on a chair to see. He engages in virtual hand-to-hand combat with the crude realtor over whether he can have a chance at this dump, for which he must pay the equivalent of over $500K USD with a hefty cash down payment, more than he has, due almost immediately, or another buyer will snap it up.

    In the course of the film Professor Fu shakily puts this project together, risking anything, including job, marriage, reputation, to do so. And then it all sort of falls apart again. Director Chen Xiaoming builds the action with tense, semi-vrit precipitousness that creates real tension for a while, but weakens his story with an indecisive finale partly suggesting regulations in China have now changed and all this might not make sense anymore.

    In this venial depiction of contemporary China, everybody's after something so they can get ahead, and nobody cares much how they get it. Professor Fu's college students, with inadequate averages, are out to bribe him to change their grades. His and his wife's housekeeper "Auntie Niu" wants to get the Fus' nice apartment that he's willing to give up for a low price to get rapid cash, so her son can secure a residence in Shanghai that will enable him to marry. Fu didn't plan on that but accepts it as cash in hand. Later when the realtor tells Fu the price of the other apartment has gone up, he's quite willing to double-cross "Aunt."

    Central to this high-class soap opera with a facade of social commentary is Professor Fu, present in every scene. He is a tall, stylish man with handsome salt-and-pepper hair and a little scarf knotted French-style. We see him making out with one of his girl students, a rich one, in his car. We see him wrestling with the "Aunt", with the realtor, with a lawyer, and with his weak, depressed wife. Rarely do we see him in in a classroom, but we see him repeatedly talking to a university official who warns him there are accusations of faculty bribe-taking which eventually turn out to be against him.

    If You Are Happy may be vivid contemporary social commentary for Chinese viewers. A Chinese article says of the film that its "plot has accurately hit the anxiety of many Chinese parents today." But it fails to rise to the level of cinema achieved by a similar litigious drama that comes to mind, Asghar Farhadi's A Separation (NYFF 2011). Farhadi's film too has a telenovela quality, at first, anyway. But it is far more complex. In its rushed, precipitous action and limited time-scheme, If You Are Happy limits itself - to the narrow scope of its limited people. Nonetheless, as a slice of contemporary urban Chinese life, it provides a telling picture.

    Chen Xiaoming worked as miscellaneous crew on Wong Kar-wai's Grandmaster in 2013. The cast features Guan Xuan, Xu Xing and Fu Wei.

    If You Are Happy 学区房72小时 (School District 72 hours), 99 mins., was released in China June 28, 2019. It was screened for this review as part of the NYAFF.
    NYAFF schowtime:
    Wednesday, July 3
    7:30 PM
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2019 at 09:33 AM.

  11. #11
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    DARE TO STOP US 止められるか、俺たちを, (Kazuya Shiraishi 2018)

    KAZUYA SHIRAISHI: DARE TO STOP US 止められるか、俺たちを(2018)


    A radical Japanese movie company

    Kōji Wakamatsu was a provocative Japanese film director who defies classification. He had been in the yakuza, and even as a filmmaker, gave free rein to an aggressive, provocative personality. His cinematic production ranged from softcore porn pinku eiga films like Ecstasy of the Angels and Go, Go, Second Time Virgin to films about revolution and the radical Palestinian PFLP. He also produced Nagisa Ōshima's famous shocker of radical sexuality In the Realm of the Senses. The porn ones themselves incorporated radical politics and radical aesthetics with the exploitation. This film about Wakamatsu, some of his key associates, and a young woman, struggles to convey this mixture which, for an American, may be hard to imagine, though there is a funky charm about the group dynamic.

    The Sixties and Seventies were the most fertile period of Wakamatsu Productions, founded by revolutionary auteur Koji Wakamatsu (Caterpillar) and staffed (for free) with radical young artists like avant-garde filmmaker Masao Adachi, cinematographer Hideo Ito, and scriptwriter Arai (Kisetsu Fujiwara). Kazuya Shiraishi (The Blood of Wolves) himself got started making exploitation pictures at the company, now presents this raucous but fact-based account of one young dreamer Megumi (Mugi Kadowaki), who joins Wakamatsu in the spring of 1969 to make pinku eiga. She is somewhat at a loss, but sticks with whatever happens, except that she can't join in the company's radical political action. As she struggles to fit into the testosterone-heavy "family" and find her own voice, Megumi’s life becomes equal parts masculine and feminine, and over time, heroic and tragic. After she becomes pregnant by the company's still photographer Takama (Ku Ijima), Megumi's psychological instability and painful family background come forward.

    One early Wakamatsu pinku eiga was Taiji ga mitsuryo suru toki ("The Embryo Hunts in Secret," 1966), in which a woman is sexually enslaved by her boss, and the 1969 Yuke yuke nidome no shojo ("Go, Go Second Time Virgin"), featured in this film. Wakamatsu co-directed, with Masao Adachi, a 1971 documentary about the People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine. His later films included the docudrama Jitsuroku Rengo Sekigun: Asama sanso e no michi (2007; United Red Army), which was screened at the Berlin International Film Festival and the Tokyo International Film Festival; Kyatapira ("Caterpillar," 2010), nominated for a Golden Bear at Berlin; and 11.25 jiketsu no hi : Mishima Yukio to wakamono-tachi (2012; 11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate), a biography of novelist Yukio Mishima shown at Cannes (referred to in this film), and Sennen no yuraku ("Millennial Rapture"), premiered at the Venice in 2012. Wakamatsu was named Asian Filmmaker of the Year at Busan in 2012.

    At the time of his death in a traffic accident at 76 Wakamatsu was returning from a meeting for his latest project, focused on Japan's nuclear industry lobby and the Tokyo-based TEPCO company. The topical subject matter followed on the heels of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

    There's a discussion of Shraishi's film by Mark Shilling in The Japan Times (October 2018). Shilling met Wakamatsu several times and says "He was feisty and outspoken, but his sense of mission also struck me. He saw himself as a truth-telling guerrilla in a business, society and world dedicated to peddling convenient lies."

    Dare to Stop Us is a movie about a group, and about intense working friendships, bull sessions, getting drunk together, and a lot of cigarette smoking. It's about personalities hanging out. They're presented jokily at first, but as the enterprise gains credibility, are seen in a more serious light. There's an old-shoe quality about many of the scenes that is very appealing. The main characters, even the brusque Wakamatsu himself (Arata Iura), come forward and become attractive, not only Arai (Kisetsu Fujiwara) and Megumi (Mugi Kadawaki) but the soulful Takima (Ku Ijima), who winds up as Megumi's bed partner, and various others. Nonetheless something may be lost in the subtitles in this largely understated and unclassifiale film. Shiraishi is trying to catch lightening in a bottle. How well he captures it may elude the non-native viewer.

    Dare to Stop Us 止められるか、俺たちを, 119 mins., debuted in Japan Oct. 13, 2018 after an Oct. 5 premiere at Busan. It has been in at least five other film festivals including the NYAFF, where it was screened for this review.
    NYAFF showtime:
    Thursday, July 4
    3:00 PM
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-29-2019 at 05:52 PM.

  12. #12
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    WALK WITH ME 雙魂 (Ryon Lee 2019)

    RYON LEE: WALK WITH ME 雙魂 (2019)


    The horror of domestic life and a shitty job

    The "legendary" and much-awarded Malaysian screenwriter Ryon Lee comes up with his seventh combined directorial and writing effort and his fourth horror film, his last credit having been Haunted Road 2. He pulls out all the stops here, though that doesn't mean special effects, of which there are hardly any. The cinematography is subtly colorful, with yellows, turquoise and light greens predominating. If the sing-song Cantonese dialogue (I guess) and yammering arguments are grating, one can always shut one's ears and look at the pretty pictures.

    It's not any F/X but the varieties of spookiness wrecked quietly down upon Sam (Michelle Wai, aka Wei Shiya), the young female protagonist that are numerous. Interestingly, she is repeatedly threatened with rape or sexual menace from nearby men. But she just seems to live in a scary world. She is bespectacled, shy, and cute. She works in a garment factory, where the older, more experienced women workers don't like her. The manager bullies her, as does her father (Wu Yaohan) at home. Then he disappears.

    Sam has recourse to a raggedy doll that may embody he spirit of her lost little brother, and may also be a vehicle of revenge. These are people who believe in ghosts, spirits that possess and haunt. Very early on, the young woman and her mother, with a group of neighborhood women, come upon a man changing over and manipulating an older woman he is apparently freeing of possession.

    Randomly (in this film's rather vague sense of space) out of nowhere a young man, York (Alex Lam, aka Linde), appears, a friend ten years before when they were kids, now chubby no more but lithe, full grown, and attractive, and he rents the spare room and becomes part of the household. It is not clear to me whether Sam's mother (Wu Yiyi), known only as "Ma," is a spook or a friend. She is "just a clinic assistant" and constantly querulous, and sometimes seems afraid, at others angry and menacing. Is the young man friend or foe? And is this uncertainty an intentional ambiguity, or tonal clumsiness? Early on we see the girls's mother and father fighting? Is this menace too, the horror of domestic unrest? Or just atmosphere? Or are they possessed by the evil sports of the unquiet dead? Up on the roof with the laundry hanging on the line, York tells Sam he doesn't care about ghosts and will protect her from them. But he says "To defeat the darkness, you must become part of the darkness," which sounds spooky.

    Later, while Ma and Sam are acting hysterical over ghosts - arguing over whether the doll contains the ghost of Sam's dead little brother - York uncovers a cistern and finds her perpetually disappearing dad floating in it. Who is responsible for Sam's dad's death? Is the spirit of her dead brother Dao Dao in the doll invading Ma's mind and making her crazy? Did Sam's boss Tham Kok Wai rape her as the doll tells Ma? One sequence of growing menace or suspicion is cunningly intercut with images of York dicing vegetables for a dinner he's preparing for the vegetarians, Ma and Sam, the chop-chop and the rising music almost worthy of Hitchcock. Lee makes an admirably efficient use of available scene for his chilling effects; a sewing machine becomes a fatal torture device - and it is all done subtly, without gore. The melodrama is excessive throughout, but there is an odd restraint which, with the lovely blues and greens, makes this an interesting experience.

    Walk With Me 雙魂 (Shuāng hn, "Double Soul"), 92 mins., got its North American premiere in the NYAFF, where it was screened for this review. It reportedly was exported before its domestic release. Facebook page. This has some Hong Kong actors in the leads and I believe was shot in Hong Kong.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-02-2019 at 03:02 PM.

  13. #13
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    Jul 2002
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    WINTER AFTER WINTER (Xing Jian 2019)



    Elephants sitting still?

    Xing Jiang reportedly debuted with an austere self-financed film about an old man at the top of a mountain in winter. Things have hardly become less chilly or austere here in this sophomore effort, funded somewhat inexplicably by the tech conglomerate Alibaba. It is in wide screen "high-contrast monochrome" (I'll be relying as here on Clarence Tsui's Hollywood Reporter review), so the look itself is elegantly chilly. It focuses on a Chinese family in Manchuria headed by Lao Si (Gao Qiang).

    It's the end of the War, 1944, and the Japanese are desperately trying to avoid the fact that their empire is crumbling, and are about to take Lao Si's three son's away to hard labor camps. The local Japanese commander (Hibino Akira) is at Lao Si's house to claim the sons. The old man is desperate to maintain his family line. He wants his young daughter-in-law to be impregnated, and since her husband (Dong Lianghai) is impotent, he gets the marriage annulled so one of the younger sons can step in and do the job.

    The second son Lao Er (Yuan Liguo) decides to flee the house to join the guerrillas instead. The timid youngest son Lao San (Liu Di) tries to do what his father wants but fails before they are taken away. Things get more complicated when later Lao San escapes labor camp and is nursed back to health by the long-suffering, mostly silent wife Kun (Yan Bingyan. In the closeness of her nursing Lao San back to health, he does get her pregnant. Then Lao Er reappears and nearly kills Kun "out of jealousy and disgust" at this event. After Kun is pregnant, Lao Si arrabged a quick cover marriage between her and the mentally handicapped son of the village elder statesman.

    All of this is grim but also not without its comic side. The use of long takes, the austere style, lengthily focused on menial tasks by Kun in the grubby, dark, unheated interiors of Lao Si's farmstead, and the stoical behavior make this a prime example of slow cinema. One early scene where a man and a woman, heavily bundled up against the cold, sit and stare mutely at each other for at least five minutes, almost lost me.

    Tsui points out this film is represented by Rediance and that it is the Beijing outfit that "helped bring Cai Chengjie's black-and-white supernatural satire The Widowed Witch (a.k.a.Shaman) and Hu Bo's soul-shattering An Elephant Sitting Still to international prominence last year." They may not have quite that kind of luck this time.

    Also reviewed at Rotterdam by Wendy Ide for Screen Daily.

    Winter After Winter('Dong Qu Dong You Lai'), 110 mins., debuted at Rotterdam, showing in at least five other international festivals. It was screened for this review as part of the NYAFF.
    NYAFF showtime:
    Friday, July 5
    3:00 PM
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-30-2019 at 12:57 AM.

  14. #14
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    Jul 2002
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    SEE YOU TOMORROW 擺渡人 (Zhang Jiajia 2016)



    The story follows Chen Mo (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung), the bar owner and 'ferryman', as he is slowly facing his own traumatic past, whilst helping the people around him, including his co-partner Guan Chun (Takeshi Kaneshiro), the singer Ma Li (Eason Chan) and the neighbor Xiao Yu (Angelababy).
    See You Tomorrow (Chinese: 擺渡人) is a 2016 Chinese-Hong Kong romantic comedy film directed by Chinese writer Zhang Jiajia in his directorial debut and produced and written by Wong Kar-wai with Alibaba Pictures.[5][6][7] It is based loosely on Zhang's own best-selling book Passing From Your World in the collection I Belonged to You.[8] It stars Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Angelababy.[3] Filming started in July 2015.[9] It was released in China by Alibaba Pictures on December 23 , 2016.[10].

    No full-length review will be available of this film at the moment.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-29-2019 at 02:50 PM.

  15. #15
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    MONEY 돈 (Park Noo-ri 2019)

    PARK NOO-RI: MONEY 돈 (2019)



    Money is a deliciously fresh, and a little raw, depiction of fast and shifty stock brokering and white collar high crimes and misdemeanors from Korea. Director Park Noo-ri has made a stunning feature debut, and Ryu Jeon-yeol's electric, nimble performance in the lead shows why he's a rising star.

    As a new take on Oliver Stone's Wall Street from Korea, this movie ramps up the action to physical and high crime in the second half. While close to the Wall Street trajectory, its glossy big spender trappings make one think more of Scorsese's later The Wolf of. . . But everything is updated further here, and a smoothness with the latest technology. Money is already attracting interest in various quarters. There is a lengthy-ish piece on it in Cinema Escapist.

    When fledgling broker Cho Il-hyun (Ryu Jun-yeol) comes to work selling stocks at Yeouido, Seoul's financial district, they call him Raspberry because his parents have a raspberry farm. He's fresh, energetic, and ready but very green. The early tipping point comes when Choi can't understand a rapidly mumbled phone order - but won't admit it - and, guessing wrong, loses a client fifty thousand dollars by buying when he was supposed to sell. This draws the attention of devious and shadowy fund manager Ticket (Yoo Ji-tae, Oldboy) who starts feeding him illicit insider deals using thumb drives that he throws in the river when the lucrative deal is done. His first such deal is a $50 million trade that nets Cho $1.4 million, instantly delivering him a whole new lifestyle and a whole new outlook. He ditches his old girlfriend for Park Si-eun (Won Jin-ah), a slick babe who's a fellow broker and introduces him to bespoke suits and other posh accoutrements. Cho steps forward from another young, handsome broker who's to the manner born, but isn't doing so much himself.

    Cho is being tracked by an insidious and persistent investigator at Korea’s securities regulator - the sticky, troublesome Han Ji-chul (Jo Woo-jin), who repeatedly feeds Cho photos of himself in compromising situations, seemingf as much blackmailer as a law officer. Ticket urges Cho to act confident and says Han's creepy sub rosa snooping only shows his organization hasn't got a solid case.

    As Richard Yu points out in his discussion of Money in the new global (and Asian-focused) online review Cinema Escapist, Cho hasn't the heft or even the interest as a character of the now iconic Gordon "Greed is good" Gekko memorably played by Michael Douglas. For all his energy, Cho seems barely more than a schoolboy compared to some of the brawny, driven financial manipulators in American Wall Street movies.

    But we must bear in mind that Money is conceived throughout more as a slow-burn crime thriller, and, as Yu acknowledges, is still ultimately thrilling and fun to watch, without the big speeches or hefty characters but with good actors, a nifty script, and an elegant score.

    At the public screening there will be a Q&A with director Park Noo-ri and lead actor Ryu Jun-yeol, and the latter will receive the Screen International Rising Star Asia Award.

    Money 돈 (Don), 115 mins., released in South Korea and the US in March 2019. Also released in Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore and Hong Kong. Screened for this review as part of the NYAFF. Billed as the New York Premiere, but according to an online review in J.B. Spins, it opened in Queens and New Jersey May 29.
    NYAFF showtime:
    July 6
    6:00 PM

    This will become available on streaming in the Us via Amazon Prime or Netflix in future.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-30-2019 at 11:52 PM.

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