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Thread: NY ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL July 15-28, 2022

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    NY ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL July 15-31, 2022

    NY ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL July 15-31, 2022



    FORUM THREAD

    Links to the reviews:
    Angry Son 世界は僕らに気づかない (Kasho Iizuka, Japan, 2022)
    Before Next Spring 如果有一天我将会离开你 (Li Gen, China, 2021)
    Big Night!(Jun Robles Lana, Philippines, 2021)
    Broken Commandment 破戒 (Kazuo Maeda, Japan, 2022)
    Confession 자백 (YOON Jong-seok, South Korea 2022)
    Dealing with Dad (Tom Huang, US, 2022)
    Finding Bliss: Fire and Ice - The Director's Cut ]尋找極致的喜悅:火與冰 (Kim Chan, Dee Lam, Hong Kong, 2022)
    Funeral, The 頭七 (Dan-Guei Shen, Taiwan, 2022)
    Girl on the Bulldozer, The 불도저에 탄 소녀 (Park Ri-woong, South Korea, 2022
    Grown-Ups わたし達はおとな (Takuya Kato, Japan 2022)
    Happy Together 春光乍洩 (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong 1997)
    I Am More
    모어 (Lee Il-ha, South Korea, 2021)
    Intimate Stranger 親密な他人 (Mayu Nakamura, Japan 2021)
    Legendary in Action!]大俠 Action! (Justin Cheung, Li Ho, Hong Kong, 2022)
    Lesson in Murder 死刑にいたる病 (Kazuya Shiraishi, Japan, 2022)
    Life for Sale 售命 (Tom Teng, Taiwan 2021)
    #LookAtMe (Ken Kwek, Singapore, 2022)
    Mama Boy 初戀慢半拍 (Arvin Chen, Taiwan 2022)
    Manchurian Tiger 东北虎 (Geng Jun 2021)
    Nothing Serious 연애 빠진 로맨스 (Jeong Ga-young , South Korea 2021)
    Offbeat Cops 異動辞令は音楽隊!(Eiji Uchia, Japan, 2022)
    One and Four一个和四个 (Jigme Trinley, China, 2021)
    Ox-Head Village 牛首村 (Takashi Shimizu, Japan, 2022)
    Perhaps Love 장르만 로맨스 (Cho Eun-ji, South Korea, 2022)
    Ribbon (Non, Japan, 2022)
    Ripples of Life 永安镇故事集 (Wei Shujun China 2021)
    Sales Girl, The Худалдагч охин (Janchivdorj Sengedorj, Mongolia, 2021)
    Shin Ultraman シン・ウルトラマン(Shinji Higuchi Japan 2022)
    Thieves, The 도둑들 (Choi Dong-hoon 2012)


    FILMLEAF reviews begin below:
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-24-2022 at 12:30 AM.

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    BEFORE NEXT SPRING 如果有一天我将会离开你 (Li Gen, China, 2021)

    LI GEN: BEFORE NEXT SPRING / 如果有一天我将会离开你 (2021)


    XIE CHENGZE AND QIU TIAN IN BEFORE NEXT SPRING

    People come, people go, nothing ever happens, but we enter many stories in this tale of Chinese emigrants and students in Japan gathered around a Chinese restaurant in a Tokyo suburb.

    Events are set in a suburban area near Tokyo, Fuchinobe. The focus is Chinese emigrants and exchange students in Japan taking courses to qualify as students and working at multiple jobs to support themselves and send money home.

    Through incidents, a mood accumulates in this first feature by a director who has previously done documentaries. He builds on his own personal experiences as a foreign exchange student in Japan. The young actors are fresh and appealing. The characters have in common working and gathering at a Chinese restaurant, Nankokute.

    Perhaps the main character is the one-year resident, tall, sweet, shy young Li Xiaoli (Xie Chengze) who is treated as a doofus, and may be Li Gen's alter ego. After many efforts he gets a job at the restaurant through cute former classmate Qiu Qiu (Qiu Tian), and thus meets Zhao Aoki (Niu Chiau. Early episodes feature Zhao, a bitter young half-Japanese, half-Chinese man. He works at multiple jobs and sends money home but is also stealing money from a bank account with his father's bank card, and through that gets arrested, held in jail, and eventually deported.

    When Li Xiaoli visits Zhao in jail, the latter gives him a message for Qiu Qiu, who's very pretty and winds up working like a geisha at a restaurant, and expresses indifference to Zhao. Toughened feelings, hardened hearts: but sentimentality in the film, which weeps over an old man who comes back to the restaurant after his wife has died; and niceness on the part of the innocent Li Xiaoli.

    There is parallel thread about cancer. A young women with cancer (Xi Qi) bonds with an old lady at the hospital, also a customer at the restaurant. She is Li Xiaoli's older sister, and lives with another Chinese man she fights with. Li Xiaoli is with his sister at the hospital when she has surgery for uterine cancer. But it is all interconnected; that is the art of this kind of piece. There is even the Nankokute cook, who has longed for many years to bring his family to Japan but one evening admits may now have lost the courage to do so. As for Li Xiaoli, he's only in Japan for a year, and when the time comes to an end, he's off. But at the end he overcomes his native shyness for a while to promote the restaurant, which is losing customers, by boldly promoting it out on the sidewalk. He has become emboldened and he has come to care.

    This film is precisely observed and engrossing. I'll echo Maria Castaldo, an Italian reviewer whose description of the film is one of the few I can find, who credits Li Gan here with "tenderness and authenticity," and "without lapsing into pathos," but rather "dosing the sweetness," as is done "for the almond syrup in tofu sweets" as specified in a scene in the film. Besides the sourness and the sweetness, there is also the harshness: the couple who fight and Zhao embittered by a drunken and abusive father. In these scenes there is little that is new, but they draw you in anyway.

    A significant flaw in the English subtitling is its failure to distinguish where the dialogue being rendered in any one moment is in Mandarin or Japanese. This matters, for following the action, of course, and it is constantly changing.

    Before Next Spring如果有一天我将会离开你, 107 mins., debuted at Udine Far East Film Festival Jul. 1, 2021; also Beijing Sept. 19, 2021. Screened for this review as part of NYAFF 2022. (North American Premiere.)

    Friday Jul 29, 9:30pm (Lila Acheson Wallace Auditorium, Asia Society)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-05-2022 at 10:50 PM.

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    ONE AND FOUR 一个和四个 (Jigme Trinley, China, 2021)

    JIGME TRINLEY: ONE AND FOUR 一个和四个 (China [Tibet] 2021)


    KUNDE, WANG ZHENG, AND JINPA, IN ONE AND FOUR

    A well-placed young director from Tibet makes a highly entertaining debut

    Reviewing One and Four in in Hollywood Reporter, Elizabeth Kerr notes that this double-cross mystery has "shades of Cui Siwei’s snowbound Savage, Lu Chuan’s Kekexili and, of course, Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight coloring the proceedings." She's right that though it may not reinvent the wheel, it is "a respectable debut from an industry with few voices - Tibetan cinema, where Trinley's father, Pema Tseden, is the most prominent director." One thinks of Panah Panahi, son of Jafar Panahi, whose recent Hit the Road is a stunningly original and very fun debut. This isn't quite on that level, but it's the work of a worthy offspring, compelling, engrossing, highly atmospheric, and in its way also thoroughly entertaining. Variety has a review headlining this as "a Sly, Sparse Tibetan Snow Western."

    "Snow western" is a good identifying label. There is non-stop danger and suspicion and things get very tense toward the end with bad guys being singled out for elimination. Reference toThe Hateful Eight suggests the kind of setting: a big, rough-hewn far north outpost that seems as cold inside as out, though you wouldn't want to linger outside where it's freezing and - of course - a blizzard is on the way. Sense of place is communicated through several trips along snow roads and icy heights, also through an ingenious sound design-cum-score combining outdoors with mechanical noise, and cinematography that is both intimate and austere. The exteriors, following forest police following poachers in a wild snowy ride that ends in two vehicles overturned, one man dead, and everybody scarred and bloody, and going back out to hunt for a poacher's trophy of fox fur and antlers.

    The car race is replayed for us as recounted by the remaining cop - if he is that, and not an imposter - to the ranger in the cabin, Sanggye (Jinpa), the central figure and our point of identification - and confusion. He's hungover, starving, and goofy, sad and soulful. As the tale unfolds, three men come to the cabin to visit Sanggye, one after another. They all seem to be lying, and one of them seems likely to be the poacher everybody's talking about - that the cop says disappeared after the crash.

    Kunbo (Kunde) is the thin, sleazy dude in the big leather robe who came first with the signed divorce paper from Sanggye's wife, qualifying as a messenger who ought to be killed. We don't see this: it happened early in the morning and Sanggye thinks it was a dream; but he comes back later. Before that man identifying himself as a Regional Forestry Police officer (Wang Zheng) comes with reports of the chase after the poacher in a car, where both overturned and the cop's partner died. He is dead; Sanggye sees him. But is the other guy really the cop or the poacher? And is Kunbo the poacher or the poacher's assistant? Sanggye writes everything in his forest ranger’s logbook and we see many an entry; but how much is that to be trusted, or him?

    Then another man (Darggye Tenzin) comes saying he's a cop. Well, Trinley keeps things pretty lively. All these grizzled dudes are birds of a feather, and apparently starving. See Sanggye and the first "cop" devouring, piece-by-piece, a rabbit they catch and cook, one of the great starvation meals in movies like the one in De Sica's Miracle in Milan. No, this doesn't provoke thought like Panah Panahi's Hit the Road. But what it does is take you somewhere rough and austere. I'd really like to see how they did those car wrecks in that location. An actioner that never stops being a puzzler, this is a trim and gnarly piece of work.

    One and FourI 一个和四个 (‘Yige he sige’), 88 mins., debuted at Tokyo Nov. 2, 2021. Screened for this review as part of the Jul. 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival at Lincoln Center. North American Premiere.

    Saturday Jul 16, 8:00pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-20-2022 at 04:57 PM.

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    ANGRY SON 世界は僕らに気づかない (Kasho Iizuka, Japan, 2022)

    KASHO IIZUKA: ANGRY SON/ 世界は僕らに気づかない (Japan 2022)


    GOW AND KAZUKI HORIKE IN ANGRY SON

    The coming of age of a beleaguered "Jappino" is a messy but irresistible tale

    As hinted in Li Gen's Before Next Spring, also NYAFF 2022, a film about Chinese emigrants living in a Tokyo suburb, there is no such thing as assimilation in Japan, and here we see that's true even when you were born there if you're not pure Japanese. Kasho Iizuka's entertaining, annoying, and heartfelt little film Angry Son focuses on Jungo (Kazuki Horike), a "Jappino" or biracial Japanese-Filiipino teenager. He lives combatively with this reality in a Japanese suburb with his Filipina bar hostess mother Reina (singer and actress GOW, whose acting is too crude and strident), who loves but maddens him and whom he rails at constantly in private, departing from his generally buttoned-down Japanese manner. He obviously speaks native fluency Japanese and would assimilate if they'd let him.

    Jungo also happens to be gay, and he has a strong link with the society: a devoted Japanese boyfriend, Yosuke, whose family accepts his sexuality and their relationship. But Jungo and Yosuke become estranged. It seems permanent, and in the wake of this disaster Jungo, academically unmotivated (and not planning to go on to university), hurt by the regular racist and sexist abuse he suffers from present and former classmates and wanting to find shelter away from his annoying mother, becomes obsessed with searching for for the Japanese birth father he has never met - while still constantly fighting with the well-meaning but sometimes obnoxious mother.

    This film engages us with its wealth of human experience. It has two weddings and a funeral, tearful reunions, and a presentable and resilient young protagonist, whose perpetually going around with a camera around his neck snapping photos may make him a cliché artist-autobiographer, but we get the point. The film is also technically unimpressive (the rickety handheld cinematography hardly seems intentional), the casting is often dubious and unappealing, and events play out with a jerky pulse more suited to a meandering TV sitcom than a slightly overlong feature film. But eventually its sincerity may grab you.

    There are a number of little scenes where Jungo, the protagonist, is teased or humiliated by classmates for being half-Filipino or for being gay. He was born here in Japan and speaks as far as we know only Japanese. He has to live with the fact that while he gets maintenance payments from his father's family, his mother is in thrall to an extended family in the Philippines she tries to send money to even though she never has any and the electricity in their tiny apartment repeatedly gets cut off. She also violates Japanese manners as he would never do, yelling at her boss at a new job, which humiliates him. He can yell sometimes, perhaps to his benefit, but he also has an inbred sense of Japanese politeness and deference and knows when to bow and be silent and humble.

    The meandering structure takes Jungo around the world of Filipino hostess bars as he does some surprising detective work tracking down the family of his birth father, who met Reina in one years ago. It also takes us into the relationship of Yosuke, Jun's boyfriend, with his family and the sudden appearance of a self-declared "asexual" young woman who knows of the boys' relationship and wants to form a three-cornered family with them in which Yosuke will enable her to have children the three of them will raise. Scenes with Yosuke's family show their warmth not only toward the boys' relationship but toward their plan - once they reunite and Jungo pledges steadfastness, love, and loyalty - to take advantage of new local regulations allowing legal same-sex partnerships.

    Director Iizuka identifies as trans and as having experienced some of the issues of Angry Son first hand. IMDb shows another film by Iizuka this year, The World for Two of Us, depicting a ten-year relationship of a woman with a trans person (Angry Son isn't listed on the site). Angry Son is a well-meaning and heartfelt film. The director has things to say about subjects new to Japanese films.

    Reviewed by Hayley Scanlon in Windows on Worlds and with a directorial interview by Marina D. Richter in Asian Movie Pulse, but information is lacking, including an IMDb page.

    Angry Son 世界は僕らに気づかない ("The World Doesn't Notice Us"), 111 mins., was screened for this review as part of the Jul. 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival where it is in the Uncaged Award for Best Feature Film Competition. It has been shown at several festivals including Osaka and Frankfurt. North American premiere.

    NYAFF 2022 SHOWING: Thursday Jul 31, 9:30pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center).
    Director Kasho Iizuka will attend the screening.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-12-2022 at 07:32 PM.

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    BROKEN COMMANDMENT 破戒 (Kazuo Maeda Japan 2022)

    KAZUO MAEDA: BROKEN COMMANDMENT 破戒 (Japan 2022)


    ANNA ISHII AND SHOTARO MAMIYA IN BROKEN COMMANDMENT

    New adaptation of Shimazaki's 1906 novel about caste in Japan

    Full details of this film can be found on an online page for the June 28, 2022 Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan sneak preview. This is the third screen adaptation of Toson Shimazaki's 1906 novel Hakai about caste discrimination in Japan. Previously Keisuke Kinoshita dramatized the book in Apostasy (1948) and Kon Ichikawa did so in The Outcast (1962). The term "eta" or "pariah, we see, was still being applied in Japan in the Russo-Japanese war period. It was used to exclude hisabetsu buraku, Japan's untouchables.

    In the story, a young man of noble character, Ushimatsu Segawa (Shotaro Mamiya), struggles with the secret he is hiding: that he has links to this caste. His father's "commandment" was never to reveal this, and by not doing so he has gotten a good basic education and now arrives to become a teacher at a country primary school. But Segawa is very conflicted over his secrecy because he knows openness is necessary to fight the injustice of the caste system - which the Meiji Restoration supposedly removed, but survives in practice and mentality. Segawa is a great admirer of well known writer Rentaro Inoko (Hidekazu Mashima), a burakumin rights activist who has recently published a book in which he confesses that he himself is an "eta." Segawa is shamed by this example. His conflict becomes greater when a fan letter he writes gains him an audience with the distinguished, intensely committed author.

    Trouble comes early on when Segawa, newly arrived for his country school job, begins to fall for Shiho (Anna Ishii), a sensitive young woman who comes from the former samurai class and resides at the Renge temple where he also comes to live. Try as he may he can't bring himself to reveal his origins to her, but a rival in love for Shiho sets out to undermine him because he is suspicious. Meanwhile every other scene is rife with casual racism, classism, social brutality, indifference to disability, and enthusiasm for war and power. The icky guys are stuffy oldsters who yell out their opinions like actors in a play and shiny young men in western suits; Segawa's purity is signaled by his traditional garb.

    Statements about this new adaptation point out that (like a lot of the world) Japan today is going though a new shift to the right as it did "at the end of the Meiji period, with constitutional reform, revision of the Imperial Rescript on Education, and the rise of the opinion that war is inevitable."

    The film is glossy, respectable, plodding, and has "well-meaning historical TV drama" written all over it. And in fact director Kazuo Maeda is a veteran of such dramas as well as of promotional and educational films. Reports lead one to suspect that the 1962 film version of the book by Kon Ichikawa (The Burmese Harp, Fires on the Plain, The Burmese Harp) has more dash and flair. This release corresponds with the hundredth anniversary of Japan's first human rights declaration, which designated Burakumin, Zainichi Koreans, Ainu and other "disadvantaged minorities" as deserving of full human rights. Broken Commandment is a pretty good watch if your expectations are not set too high. (The farewell speech to the kids is great - but the long dragged out goodbye is tedious.) The film is both relevant today overall, and a vivid sketch of the social and political mood of 1905 Japan.

    The book was adapted for this film by Masato Kato and Norio Kida. Also featured in the cast are Yuma Yamoto, Kazuya Takahashi, Ayako Kobayashi, Kou Nanase, Wooyear Yoshitaka, Shunsuke Daitoh, Naoto Takenaka, Hirotaro Honda, Yohji Tanaka, Renji Ishibashi, and Hidekazu Mashima. A Toei production. International Premiere.

    The Broken Commandment 破戒, 119 mins., no data about release, was screened for this review as part of the 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. Japanese theaatrical release July 8, 2022.
    For full promotional material about the film (in Japanese): https://hakai-movie.com

    NYAFF: Thursday Jul 28, 2022 at 6:30pm (Lila Acheson Wallace Auditorium, Asia Society)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-28-2022 at 12:10 AM.

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    GROWN-UPS わたし達はおとな (Takuya Kato Japan 2022)

    TAKUYA KATO: GROWN-UPS わたし達はおとな (Japan 2022)


    FUJIWARA KISETSU, KIRYUU MAI IN GROWN-UPS

    The unexpected pregnancy of an art student

    The director and playwright Takuya Kato, who presides over the theater company "Tagumi" and has written for some admired Japanese TV including "Heisei Monogatari," helms his first feature film with Grown-Ups, a little drama set deep in the realities of middleclass early adulthood that's engaging and keeps viewers on their toes. By shooting in a chic, streamlined style and shuffling chronology of scenes, he has made a conventional enough sequence of events feel fresh and different: Kato is being a bit experimental with basically simple stuff. Even though there is nothing earth-shaking and new here, there's a natural, unexpected effect, and these feel like real people and a real situation. Certain Japanese twenty-somethings ought to find a lot to debate about here. For international festival viewers, Takuya Kato represents a new Japanese director with a distinctive writing and visual style.

    The dirctor's theatrical background shows in his way with loose, vernacular dialogue, especially as the relationship between the principals, Yumi (Kiryuu Mai), an art student already selling some of her designs, and Naoya (Fujiwara Kisetsu), an young theater director who wants to have his own company, slides into more and more impossible states of disagreement over her surprise pregnancy. Also theatrical is that a great deal of the action takes place in Yumi's rather nice apartment, which, with the good looks of all the twenty-somethings, contributes to the casual chic of everything - without conflicting with the serious subject matter.

    They all (the couple and her friends and other college students) seem like attractive young slackers, the mood so casual the viewer thinks for a while nothing much is ever going to happen. And Naoya is apparently not living with Yumi. That's part of being noncommittal and Gen X, right? But serious stuff sneaks up on them, and us, when she does an at-home pregnancy test, it's positive, and suddenly everything changes. Then come more complications. She's not sure Naoya is the father. There's someone else it could have been. She won't say who; she won't introduce him to Naoya. He accepts this. It most likely is his child. He loves her.

    But everything is fluid, and in successive scenes and conversations Naoya and Yumi go through all sorts of changes. For a while he is very loving and caring. But nobody is very forthcoming, and this is certailly not something he'd planned on in his idealistic fantasy of becoming a theatrical director. Note she won't reveal the other possible father. Her refusal to get a DNA test, Naoya's very reasonable request, is a stumbling block hat won't go away. "No, let's just raise the child as if it is ours," she says. Really? Then, her mother dies and she goes home and there are scenes with her father (Kenta Satoi), but Yumi doesn't seem to tell anybody about this, except one friend on the phone who says nothing.

    Then all of a sudden Naoya, who has still nominally been residing elsewhere, won't let her come to visit him there and admits he's still rooming with his ex! Arguments continue, and one day Naoya gives Yumi the keys back and goes off with his light bags. Scenes have gone back to show early meetings and first sex; then back to a decisive fight; he leaves; and she stands at the stove and fries a couple of eggs.

    Grown-Ups わたし達はおとな ("We Are Adults"), 108 mins., was screened for this review as part of the July 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. International premiere.

    NYAFF: Saturday Jul 23, 2022 at 9:00pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-11-2022 at 12:50 PM.

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    INTIMATE STRANGER 親密な他人 (Mayu Nakamura Japan 2021)

    MAYU NAKAMURA: INTIMATE STRANGER 親密な他人 (JAPAN 2021)


    FÛJU KAMIO AND ASUKA KUROSAWA IN INTIMATE STRANGER

    Spider and fly

    Intimate Stranger is a slow burn Japanese suspense horror film built around the rather kinky theme of a middle-aged woman who keeps a pretty young man prisoner in her flat. Look at the movie poster and you will see its teasing eroticism. Framed in various shades of desaturated film color using the bleach bypass technique and with human and home appliance sounds in lieu of score, it begins with a promise of elegant oddity, but it drags on a little too long in the middle passage.

    At the periphery is COVID (masks abound) and phone scams on old ladies, lured into turning over tidy sums to guys who come to collect for their "grandsons" who are sick or in trouble. Into this world wanders Megumi (the excellent Asuka Kurosawa), a sad lady who works at a baby clothes store, in whose wares she has a special, excessive interest. Megumi is searching for her son Shinpei (Yuu Uemura), missing for a year. Along comes a homeless waif called Yuji (heartthrob Fûju Kamio) who has several possessions of Shinpei's and says they met at an internet café. Megumi pays Yuji several small sums (starting with $50) for information and, finding he seems to be without fixed abode (though he is immaculate), eventually lures Yuji into her small apartment and keeps him locked in there "for his own safety." And he seems to accept being kept. He has a warm bed and knows where his next meal is coming from. Maybe he is wanted by several parties, or maybe it's just that scamming is a rat race in which he isn't a main cog in. Or maybe Megumi is the mother he never had. But when she trims his pretty bob it's not particularly motherly. And when she gets him in her lap with a straight razor in her hand the consummation threatened is a violent one.

    Fûju Kamio isn't altogether convincing casting, at first anyway - not seedy enough. But director Nakamura is a woman (she studied at NYU: Film School, by the way), and the camera lingers teasingly over Kamio's face. As Megumi, Kurosawa fills the screen too. She is seedy, but more importantly despite her age exudes an erotic aura; she has a complexity worthy of a French star like Isabelle Huppert or Juliette Binoche, as director Nakamura noted in the Tokyo Q&A. These two actors wind up being wonderfully well used by the director, who above all wanted to give an older woman an exciting central role and has done so. Yuji and Megumi look and look and look at each other, and their gaze is always interesting and mysterious (Kamio was chosen partly for his eyes - good enough to make him alluring wearing a mask).

    This teasing two-hander, though it's great, is stretched out a bit, and it's rather late in the game when things finally start to heat up. But this movie does have some surprises for us at the end. When Yuji opens that box he was not supposed to touch, we don't have to see the contents. This is a tale of scamming the scammers, and it's an endless loop.

    Intimate Stranger is low octane slow burn psychological horror with some nice moments. There isn't quite enough here for the whole 95 minutes, but Mayu Nakamura has a good eye and works in the tradition. This is only her second feature; her first was The Summer of Stickleback in 2006; in between she has made documentaries. One can see the enthusiasm for tradition in homages to David Lynch, Krzysztof Kieślowski, John Cassavetes and many others. Mayu Nakamura is a director to watch. Her next project is to shoot a film featuring non-binary actors in the US.

    Intimate Stranger 親密な他人, 95 mins., debuted at Tokyo 2021. It was screened for this review as part of the 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. North American premiere.

    NYAFF: Thursday Jul 21, 2022 at 7:00pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)
    Director Mayu Nakamura will attend the screening.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-06-2022 at 09:53 AM.

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    LESSON IN MURDER 死刑にいたる病 (Kazuya Shiraishi, Japan, 2022)

    KAZUYA SHIRAISHI: LESSON IN MURDER 死刑にいたる病 (Japan, 2022)
    TRAILER


    KENSHI OKADA, SADAWO ABE IN LESSON IN MURDER

    Warning: depicts torture

    AS the veteran Tokyo-based film critic Mark Schilling points out in his Japan Times review, this film is one of many offshoots of Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs. Thus it depicts a gruesome, smart serial killer, Haimura Yamato (Sadawo Abe) who from death row plays with an inexperienced young investigator, Masaya Kakei (Kenshi Okada). This time instead of Jodie Foster's inexperienced but highly motivated FBI agent it's a handsome law student the convicted killer used to know as a young customer at his pastry shop whom he lures into studying his "work," and then teases and manipulates. In the course of this there is a detailed review of the personality and the crimes of the killer and the private affairs of his young "adversary." As Schilling says there are different movies mashed together in Lesson in Murder. Its enthusiastic exploration of meticulous tortures and murders of teenagers ill fits with its family dramas and coming of age tale.

    For those who find Silence of the Lambs' fascination wIth its odious champion killer repellant, Lesson in Murder won't have much charm. Demme's film sold lots of tickets, but it was was picketed with good cause for its transphobic and homophobic elements. I couldn't forgive its use of Bach's Goldberg Variations as background music for a gleefully meticulous murder. There was deep perversity in this movie. Demme had a screw loose. The pious, boring AIDS flick Philadelphia didn't make up for the homophobia of Lambs. Lesson in Murder if free of these taints, it simply depicts a twisted killer and has scenes of him torturing his victims that are realistic and nightmarish.

    While Jodie Foster's intensity and caring are positive, relatable elements in Demme's film, Schilling points out the weaknesses of the young investigator character in Lesson in Murder. Okada has little acting experience and is simply too handsome to seem plausible as the awkward, friendless, repressed young man Yamada is supposed to be: he seems to be explaining his character rather than embodying him. But of course Okada is easy on the eyes. He makes something pleasant to look at during the scenes of procedural investigation and the prison meetings between Yamada and the killer.

    The motival thread for the action, which is based on a novel by Riu Kushiki, is provided by Yamato's insistence that the 24th of the 24 murders he's accused of is one he didn't do, though he admits to all the rest. At Yamato's prompting, Masaya carries out his own personal investigation to verify this claim, energized by the fact that he hates his school, which he considers very inferior. He wants to prove himself, perhaps discover himself. There is a lot to be learned about him. . .

    The NYAFF previously included Shiraishi's 2018 yakuza movie The Blood of Wolves. (reviewed here).

    Lesson in Murder 死刑にいたる病 ("Sickness Unto Death"), 128 mins., opened in Japan May 6, 2022. Screened for this review at the 2022 NYAFF. North American premiere.

    NYAFF SHOWING: Thursday Jul 21, 2022 at 9:30pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-17-2022 at 09:25 AM.

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    OX-HEAD VILLAGE 牛首村 (Takashi Shimazu, Japan 2022)

    TAKASHI SHIMAZU: OX-HEAD VILLAGE (JAPAN 2022)


    KEIKO HORIUCHI, RIKU HAGIWARA IN OX-HEAD VILLAGE

    A popular horror thriller mystery in a woodsy setting winds up being a slog.

    Ox-Head Villageis the work of pop horror auteur Takashi Shimizu, most famous in the West for his Ju-On series (2003, 2003, 2004, 2006; remade in the United States as The Grudge). It seems safe to guess the "Village" series is Shimazu working in a less serious, less adult mode. Perhaps less successfully.

    Ox-Head Village is the third in Shimazu's popular "Village" horror trilogy. It is the story of high school senior Kanon (Keiko Horiuchi) and her goofy would-be boyfriend Ren (Riku Hagiwara), who view a strange online video in which a trio of teenage girls, rather hysterical and silly and one of them bleach-blond, explore a supposedly haunted hotel. One of the girls—who looks exactly like Kanon—is apparently attacked by a supernatural force and disappears. Ren and Kanon decide to investigate the site of the disappearance, and—this being a horror film—predictably spooky things ensue. If that is what you're looking for. But this is a thousand miles below the quality of Japanese horror you find in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure or his later Pulse. It is designed for fans of popular genre material who know what they want and are not too discerning.

    The festival blurb points out the trilogy features "the eponymous ox head, sinister twinships, murderous curses and three missing high school girls." There always seems to be a young man with nice hair. This is the fourth NYAFF Japanese film in a row with one of those.

    But from IMDb user commenter who goes by "BlackMarketScum" comes the following grim report that gibes more closely with this writer's viewing experience:
    I'm sitting here currently forced by my girlfriend to watch this rubbish. This movie suggestion may have just ended our relationship...

    The plot is boring, drawn out and utterly unbelievable. The production quality is poor, TV-drama-level at best. There's not a single scare or spine chilling moment, and apparently flesh and bone are tougher than a falling elevator. Add on to that a few cheesy moments of 'comedy' and you get this disaster of a movie.

    This is coming from someone who has sat through plenty of other bad movies just for the bizzare moments...but this has to be the most unbearable 2 hours of film I've had to endure.
    It became clear to me early on that the acting quality, most of it anyway, is bad, and I'm not critical about that very often, which also must mean the direction is sloppy. The action seemed trivial and hard to get interested in. What more is there to say? They make bad movies in Japan sometimes. Though there is some found footage use, this is very much not Blair Witch Project quality. There's some pretty natural scenery, which wound up being my only solace in this slog.

    Ox-Head Village, 115 mins., opened Feb. 18, 2022 in Japan, later opening in Taiwan and Thailand. Screened for this report for the July 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival showing, which is he North American premiere.

    Tuesday Jul 19, 9:00pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)
    Director Takashi Shimizu will attend the screening.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-11-2022 at 12:50 PM.

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    RIBBON (Non, Japan, 2022)

    NON: RIBBON (JAPAN 2022)


    MISAYO HIRUKI AND RENA NONEN IN RIBBON

    COVID disrupts the life of an art school student

    Ribbon is the first feature directed, scripted and starred in by actor Rena Nonen, who goes by the stage name Non. It is one of the rare Japanese films that acknowledges the present issue of the COVID pandemic. This is discussed in an article about COVID and Japanese movies by Mark Schilling in The Japan Times.

    It is the winter of 2020, and an art school graduation project that had taken a year to complete can no longer be showcased at its planned venue because of COVID-19. Art school is closed down, and Itsuka Asakawa (Rena Nonen) lugs a bunch of wrapped up canvases back to her little apartment (she's got her own apartment), complaining all the way. The apartment is an ungodly mess - and how bad it is to be stuck in a small apartment alone with that: Itsuka's art school friend is tidy and gets up at six a.m. Itsuka's major project, a big painting of a grand girl hung with paper shreds is enshrined at the center of her room. But while this is home in a way, it's also lonely, and nothing quite makes sense anymore.

    The strongest and most shocking sequence is the visit of Itsuka's mother (Misayo Haruki) who, while straightening up the apartment, unbeknownst to Itsuka throws the big painting in the trash because she thinks it's junk. And that isn't the end of the humiliating things this ultra-irritating okka-san says about her daughter and her ambitions to her face. Moreover when she learns she made a mistake she won't apologize. It's excruciating.

    Dad comes the next day to check up on their daughter and his visit is more purely comical - a "social distancing" device he's brought like a giant Dalinian crutch, which got him stopped by the police, and jars of fruit jelly which are to be consumed at one go. More visits from Itsuka's younger sister and her - dare we say? - more talented art school friend Hirai (Rio Yamashita) follow, and an inexplicable secret invasion by the two young women into the closed art school premises, thereby risking expulsion, where Itsuka and Hiriai partly gleefully, partly tearfully destroy Hirai's big painting project, a surreal landscape, presumably because it's too big to remove from the studio. But still, why?

    A charming, if somewhat fey, episode is that of the man (or tall boy) in the park, whom Hirai and Itsuka think is a creepy weirdo, surely vastly overreacting, until gradually he reveals that he is, in a big twist of fate, not only Tanaka (Daichi Watanabe), the middle school classmate whose praise of Itsuka's artwork was decisive, but also a neighbor who lives in her apartment building. This oh-so-tentative rapprochement is a little pathetic - Japanese shyness at its most extreme - but is also sort of heartwarming in a slightly kitsch way, providing all sorts of hitherto missing hope: of art supporters, of a boyfriend, of tentative human company, even under COVID. The way Itsuka runs around and spies on Tanaka trying to see him with his mask off at a distance before she's sure he is who he says he is seems odd and exaggerated but probably makes sense within the culture and may be a natural part of pandemic comedy.

    The movie is full of tweeness that makes Non seem very much a Japanese Miranda July and is pretty off-putting, at least for an older male Western viewer (and Miranda July non-fancier), but it's nonetheless impressive, relevant, and perhaps even brave. It shows the strange disruptiveness of the COVID pandemic's early stages and particularly how students' lives have been disrupted, and not only that but examines the fragility of an artistic calling. Maybe Itsuka hasn't the talent or the motivation to continue: but would we take on the odious role of the unsupportive, uncomprehending mother? Some art work - no, nearly all art work - in one way or another requires some kind of community to flourish. So does humanity, pretty much. The "ribbons" seemed a nonessential magic realism element thrown in to elevate Itsuka's experience to a more spiritual level - but they may be a valid representation of the transcendent element that art provides so maybe they're not a bad idea, after all.

    Ribbon,, 115 mins., debuted at Shanghai June 2021. Screened for this review as part of the July 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. East Coast Premiere

    NYAFF SHOWING: Thur., Jul. 21, 2022, 4:30pm at the Walter Reade Theater.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-11-2022 at 12:51 PM.

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    OFFBEAT COPS 異動辞令は音楽隊!(Eiji Uchida Japan 2022)

    EIJI UCHIDA: OFFBEAT COPS 異動辞令は音楽隊!(Japan 2022)


    HIROSHI ABE IN OFFBEAT COPS

    Never mind crime detection: what the people need is a really great police band.

    This slow developer billed as a "joyous comedy caper" is uneven and baggy in the middle but has many pro features and an entertaining musical finale. The protagonist, handsome, macho police officer Tsukasa Naruse (consummate pro Hirochi Abe) is sometimes so chilly and harsh early on that his loose-cannon detective isn't always all that funny. And for a Western viewer Naruse's redemption is a little hard to read. But you're not meant to think too deep here - it's entertainment.

    In one of this movie's best scenes, an old lady gets a special sendoff from a police marching band. She'd loved the band, and when she is killed by burglars, the band comes to the morgue and plays a farewell salute, then one by one actually salutes her and backs away. It's a lovely moment, and the band matters, because Naruse has gotten demoted to being a drummer in it for being so aggressive and over-zealous as a police detective he's caused a lot of trouble. In this demotion, Naruse calms down. He becomes a good drummer and the band is inspired to work really hard and become good. Forget crime detection: what people need is a first rate police band!

    Another 2022 NYAFF film, Mayu Nakamura's Intimate Stranger, introduces us to a Japanese scam on old ladies. Someone impersonates a friend of their "grandson" over the phone and convinces them to proffer a substantial sum of money to be picked up at the door to help the grandson sick or in trouble. In Offbeat Cops the callers impersonate cops doing a "survey" to make sure the old lady is staying safe, and then casually ask if she keeps much money in her house. If she says yes, they're immediately there with a "parcel delivery,." They walk in, tie her up, tape her mouth, and go off with her money. This is how the old lady who loved the police band dies: the tape accidentally asphyxiates her.

    Director Uchida reportedly was inspired to make this movie by seeing a flash mob video of a police band on YouTube. We can see he then wanted to invent a story around a cop who winds up in such a band. Nice try, but the relationship between the overzealous criminal investigator Naruse and the (initially) lackluster police band is a bit tenuous, while the personality of Naruse himself is rather roughly sketched in, despite all the scenes of his macho excesses. It all might arguably have been better told in the course of two or three episodes of a TV series, which would save one from having to expect artistic wholeness, and the Naruse character would simply be a common thread. In that format the uneven pace of Offbeat Cops might have gone unnoticed; but this movie seems long. Such a relatively lightweight story shouldn't require two hours to tell. The important story, though, is the uplifting one of an angry man who achieves inner peace and humility.

    But that brass salute to the fallen old lady is classic. And the pro ensemble and competent direction show in what follows, the entrapment of the informer and perp by the band disguised as clown musicians, then the "final" summer fair concert of the band, whose bus makes it through holiday traffic thanks to an emergency lead car. Bam, bam, bam: the action flows superbly in the last twenty minutes. Paring down might have made things move faster earlier on.

    Offbeat Cops 異動辞令は音楽隊, 119 mins., debuts in Japan Aug. 26, 2022. NYAFF showing is the world premiere. It was previewed for this review as part of the July 15-31, 2022 New York AsianFilm Festival.

    NYAFF SHOWING: Friday Jul 22, 6:00pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)
    Director Eiji Uchida and Actor Hiroshi Abe will attend the screening.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-20-2022 at 09:09 AM.

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    SHIN ULTRAMAN シン・ウルトラマン (Shinji Higuchi, Japan 2022)

    SHINJI HIGUCHI: SHIN ULTRAMAN シン・ウルトラマン(JAPAN 2022)


    THE IMAGES OF SHIN ULTRAMAN ARE GLORIOUSLY ARTIFICIAL

    "Irony" des-ne?

    Matt Schley reviews the new Shin Ultraman in The Japan Times. He explains Shin Ultraman is a "gentle silver giant" who invaded Japanese TV screens 56 years ago to slay monsters and delight children. This movie is first of all a deliberately campy re-evocation of that popular favorite. It starts with a shiny new reimagining of the most successful tokusatsu-vs.-kaiju series of all time, with the silver superhero helping earthlings fight off monsters from space. There are some nice new ideas.

    Creative duo Hideaki Anno (Evangelion) and Shinji Higuchi (Attack on Titan). These two titans of otaku cinema and avowed fans of "crashy, stompy" Japanese classics in 2016 already created a revival of the Godzilla franchise. This time they have teamed up to revive another creation from the late special-effects legend Eiji Tsuburaya.

    Half this movie consists of fun recreations of the old effects of giants and monsters roaming the earth and terrifying earthlings such as nicely dressed and nice looking young bureaucrats assigned to figure them out and launch opposition to them and largely filmed separately.

    But sometimes there's a thought-provoking twist, such as "SELF DEFENSE AGAINST TERRESTRIALS THROUGH HUMAN GIANTFICATION." One of the office team, ASami, comes back as a giant replication of herself that is alive, but absolutely impenetrable, and therefore a powerful weapon. And no radioactivity or chemical damage.

    Thereupon, Extraterrestrial #0 arrives in human (well-dressed Japanese male) form, bowing and politely presenting a calling card just like a Japanese businessman. "When in Rome do as the Romans do," he intones; he likes to spout human clichés like this. First of all to establish his bona fides he must display some dramatic special effects to demonstrate to the onlookers that he is, despite appearances, really an extraterrestrial. It seems like he may be an alien arms salesman.

    The giant version of Asami, it's announced, is like a mixture of Gulliver's Travels and (since giant Asami falls down into a trance) Sleeping Beauty. The scenes of her (simply combining images of two different sizes) really do remind one of illustrations for Gulliver, and the idea of recreating Jonathan Swift's masterpiece in an ironic homage to Fifties sci-fi is very interesting. And there is always the nice irony of recreating crude early sci-fi movie effects using sophisticated 21st-century CGI.

    The attraction of the old effects is still there; it's just a question of finding some way of approaching them. As Phil Tippett's recently-issued Mad God illustrates, there is still something rich and special about DIY techniques like painstakingly handmade as stop-motion animation.

    One would assume the best discussions of this film, its predecessors and its successors would be Japanese, but there is a good Italian blog Sonatine: Appunti sul cinema giapponese in which Matteo Boscarol provides a wealth of information about the context. We might also consider that a country with Japan's history of xenophobia might have a continuing affinity for the paranoia reflected in Fifties foreign invasion sci-fi movies.

    Extraterrestrial #0 deems Ultraman's earthly aims to be unacceptable, so he assumes similar form and there is a knock-down battle between them to round out the film in spectacular fashion, but it's the dialogue of the well dressed young bureaucrats that makes all the film's points.

    Shin Ultraman シン・ウルトラマン, 112 mins., opened in Indonesia and Japan May 13, 2022, and also showed at festivals including Neufchatel and Montreal. It was screened for this review as part of the Jul. 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. U.S. Premiere.

    Saturday Jul 23, 1:00pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)
    Director Shinji Higuchi and Producer Tomoya Nishino will attend the screening.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-11-2022 at 12:52 PM.

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    FINDING BLISS: FIRE AND ICE - THE DIRECTOR'S CUT (Kim Chan, Dee Lam 2022)

    KIM CHAN, DEE LAM: FINDING BLISS: FIRE AND ICE - THE DIRECTOR'S CUT 尋找極致的喜悅:火與冰 (HONG KONG, 2022)



    Meet Josie Ho, Jim Chim, MC Yan and a bunch of other men and women from Hong Kong, thespians, musicians, and students, who go on a trip for a few days to Iceland to open up and experience things.

    TRAILER

    In Ron Shelton's Hollywood Homicide (2003), Josh Hartnett plays a good natured doofus of a young cop whose hobby is "finding my "bliss." That is what this group of talented but tense Hongkongers is explicitly doing under the leadership of Josie Ho on their trip to Iceland, where they do workshops to develop physical and emotional trust, a sense of fun, and an ability to feel themselves around wearing blindfolds. It all ends with a big jam session with ten or a dozen Icelandic musicians where they perform a spontaneous version of an Icelandic song with multiple instruments and voices. Along the way there are visits to, and views of, some spectacular and elemental Icelandic landscapes. The contrast with the tiny overpriced flats, crowded streets, and tall buildings of Hong Kong couldn't be greater.

    Early on people explain what sadly we know: that in the 25 years since the mainland Chinese takeover of Hong Kong people have become more and more unhappy. Maintaining autonomy has proven to be an impossible dream. Many have left, and still are leaving. Some just can't. Everybody is depressed. Hong Kong was recently listed as the Interestingly, on the trip somebody reports that a couple of decades ago there were a lot of suicides in Iceland. But government authorities took the matter in hand and by establishing a great number of music academies, far out of proportion to the size of the little country, the general mood has been turned around and now Iceland is one of the happiest countries, whereas Hong Kong is low down on the scale. (Of course these things are subjective and change every year.)

    Part of the group traveling to Iceland and prominent in the film are Josie Ho and her indie rock group Josie and the Uni Boys, together with Cheung Yee-sik (drummer and sound technician), MC Yan (rapper and street artist), Jimmy Mak (guitarist and BMX cycler), Jan Lo (singer), along with group leader Jim Chim, a theatre actor and comedian. Chim helps the group find a kind of bliss within themselves, via a workshop inspired by the philosophy of Philippe Gaulier, a master clown and theatre performance teacher.

    It isn't easy to make a series of exercises interesting. What is going on is clearly more fun to the participants than it is for the viewers of thjs documentary. But we realize something has been going right when we see the Hongkongers, including the shyest of them, joyously busking in the streets of Reykjavik, and then the big successful, galvanizing, joyous jam session at the end, led by Icelandic singers and musicians and Hong Kong ones, including the bearded, Zen MC Yan, said to be the no. 1 rapper of Hong Kong.

    One person says "We have been in Iceland for five days and we have learned nothing." But most of the participants appear to be loosening up and having fun right from the beginning. And if the exercises enthusiastically led by Mr. Chim can pall after a while, the final jam session is really fun and reminded me of the way the infectiously blissful young British musical genius Jacob Collier can galvanize an audience and fill them with improvised musical joy.

    For this review I have drown on the review from Udine by Greta Elettra Broms published on easternkicks.com.

    Finding Bliss: Fire and Ice - The Director's Cut, 80 mins., released Hong Kong 2022. North American premiere. Screened here for review as part of the Jul. 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival.

    Monday Jul 18, 8:30pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)
    Director Kim Chan and Actor Josie Ho will attend the screening.



    JIM CHIM (BIG GLASSES) LEADS WORKSHIP IN FINDING BLISS


    THE HONG KONG GROUP ENJOY BUSKING IN ICELAND IN FINDING BLISS
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-11-2022 at 12:54 PM.

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    LEGENDARY IN ACTION! 大俠Action! (Justin Cheung, Li Ho, Hong Kong, 2022)

    JUSTIN CHEUNG, LI HO: LEGENDARY IN ACTION! 大俠Action!(Hong Kong 2022)


    A SCENE FROM "BATTLE OF THE SEVEN STAR SWORDS" IN LEGENDARY IN ACTION!

    A film about movie nostalgia and the rough and ready nature of the Hong Kong film industry

    Legendary in Action! was directed by acting star Cheung Kin Sing, here making his first feature film and playing the director in the movie, Cheung Chi-piu. (The actor reportedly put on weight to convey the sense that his character, frequently seen puffing on a cigarette and looking depressed and disheveled, is going to seed.)

    Legendary in Action! oscillates between movie dreams and movie realities, the latter exemplified by scenes showing the rough-shod Hong Kong moviemaking process. We see the director as a child watching old fashioned black and white wuxia films on a little TV, ecstatic. That is the dream, or the birth of it. Now, he is washed up even though still young. He was internationally praised at the Busan Festival, but that's forgotten, and one of the main topics here is money and the lack of it - and most of his funding vanishes when big producers run off and a more intimate one, his friend and producer Chuen (Lee Sang-jung) blows his wad gambling.

    Cheung Chi-piu tries to rejuvenate his film by recruiting an aging kung fu movie star, Lung Tin, and a real one, Chen Kuan Tai, plays this role. It was he who played the lead in a series called The Seven Star Sword, which Cheung Chi-piu was particularly inspired by as a boy. Here, nostalgia and reality coincide, and the "meta" quality of this film achieves its best moments.

    Legendary in Action! is a movie about making a movie (he Battle of the Seven Star Swords). The main action is the ruckus about organizing and funding and the messy shoots, which rarely seem to go right. It often feels as though the film itself is a mess: the action and continuity aren't altogether under control and the tone is inconsistent. But When Lung Tin, i.e. Chen Kuan Tai, is in action, though his over-energetic moves terrorize other cast members and override the confines of the script, his skill, even at his age, is impressive and fun to watch. Chen Kuan Tai really conveys a sense that in the heyday of old-style kung fu movies, as he keeps saying, cast, crew, and production values were all top-notch, and we believe him when he is scornful about the quality of present-day stunt performers and props and the lack of rigor and dedication in the filmmaking process.

    But making a movie about making a movie is tricky, and it's not enough that director Justin Cheung (Cheung Kin Sing) is an experienced actor who knows the cinematic process from the inside: sometimes comedy and realism are at war with each other. Characters abruptly shift. A young woman recruited from a restaurant to be Lung Tin's costar starts out being mercenary and cruelly indifferent, then without explanation becomes his sweet, dedicated helpmate. It's suggested that Lung Tin is developing Alzheimer's, but that doesn't quite compute. Cheung Chi-piu's pregnant wife (Yang Sze Min) gets fed up with his lack of attention (cinema is his passion, still, sort of) and goes back to her mother; later she is back, affectionate and happy. Dialogue needed, if possible, to make these transitions smoother and more plausible.

    These are factors that make one less than impressed with Legendary in Action!. But the performance of Chen Kuan Tai leaves an impression and arouses an urge to learn more about how wuxia and Hong KOng action filmmaking have diverged today. The director deserves credit just for taking us to the roughshod Hong Kong low bugdet filmmaking process. We know Wong Kar-wai made his films very rapidly, and perhaps chaotically. Only they turned out to be masterpieces and this didn't.

    (For details I am indebted to a DeepL-translated version of an article about this film by Ryan in Chinese on hkfilmblog.)

    Legendary in Action!/ 大俠Action! (in Cantonese), 92 mins., was screened for this review as part of the Jul. 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. North American Premiere.

    Sunday Jul 17, 3:30pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-11-2022 at 12:55 PM.

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    BIG NIGHT! (Jun Robles Lana, Philippines, 2021)

    JUN ROBLES LANA: BIG NIGHT! (PHILIPPINES 2021)


    CHRISTIAN BABLES IN BIG NIGHT

    TRAILER

    A young Filipino spends all day struggling to get off a government hit list

    Our previous experience of the films of Jun Robles Lana, who evidently is extremely well known in the Philippines, was the 2012 New York Film Festival selection, Bwakaw, for 2012 (a pretty great year for the NYFF), also with a gay main character and also involving locally famous actors. Though maybe local viewers or commenters make Big Night! more overtly political than it is, the terrorism of the dictatorial Duterte regime is the power that hovers over the protagonist, Dharna (the appealing Christian Bables), a young gay hairdresser, and determines all the action. Unlike Bwakaw's elderly gay lead character Dharna is openly gay, and has a boyfriend, Thor (Nico Antonio). The "Big NIght" is an event Thor is competing in that night, and that action is a big part of the celebratory structure that holds poor Filipino life together and one of the sub-climaxes of this busy, funny, disturbing film.

    Things open with a casual street assassination, whose calm acceptance by bystanders shows how commonplace it is. Dharna gets an advance look at a new drug "Watch List" that has his name on it. That is, the old name he rejects, Panfilo Macaspac, Jr.; Dharna is his queer identity name that he embraces. He spends the rest of the action frantically seeking through favors and pleading to get it taken off, because being called in for "questioning" as an "addict" is an event that routinely leads to extrajudicial assassination. In the Philippines' surreal, Kafkaesque "war on drugs," it's the addicts who get punished, by the way, not the drug dealers. Dharna is neither; he's just caught up in the web.

    The sequence of encounters with people possibly able to help Dharna get taken off the "watch list" leads to some funny, raunchy stuff. There's a little of everything, including a clash with Dharna's father (who accepts that he's gay) and with the spirit of his dead mother, smoking and now foul-mouthed, who turns out to be in hell, appropriately enough, since however ludicrous this action is, it's constantly hellish or at least purgatorial.

    Some local authorities come in odd places, like a midwife, and to talk to her Dharna has to assist at a tandem birth event, two pregnant women lying side by side, one giving birth and one about to, both screaming. One viewer has suggested that Dharna's apparent difficulty looking at a vagina is either misogynistic or homophobic or both, but it's not certain anything is to be taken too seriously. There are plenty of dick jokes too. The film is full of grim jests and casual cruelty, especially the latter since the hero is constantly being put off or jerked around by petty authorities whom he is obliged to play up to.

    There's an assurance in the completeness of scenes Dharna enters into, busy, messy, colorful collections of often ordinary characters who nonetheless harbor among them somebody who might have life and death power over someone as weak as Dharna, who's simply in no position to be dignified or brave. This is a world of petty power being ruthlessly exercised all the time.

    After various petty officials who enjoy pretending to be important there's a former star from Filipino cowboy movies, Donato Rapido (John Arcilla). who comically shows off some of his old tricks. The favor he extracts is some dramatic acting by Dharna and his boyfriend in an ambulance, and it's obvious what's going on, and that in order to clear his name, Dharna has to sully it far more profoundly.

    Big Night! has some longeurs: its semi real-time progression of trials has made that hard for director Lana to avoid. The film succeeds n in the details of its moment-to-moment texture more than in its overall structure, but it still manages a rather jaw-dropping finale. Local viewers, hoping for a thread of hope, are displeased with the cynicism of this ending. But despite the way Lana sugars the pill with lightness and camp, this is basically hell. And people see the truth of it.

    Big NIght!, 105 mins., premiered at Tallinn Black Nights Nov. 25, 2021 and opened in theaters in the Philippines Dec. 25 2021. Screened for this review as part of the July 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Film Festival. New York premiere.

    Wednesday Jul 27, 6:15pm
    Film at Lincoln Center
    Director Jun Robles Lana and Actor Christian Bables will attend the screening.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-11-2022 at 12:58 PM.

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