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

  1. #16
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    revivals: HAPPY TOGETHER 春光乍洩 (Wong Kar-wai 1997)

    NYAFF revival showing in the NYAFF July 16, 2022. Review originally published in Dec. 2020.

    WONG KAR-WAI: HAPPY TOGETHER 春光乍洩 (1997)


    LESLIE CHEUNG AND TONY LEUNG IN HAPPY TOGETHER

    Last tango in Buenos Aires - a new direction and new recognition

    The earlier Wong Kar-wai films focused on romantic desire, longing, or frustration, loneliness or fleeting relationships. Happy Together shifts to a couple who've been together a while and are having problems, but can't seem to split up for long. For this turbulent gay love story Wong boldly used Leslie Cheung and Tony Chiu-wai Leung, two of the biggest Hong Kong male stars (Leung definitely straight), showing them passionately making out on a little bed in the very first scene. And Wong reportedly shot that first scene first, rubbing the actors' noses in the unaccustomed gay subject matter (unaccustomed at least for Leung). Maybe to get that out of the way, as some have suggested; but it's not the last gay sex glimpsed on screen. In this film, though, the physical side isn't so much the point. It's the emotional involvement of Po-wing (Cheung) and Yiu-fai (Leung) that counts. It's over but it's not over. It may have turned into nothing but care-taking and fighting, but the hold is as strong as ever.

    The painfully back-and-forth of the relationship between sensuous, promiscuous Po-wing (Cheung) and responsible Yiu-fai (Leung) is underlined by the way Christopher Doyle's images shift back and forth between black and white and color. The scene-shifts are jerky; they jerk us around.

    Wong Kar-wai temporarily avoided the issue of the 1997 Handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule by shooting his 1997 feature abroad, in Buenos Aires, a location the director comfortably makes his own, even if his characters are aliens in it. The relentless, melancholy tango music of Astor Piazolla resounds throughout (and indeed, we get to see the principals tango together) - as does, later on, a Hong Kong rendition of the Turtles' song "Happy Together." Wong knew homosexuality would not fare well under the new regime so he took this last chance to make a film about that theme, treating gay love as a relentless "can't live with you, can't live without you" relationship that makes that title ironic.

    Another irony is that Wong tones down his relationship with the brilliant, bold dp Christopher Doyle with a film of more straightforward (if still often gorgeous) images, and drops the fanciful double plot structures of his last two films in favor of the simple, linear one of the life abroad of three men (and no women). Yet somehow it's perhaps even harder for the viewer to get a foothold in this world that's so concretely depicted, in these scenes that are so simple, even as they evoke every turbulent relationship you may have ever had.

    Yet the world is a concrete one of little shabby rooms. Wong's films have reveled in such rooms from the start, but never more tiny and shabby than the one Yiu-fai occupies after he and Po-wing break up - where Po-wing joins him after one brawl too many when he's helpless, with bandaged hands, jammed with a ghetto style crowd in the hallway below where people cook and there is the only phone. The lived-in quality of this setting reflects the extended time spent filming in Argentina, which was supposed to be brief but extended to four months.

    Vivid also is the tiny tango bar where Yiu-fai works as a doorman in evening clothes, munching sandwiches or quaffing from flasks of liquor as he stands outside in the cold. It's here that Po-wing reappears by chance, arriving in cars with new male conquests or clients. As before, Leslie Cheung effortlessly exudes sensuousness and profligacy. Tony Leung is the orderly, hard-working one, but also a man who drinks and has a temper. We don't see what he does to end his employment at the bar, but it's violent.

    One thing that threads the repetitious, believably going-nowhere narrative together is the couple's project, failed at the start, never abandoned, to visit a famous location, the Iguazu Falls, depicted on a cheap revolving lamp they had in the first tiny Argentine room, which Yiu-fai keeps. It's the objective correlative of the longing for a happy moment that can never be. But the real thread is the little room with the bed on one side and sofa on the other. When Yiu-fai is caring for Po-wing with the bandaged hands, they fight over who'll sleep on which. The secret is Yiu-fai never wants Po-wing to leave. All this is mostly from Yiu-fai's point of view. He thinks this is their happiest time. He hides Po-wing's passport.

    After the tango bar Yiu-fai works in a kitchen. He becomes the only friend of a young twentyish Taiwanese guy, Chang (Chen Chang, who starred in Edward Yang's autobiographical A Brighter Summer Day at fifteen). They drink together and the intuitive kid hears in his voice the sadness Yiu-fai denies. They seem happy playing ball with other Chinese kitchen staff outside the restaurant and it's Decenber, therefore summertime, which Yiu-fai says passes quickly. But not quickly enough: he takes another night job at a slaughterhouse to save money and avoid the now lonely room, for Po-wing has escaped. Apparently Yiu-fai and Po-wing are not going to meet again. Yiu-fai goes to see Iguazu and views the falls alone. Chang has left to visit an extreme southernmost point where he's promised to leave Yiu-fai's sadness. Po-wing enters the old room, empty of his lover now, and weeps. Lots of touching little details here. The friendship of Chang and Yiu-fai is heartbreaking.

    This first Wong film about an established relationship is the loneliest and saddest but the most touching so far. This film brought Wong the greatest international recognition he'd yet had. Yet some Anglo critics dismissed it as too plotless. It arouses mixed reactions in me. It's not as fun as the earlier films, or as glorious visually - despite Doyle's ability to make the most ordinary locations evocative and fresh.

    On the other hand, this is more about grown-up experience than what has come before. But I feel dissatisfied, as is Mike D'Angelo, who has said Happy Together has all the elements he loves in Wong, the moody characters, lovely images, free structure, but irritates him by substituting the romantic yearning with endless squabbling. It's not quite that simple but that's kind of true nonetheless. As a gay person I have to be grateful for this movie from my cinematic idol, but I find Leslie Cheung more interesting in Days of Being Wild, where he's central, than Tony Leung, who's the lonely, reliable guy who dominates here.

    Happy Together 春光乍洩 (Chun gwong cha sit, "Bright spring," the Chinese title reportedly an allusion - ironic? - to the Handover), 98mins., debuted at Cannes in Competition May 1997, winning Wong the directing prize. Viewed on a screener of the 4K restoration "undertaken from the original 35mm camera negative by the Criterion Collection, in collaboration with Jet Tone Films, with l'Immagine Ritrovata and One Cool," approved by Wong Kar-wai. To be shown in a series of six 4K restorations of Wong Kar-wai films in virtual theater from Dec. 11 2020 by Roxie Theater and BAM/PFA. In the NYAFF July 2022 it is included in the HKETO, Classic Marathon.

    July 16, 2022 NYAFF showing:
    Saturday Jul 16, 2022, 9:00pm (Hearst Plaza)



    LESLIE CHEUNG AND TONY LEUNG IN HAPPY TOGETHER


    LESLIE CHEUNG AND TONY LEUNG IN HAPPY TOGETHER
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-12-2022 at 08:36 PM.

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    #LOOKATME (Ken Kwek 2022)

    KEN KWEK: #LOOKATME (2022)


    SHU YI CHING AND THOMAS PANG/AKA/YAO IN #LOOKATME

    A lurid look at free speech, social media, and homophobia in Singapore.

    The Singapore film #LookAtMe starts as jokey and turns shocking. It is urgent, violent, disturbing, lurid, and so campy it may wind up squandering many of its possibilities as social commentary, though it never ceases to be entertaining, or at least gripping.

    The main action begins when Sean Marzuki (Thomas Pang/Yao), an ambitious but unsuccessful young Singapore YouTuber, goes viral for attacking and mocking a homophobic preacher. Sean has a gay identical twin called Ricky (both are played by Thomas Pang/aka yao, who's now finishing a masters at Yale Drama School).

    It happens like this: Sean's girlfriend Mia (Shu Yi Ching) persuades the twins to attend a service of her parents' televangelist Baptist megachurch with her parents to show his, Sean's, bona fides. The service, after the pop music segment, morphs into a virulent homophobic sermon by Pastor Josiah Long (Adrian Pang), which we see in full. It is shocking, glib and hate-filled and seems all too real. (Later, in retrospect it doesn't seem real, but that's the way this movie works.) Something this retro-hateful would be likely not so fully spelled out in an American movie. This is all in English, by the way. The twins, horrified, stomp out of the megachurch, Sean's girlfriend with them. She acknowledges she made a big mistake, but in the event, her loyalty fades, since her parents are angered, not mollified.

    Things have been stirred up, but it gets worse. Sean posts a powerful YouTube squib against the pastor, editing the TV footage of his sermon to make it look like he's hyping bestiality. This leads to multiple complaints to the police by members of the megachurch, and Sean is held on $30,000 bail. At last he's a YouTube hit - only he's now barred from future postings and must take down the provocative video.

    It gets still worse - much worse. Sean winds up doing prison time in a large empty cell with some hardcore prisoners - an experience vividly, if rather stagily, depicted and worthy of a Samuel Fuller film. It's at this point that it becomes clear, if it wasn't before, that this movie is not realistic. The prison section seems something of a lost opportunity. It's here that movie had a chance of becoming more complex here, less blindly theme-driven. But the director is a little better at provocation and attention-grabbing than focused storytelling. His love of shock leads to simplistic effects. The film becomes so campy in exploring the horrors of prison life we may forget it's about real issues.

    While Sean is in prison, Ricky becomes much more angry. He decides to use the old fashioned methods of public appearances, street demonstrations, and TV interviews to protest Singapore's anti-gay law, to make of his and the family's experience a cause. The failed gay lawyer who comes to defend Sean says fighting the megachurch "is not a case but a cause."

    Eventually when he is released and learns how the megachurch's multiple suits have broken his now out of work and penniless mother (Pam Oei) and, worse, if possible, the grievous bodily harm that has been done to his brother Ricky by violent homophobes, Sean adopts a dictum of one of his cellmates and turns to violence and revenge. What seemed to start out being at least partly about earnestness and issues has lost its way in surreal fantasies. But then the film cleverly sidetracks Sean's attempt at becoming a revenge ninja. In the dramatic final minutes, Sean may be about to secure a role as an internet crusader. Only he'd better get the hell out of Singapore.

    #LookAtMe is repellant more than once, boldly so. We're tempted to condemn it, but it's sure of itself in an all-over-the-place sort of way that makes one think maybe after all Ken Kwek has something and must have some cinematic chops, after all. There are serious flaws here. Plausibility goes out the window early. But he knows how to grab you.

    Kwek's two previous features are Sex.Violence.FamilyValues. (2013) and Unlucky Plaza (2014).

    #LookAtMe, 108 mins., in English, Mandarin, and Malay with English subtitles, has its world premiere at the July 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival, where it is in the Uncaged Award for Best Feature Film Competition.

    NYAFF SHOWING: Sat. Jul. 23, 2022, 4pm, Walter Read Theater. World Premiere | Q&A with Ken Kwek, Yao, Pam Oei.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-12-2022 at 08:32 PM.

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    THE GIRL ON A BULLDOZER 불도저에 탄 소녀 (Park Ri-woong, South Korea, 2022

    PARK RI-WOONG: THE GIRL ON A BULLDOZER 불도저에 탄 소녀 (SOUTH KOREA, 2022)


    KIM HYE-YOON IN THE GIRL ON THE BULLDOZER

    Korean super-girl

    The feisty teenage girl in this movie is nearly indestructible. She has a mean look and a badass armful of tattoos. She also has little impulse control, but that can also be how you deal with problems fearlessly as they arise. And while her choice of violence seems wrong, she makes the wrongdoers against her no-count dad pay for their self-indulgence. In the end, she has served a term of forced education/community service and then after far worse misdeeds an eighteen-month jail sentence, and she comes out of it all apparently living a good life with her little brother. Perhaps her wild energy in future will be channeled into artistic endeavors. Whether all this makes any sense isn't altogether clear. But The Girl on a Bulldozer comes that close to being a very original movie and the actress an emerging star.

    The teenage hothead is Goo Hye-young (Kim Hye-yoon). The film opens in a courtroom where the (lady) judge notes that in a restaurant brawl she protected three people, but she also began by striking them, and for that she gets a required course of public instruction in a trade. This is how she learns to drive a bulldozer, an odd choice since she's the first female ever to enter, but later she demonstrates that she (and actress Kim Hye-yoon) has learned to operate it effectively.

    Hye-young's hard-nosed manner makes sense as a survival strategy. Her mother has been dead for years and her father (Hyuk-kwon Park) is unreliable and incompetent and can't pay the bills, which include multiple insurance premiums. At present he is in hospital following an accident. It turns out he hit several people, had been drinking, and was driving a vehicle stolen from his former boss. His condition worsens and he is declared brain-dead. This leaves Hye-young to care for her little brother. But that was true already.

    The situation is too complicated to go into here. The former boss has turned over property to dad where he has set up a small restaurant. It turns out this man, who is a candidate for local government office glad-handing everyone now, is a slimy individual who has exploited Hye-young's father and misled him. Hye-young's dad had gone to confront him about this, leading to the stolen vehicle. The accident claims of the two dad hit turn out to be fraudulent. Dad isn't at fault, and the two "victims" may even be scammers. Hye-young sets out to expose him and in the course of her investigations, which happen all in the course of a single, impressive, madly determined day, she finds proof. When the boss sends money to pay her off, she takes it, dumps it on the floor of his posh flat, and attempts to douse it with gasoline and set fire to it. There's incorruptibility for you. That measure fails, so she commandeers the training bulldozer and goes on a rampage and does some serious damage, not only to the property the boss is planning to steal back, but to the posh flat.

    After Hye-youn is out of jail and working at a restaurant, she gets wonderful news from the series of insurance companies. Several years later they have reversed their judgment and validated her dad's policies and each one is making a payment to her as the next of kin.

    Clearly the filmmakers are out to show us the intricacies of petty local corruption most of all and thumb their noses at them with Hye-young as a kind of objective correlative of their righteous indignation, though they ignore the rule that two wrongs don't make a right. But when we think about it, righteous heroes or heroines - Supermen - do a lot of property damage. There is a part of us that relishes such displays.

    Kim Hye-yoon gives a rousing and convincing performance as Hye-young. Look for her in future high profile films.

    The Girl on the Bulldozer 불도저에 탄 소녀, 112 mins., opened in Korea 7 April 2022. Screened for this review as part of the July 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival, where Kim Hye-yoon receives the Screen International Rising Star Asia Award. New York Premiere

    NYAFF SHOWING: July 25, 2022, 8:30 pm at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center.

    The only English language review is an enthusiastic one on the Korean blog site Society Reviews.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-25-2022 at 09:05 PM.

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    I AM MORE 모어 (Lee Il-ha, South Korea, 2021)

    LEE IL-HA: I AM MORE 모어 (South Korea, 2021)



    INTERVIEW

    Documentary portrait of an elegant Korean trans dancer and drag queen


    A New York ASian Film Festival blurb for this film describes it as "A compassionate, colorful documentary about Korean transgender trailblazer and fabulous drag queen 'MOre,' whose years of rigorous training as a ballerina culminate in an invitation to dance in New York." You can call MOre a "transgender trailblazer," but I'd say Mo-Jimin is the classiest drag queen you've ever seen. Mo-Jimin gets cast in a show in New York in June 2019, 13 Fruitcakes at Theater La MaMa, to commemorate the the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and this important event in the life of the well-known Korean drag performer is the pretext for this documentary.

    Should one refer to MOre (or is it simply "More"?) as "he" or "she" or something else? In an online interview with MOre in Korean, MOre says he is "Not a woman or a man, but a person who lives in pursuit of beauty." His boyfriend calls him "him," so we'll do that, but we may slip into "she" and that's natural, MOre is gender-fluid. David Cameron Mitchell, Wikipedia tells us, in 2022 "came out as non-binary, but still chooses to be addressed by he/him pronouns."

    We don't wind up seeing much of the New York 13 Fruitcakes show; the main focus is on MOre. We see dozens of clips of MOre in heavy makeup, with the longest fake eyelashes you've ever seen, nearly as long as Salvador Dali's mustaches sometimes, wearing fantastic costumes, twirling and posing in beautiful settings, including dancing quite convincingly on her toes in preparation for the Fruitcakes show, in a brand new pair of ballet pointe shoes. (Her gymnastic skill shows in her incredible balance.)

    We learn MOre may have been barred from full ballet studies in Korea. However, some details remain a bit vague in I Am MOre. The film mainly blends clips of MOre's drag performances (or posing in magnificent drag, or naked, in outdoor settings) with footage of him in the present moment. We don't learn much about 13 Fruitcakes or the Korean company involved in it. Its website shows it is a celebration through vignettes of thirteen significant LGBTQ figures, including several Korean ones and Virginia Woolf, author of the gender-shifting novel Orlando. MOre says he is going to play Orlando. But he played multiple roles, and must have beenthe main or one of the main performers, though the film doesn't make that clear.

    We regularly encounter MOre's big bearish longtime (Russian? 20-year?) boyfriend Zhenya, a Pokemon devotee, who plans to perfect his Korean while on an 18-month job-seeking visa and apply for citizenship but is currently out of work. In an earlier clip he doesn't look so big and bearish; they look more alike and more like a regular affectionate gay couple in speedos at the beach. MOre, petite, wafer-thin and disciplined, is a convincing ballerina, a small, light classical dancer. By the way, classical ballerinas tend to have flat chests, though MOre seems to pad his when in ballet garb sometimes.

    We meet MOre's friendly parents and her sister. Growing up in the country, she may have experienced less bullying than - but not none. He went to study ballet at the Korean National University in Seoul, where right away, he says, a male ballet student knocked him down and said "get rid of the femininity." Homophobia was and is strong in Korea, and to illustrate that, "eradicate Queer" festival and several other overtly homophobic street events are glimpsed.

    MOre meets up with a famous American gay icon, John Cameron Mitchell of the 1998 trans musical classic Hedwig and the Angry Inch, whom he had met in Korea years earlier. He recounts trying suicide in school before a test but throwing up the 50 pills and going in and taking the test. Later, in the army, she came out and as a result was classified as insane and sent to a mental hospital. At that time (many clips are shown) MOre discovered Itaewon, Seoul's "party" and gay and drag district, and began dancing like crazy, and crazily, dancing all night, sometimes till he foamed at the mouth. She found joy, an escape from a life she saw as miserable. These moments are helter-skelter in the film's somewhat jerky progression that is held together by MOre and his serene, elegant, disciplined face.

    Unfortunately when MOre sees Mitchell at his apartment in Manhattan it turns out he can't see 13 Fruitcakes; he has to be away that weekend to receive an award and perform in Provincetown. A sad letdown, but they hug and exchange gifts.

    Though he says his being born with balls was a big mistake and he knew this from the beginning of his life, in a a revealing conversation with a prizewinning Korean transgender beauty MOre reveals he has given up the idea of surgery because it was always "too scary" and he has no regrets about that anymore, for one important reason because he knows that he has Zhenya's fully accepting love as he is. The film ends with a focus on the couple celebrating with sparklers at night, laughing and happy. The image that remains from this film is of MOre in a magnificent black costume posing in front of a grand building in the snow, but there is no still of this scene available, alas.

    I Am More 모어 ("Mo-eo"), 121 mins., debuted Sept. 11, 2021 at DMZ Doc Fest, showing also at Busan Oct. 9, 2021. Screened for this review as part of the Jul. 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. North American Premiere

    NYAFF SHOWTIMES: Sun., Jul. 24, 2022, 7pm at the Walter Reade Theater.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-25-2022 at 08:49 PM.

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    PERHAPS LOVE 장르만 로맨스 (Cho Euon-ji, South Korea, 2022)

    CHO EUN-JI: PERHAPS LOVE 장르만 로맨스 (SOUTH KOREA, 2022)


    RYU SEUNG-NYONG, MIN JIN-SUNG IN PERHAPS LOVE

    Amorous confusion and literary inspiration

    The Korean title of this this amusing and well made romantic comedy means "Genre Only Romance" and you should not confuse it with the glamorous 2005 Chinese mainland-set musical, English title also Perhaps Love (Chinese title 如果·愛), directed by Hong Kong's Peter Ho-Sun Chan and starring Takeshi Kaneshiro, Xun Zhou and Jacky Cheung, which concluded the Venice film festival. This lower profile new film, a bold farce about love and writing with partner-switching and gayness, may really be more successful at what it sets out to do than Peter Chan's overblown musical. It may depart a lot from reality, especially with its gay-friendliness (word has it that mainstream Korean attitudes and practices remain pretty homophobic). But romantic comedies don't have to be realistic, and the gay element may soften Korean prejudices a little. The well-written screenplay by writer Kim Na-Deul makes things complicated but keeps them easy to follow - even for one who finds Korean names difficult.

    The action starts with Hyeon (Ryu Seung-nyong), a best-selling writer who has been creatively blocked and written nothing in the seven years that have passed since the publication of his wildly successful first novel. His best friend is his publisher Soon-mo (Kim Hee-won), who is dating his ex-wife Mi-ae (Oh Na-ra). Things get complicated when Hyeon sees Mi-ae and they have wild sex. Mi-ae and Hyeon have a problematic adolescent son Seong-kyeong (Sung Yoo-bin), the reason why they're still in touch- who is witness to their sexual re-encounter and is very disturbed and confused by it.

    While visiting a gay writer friend, Hyeon meets Yoo-jin (Mu Jin-sung), a young, also gay, aspiring writer who's been living with the friend. Yoo-jin follows up by visiting Hyeon, revealing that he's had a huge gay crush on the blocked older writer for a while - and leaves the manuscript of a novel he's written for Hyeon to read. Hyeon politely deflects the come-on, since he's totally straight, and at first, of course, ignores the MS. But when he gets to it, the MS turns out to be brimming with talent. Hyeon shows it to Soon-mo. They arrange to have Yoo-jin live with Hyeon and collaborate on a writing project incorporating Yoo-jin's novel. Awkward for Hyeon, but lovely for Yoo-jin, though he maintains a safe and unthreatening distance, writing up a storm and seeting with well-repressed desire, though also haunting Hyeon by attending his writing classes now. Hyeon is inspired to write again, but things get complicated, and funny, because he's sleeping in the same room with a young man who's wildly in love with him. I'm not sure how the Korean audience reacts to this, but it can't help but be titillating, at least for the gay audience, especially since Mu Jin-sung, who plays Yoo-jin, is very cute. So is Sung Yoo-bin, who plays the hilariously emotionally unstable young Seong-kyeong.

    A funny thing in itself is the filmmakers' attempt - which doesn't have to be realistic, of course - to depict what the duo writing project would be like, with multiple media - pencil, computer and split screens. A major focus of Perhaps Love obviously is confused, misguided, or misdirected desire, but another big interest is the male ego. Hyeon's is constantly under attack, though he's stable - or depressed, not a prima donna or worthy of being one. To keep him in his place, in the background there' also a woman writer on the scene - though never honored by being given on-screen dialogue - who's shortlisted for the Booker Prize. If she wins the award (which she does, at the worst possible moment for Hyeon), Hyeon is going to be even further eclipsed.

    There's also a whole slow-burning romance between Hyeon's adolescent son Seong-kyeong, who''s got plenty of time, since he uses his confusion over his parents' illicit sexual encounter as an excuse, not for the first time, to quit going to school or showing up for tutoring. A quirky young neighbor, Jeong-won (Lee Yoo-young), who says she's an actress, starts following Seong around. It's a big tease, and Seong is lonely, having just lost a girlfriend who dumped him when she got pregnant by someone else.

    Except for the intense moment of ex-sex, there is no sex in this movie. What there is, is a lot of hilarity and confusion revolving around writers and writing and misplaced desire. Hyeohn and Yoo-jin are joint celebrities now, Yoo-jin is under contract to the publisher for future work, and all the mess has led to Hyeon being in the running again as an important author thanks to the jointly authored book, Two Men. He acknowledges publicly that Yoo-jin is a greater talent. But he has met the deadline and hasn't had to pay the huge penalty to the publishers and investors he was looking at if he didn't turn in another book.

    The story winds up with the two collaborative authors, Hyeon and Yoo-jin. They plan to go their separate ways, but they reunite by unexpectedly meeting April 1 in Užupis, the town in Lithuania, actually a neighborhood of Vilnius, that every April 1 becomes an independent country for that one day, a place that Yoo-jin had long fantasized about and once described to Hyeon. This leaves a lot of other threads a bit dangling, but is a sweet, colorful change of location for an ending.

    Perhaps Love 장르만 로맨스, 113 mins., debuted in Korea Nov. 17, 2021 on the internet; IMDb also lists it as opening in Mongolia Jan. 28, 2022. Cho Euon-ji won best director at the BaekSang Arts Awards. At the NYAFF Ryu Seung-ryong receives the inaugural Best from the East Award, which honors "a singularly outstanding performance in a film" and the film is included in the Uncaged Award for Best Feature Film Competition. Screened for this review as part of the Jul. 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. North American Premiere. On a official Korean website for Perhaps Love there are more stills than I've ever encountered for a movie - 106, an embarrassment of riches indeed. The glossy website makes this seem like an important production. I wonder if it was really only opened on the internet. Perhaps Netflix Korea?

    NYAFF SHOWTIMES:
    Tuesday Jul 26, 9:00pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)
    Director Cho Eun-ji and Actor Ryu Seung-ryong will attend the screening.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-25-2022 at 09:20 PM.

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    NOTHING SERIOUS 연애 빠진 로맨스 (Jeong Ga-young , South Korea 2021)

    JEONG GA-YOUNG: NOTHING SERIOUS 연애 빠진 로맨(SOUTH KOREA 2021)


    SON SUKKU AND JEON JONG-SEO IN NOTHING SERIOUS

    TRAILER

    Asian Wiki

    A Korean rom-com, risqué, blasé and sweet

    Here we have a fairly conventional, and fun, Korean rom-com, with risky bits, a journalistic angle, and a sweet finale, with two very watchable actors in the leads.

    Ham [or Mak] Ja-young (Jeon Jong-seo), on the brink of thirty, is a young woman who's just lost her boyfriend and her job and owes a lot of money. She's feisty and fresh ("has a daring personality," a site says). Park Woori (Son Sukku), four years older, wants to be a novelist, but is working on an online magazine. His editor (Kim Jae-Hwa), a ferocious, bossy, but elegant and sexy lady, shaking up the mag to save it,
    insists Woori has to write a sex column now, forget the sports one. He's lost his girlfriend too, and both Ja-young and Woori, after the manner of rom-coms, want to have a safe, unromantic affair and not get their hearts broken. And of course that doesn't quite work.

    Ja-young (Jeon Jong-seo) and Woori meet with no previous experimentation on the dating app Love Bridge." His moniker is "Tweety Bird". Her's is "Sleeps Around." Upon meeting, they exchange their real names. Hers sounds-like "sleeps Once" and his sounds-like "the act of fucking."

    The not-quite meet cute is well enough done to make one wish some of the preceding 25 minutes of chitchat with secondary characters had been skipped, but the Ja-young/Woori affair isn't meant to go too deep. And we needed to set up Woori's situation and meet Ja-young's girlfriends, especially her best friend, Sun-bin, a divorce lawyer, and her wise and elegant grandmother (Kim Young-Ok), important because her mother died shortly after her birth.

    The meetup takes place, memorably, on New Year's Day. Ja-young got there early and seeing a blood donation truck, gave some as her New Year's good deed. This makes her hungry, which leads to a sit-down noodle meal. After a disagreement over buckwheat noodles, Ja-young suggests soju. They drink. She says she picked him on Love Bridge, since he asks, because he looked the least likely to have an STD. He blanches. "Even if a Prince Charming comes along," she adds, "he's no use if his dick is small." He chokes. "You're something else," he laughs.

    They go to a hotel and have sex (not seen). Will there be more? He's interested, but she's non-committal. After all, she had wanted "nothing serious." She tells him so. But when Ja-young reports to her girlfriends, Sun-bin says she has a "FWB" now, and she doesn't deny it. (See my review of Will Gluck's 2011 Friends with Benefits with Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake and a comparison with the, I thought, more intriguing Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher vehicle No Strings Attached.)

    For meetup no. 2, the app pair start out with a really lengthy, drunken soju session this time, with mutual interrotations and opening-up. The setting and the activity are totally Hong Sang-soo, but the style and bright cinematography are Hollywood. This is not a European-festival-style movie; it's an entertainment, with jaunty music to accompany the drinking and the revelations to keep them light. They awaken in each other's arms and bed the next morning in another hotel, but they didn't have sex.

    As this continues, with plenty of sex now, Woori is using the encounters for work in his "sex column." He doesn't describe the sex; he talks about the surprises and the feelings. There's a Situation here: he's mining a relationship - even if it's not one, yet - for titillating literary material. More and more people are reading the column. The editor is ecstatic when it gets over 500,000 hits, and takes the entire staff out to eat beef, promising them bonuses and a free trip. And this success is plausible partly because Ja-young is made to seem to us a truly original character, someone whose individuality young women would identify with and young men would find sexy.

    But the more involved the soju and sex sessions become, the more attracted Woori is - on the verge of saying "I love you," the more uncomfortable he becomes with his column's success. Rising to over 700,000 hits doesn't help; it makes it worse. More pressure, more embarrassment, more shame. Though shame is not mentioned. When he is about to tell Ja-young it's over she drags him to her ex's wedding, which he willingly sabotages, though what he does is hidden and more malicious than criminal, and she realizes her plan of destroying the wedding was absurd and drags them away. With this act of complicity their mutual vibe is just too good for him to fess up now, and when she suggests they go to a fair next time they do. It's there, after a fun, romantic montage of rides, that he misplaces his smartphone and she finds it while he's in the loo, and the jig is up.

    But what will happen next? You have to see and find out.

    Both of these are interesting, much admired actors: people will watch this movie for them, and to a lesser extent because Jeong Ga-young has shown herself in her previous three films to be a bold and distinctive woman director whose work is also entertaining. Son Sukku spent a lot of time in the US and Canada studying and speaks good English. He majored in visual arts and film at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has been the CEO of a company, and in his military service volunteered for the "Zaytun Division" serving in war-torn Iraq. He has been in a popular Netflix series and been a director. He is quite famous and one can see why. With a few words exchanged with a woman met on a dating app he becomes immediately interesting. He has gravitas, an attractive, mysterious inwardness, and a wicked smile. As for Jeon Jong-seo (it was Jun Jong-seo before: so it goes with transliterations of Korean names), she came to wide attention through playing one of the lead roles in Lee Chang-dong's superb 2018 thriller Burning, one of the best films of that year's New York Film Festival. And that was only the beginning. She currently stars in the international Netflix series, "Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area."

    Not pretentious, not earth-shaking, Nothing Serious is nonetheless full of scenes, mainly but not only the ones between Jeon Jong-seo and Son Sukku, that I'd be happy to watch again some day. These are characters you'd like to hang out with.

    Nothing Serious 연애 빠진 로맨 ("Romance Without Love"), 94 mins., opened in Korea Nov. 24, 2021, and in Japan Jul. 8, 2022. It was screened for this review on a screener provided by the co-sponsors of the July 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. New York premiere.

    NYAFF SHOWINGS:
    Sunday Jul 31, 3:45pm (Lila Acheson Wallace Auditorium, Asia Society)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-16-2022 at 02:54 PM.

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    CONFESSION 자백 (YOON Jong-seok, South Korea 2022)

    YOON JONG-SEOK: CONFESSION 자백 (SOUTH KOREA 2022)


    SO JI-SUB AND KIM HUN-JIN IN CONFESSION

    Tangled web of a powerful murder suspect and his ace defense lawyer, from a Spanish original

    A remake of the twisty, convoluted 2016 Spanish thriller Contratiempo /The Invisible Guest, written and directed by Oriol Paulo. Italian, Bolllywood, and Indian Telugu language remakes also exist. This is a skillful mystery murder thriller with a posh dark sleek look. It is the purest hokum, but it done very well. The actors are good, the music restrained but effective. The focus is the long interview, with many illustrative flashbacks or filmed possible versions, as a rich corporate IT CEO talks to a woman defense lawyer who has never lost a case. He is accused of murder, she is to get him off. It all feels made up to hold us, but despite ourselves we are, indeed, held, right to the end. Nonetheless this is a construct of immense artificiality, a conversation filled with lies on both sides formed out of filmed possibilities and flashbacks can't seem very real, even though it pushes our cinematic buttons.

    We can't go into all the details because that would spoil the surprises, even if we could remember them all. Yoo Min-ho (suave, convincingly despicable So Ji-sub) awakens, dazzed from a blow and a fall, found in a locked hotel room with his dead mistress Kim Se-hee (Im Jin-ah, known as Nana). He insists he didn't do it. But there was nobody else there. As he talks to attorney Yang Shin-ae (Kim Yunjin of "Lost") his story changes. For her to be able to defend him he must tell her everything, she insists. She also informs him that his confession isn't convincing, and, not that he must tell the truth, but that he must make up a better story. A good defense, she says, is made up of convincing fabrications.

    Then, Mr. Yoo starts to tell a whole different story, not about the murder of his mistress, though he will get to that later, but about a crime that he and she committed a while ago - their coverup of the accidental death of a young driver when they were on a winding road and swerved to avoid an elk, and the other car hit a boulder. You see, they didn't want it to be known that they were on the road together because their affair was secret. An intricate series of eventS unfolds involving a strange coincidence and a lake - events that will double back toward the end of the film.

    This suspenseful and smartly constructed film was deemed a worthy closing for the Udine Far East Film Festival. And it is wonderfully slick. But despite its success the critics didn't like the Oriol Paulo original and there is no reason why we can admire the same kind of construct made in South Korea. It is too self evidently more delighted in its own narrative ingenuity than anything else. But there is something addictive about it and the acting and filmmaking here are polished.

    Confession 자백, 105 mins., debuted at 36th Fribourg International Film Festival Mar. 20, 2022,[1][2] and its Italian debut at the 24th Udine Far East Film Festival Apr. 30, 2022 as closing film of the festival. Screened for this review as part of the July 15-30, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival.

    NYAFF SHOWTIMES:
    Saturday Jul 23, 8:30pm
    Asia Society
    Director Yoon Jong-seok will attend the screening
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-24-2022 at 01:39 AM.

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    THE FUNERAL 頭七 (Dan-guei Shen, Taiwan 2022)

    DAN-GUEI SHEN: THE FUNERAL 頭七 (TAIWAN, 2022)


    WU YIHAN IN THE FUNERAL

    Bad reception

    The visuals are generally elegant in this slow-burner horror film from Taiwan, which blends family conflict with folk evil spirits and explodes into traditional intensified scares and excitement in the last twenty minutes of its 103-minute run-time. An uncomfortable mood is definitely created, though some moments are just too conventional and a perceivable disconnect between the opening and later sections reveals a certain weakness in a screenplay that has some inconsistencies.

    The family conflict, and the elaborate focus on funerary ritual, makes one wonder if this couldn't just have been a straight socio-psychological drama. On the other hand, for horror genre fans, all the delving into personal issues may seem to get in the way. Central is a mother, Chun-hua (Selina Jen Chia-Hsuan) and her teenage daughter Qin Xuan (Wu Yihan), who live in Taipei. The daughter suffers from kidney disease and is delicate, needing a transplant. The pic opens with a long sequence where mom, working in a large convenience store at night, walks around continually spooked by odd noises, then a power outage. Later, she and her daughter go out to the family seat in the country - a Chinese language site, Movies and Culture calls it "a dimly lit old mansion" - for the funeral and seven-day wake of mom's grandfather where they are met first by an unfriendly reception from relatives, then by the hostile pursuit of unfriendly spirits. The daughter meets family members she's never known. They are just as unfriendly as the spirits. This world is both familiar and unfamiliar for the mother now.

    It turns out Chun-hua hasn't been back in a decade because there was a falling out when she became pregnant out of wedlock refusing to reveal the father's identity or to end the pregnancy as her parents, especially her father (Chen Yi-Wen) wanted, and went to Taipei to raise the child on her own. Her parents have not forgiven her for this. Her father, the most convincingly disagreeable, walks up and simply says, "You are not welcome here." That's about as malevolent as family relations can get, and no folk evil spirits are needed to reinforce it. Mom is nearly as unpleasant. More comes to show Chun-hua's mistreatment in early life, but this is never resolved or explained.

    A "large mourning hall built in the countryside" (the Chinese site again) is an impressive reference point of the film that is both grand and scary, a place where "The hanging couplets and yellow curtains make people feel chills down their spines." The daughter is afraid to go to the funeral, so mom goes alone, and while separated from the girl is attacked by a peripheral family member (Na-Do) who, lacking legitimacy, has been excluded from the will and is enraged by this.

    While her parents have told her to leave, Chun-hua is determined to remain for the traditional seven days of ritual surrounding a funeral, with the soul wandering on preceding days and set free on the seventh (and sometimes multiple seven-day rituals thereafter). There is a Taoist priest on hand played by Chen Jiakui. We don't quite get to the full ritual, because in the last quarter hour of the film all hell breaks loose, with some possessed by malevolent spirits and violence entering the mourning hall for a dramatic and surprising finale. The site I've cited says this is the best horror movie ever made in Taiwan. Maybe, maybe not; horror fans may like only the last part, but tech features are good throughout and the late scenes have good visuals.

    (For more about the plot complications I defer to Don Aneli on Letterboxd who has the only lengthy discussion at present, in English at least.)

    The Funeral 頭七 ("The First Seven"), 103 mins. Screened for this review as part of the July 15-30, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival, the film's international premiere. It debuted in Apr.1, 2022 at the Quingming Festival in Taiwan.

    NYAFF SHOWTIMES:
    Wednesday Jul 20, 9:00pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)



    THE "LARGE MOURNING HALL BULIT IN THE COUNTRYSIDE"
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-13-2022 at 01:27 AM.

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    LIFE FOR SALE 售命 (Tom Teng, Taiwan 2021)

    TOM TENG: LIFE FOR SALE 售命 (TAIWAN 2021)


    FU MENG-PO, JOANNE TENG IN LIFE FOR SALE

    No time to die

    This movie from Taiwan about a failed young insurance salesman Liang (Fu Meng-po) makes desperation fun. There's a daft, ironic nihilism about it that recalls early writings of William Burroughs and might have been directed by the Cronenberg of Naked Lunch.We're in a kooky urban purely cinematic world. With its candy-colored noir style, its desperados in the subway, it's elaborate failed suicide attempts (by attempting to consume fatal amounts of cinnamon, chewing gum and carrots), its cockroaches and the loosely-slung young female neighbor Yu-jen (Joanne Tseng) with a teenage son needing a heart transplant who comes over to drink, this is a sprightly and fast-moving tragicomedy full of youthful bravado. As time goes on the movie drifts into genre violence which is over-the-top fun but drifts from earlier promise.

    After he gets fired from the insurance job for socking a high-earning stiff - since the income hs's bringing in, a bespectacled female accountant totes up, is less than they are paying him, Liang sets out to follow the theme of the eponymous Yishima novel he picked up on the subway, Life for Sale. (A nice detail is the lingering smell of vomit on the book cover from Yu-jen throwing up on it one night.) He decides to sell his life for real, on the internet. But once he makes known how little he values it, the more others seem to value his existence: e.g., a mysterious woman (Janel Tsa) who urgently seeks a test subject for a high-stakes experiment. Interesting and well costumed characters turn up: a medical experiment, and shady old Mr. Wang (Tsai Ming-shiou), who wants someone to perform dangerous tasks, including getting back a stolen dog from a vicious rival crime boss. Liang spends the rest of the film fighting off unsavory characters out to get him.

    Things may begin to seem a little random by halfway into the 105-minute runtime. While the outcome is uncertain, the irony of the situation is clear, how Liang's death instinct has made him desirable material for various oddballs with missions. We could have used a pause for breath or a change of tone: this is a film where a completely new chapter, like in Wong Kar-wai's Fallen Angels, would have been welcome. But producer now first feature director Tom Teng in his enthusiasm misses, as feature debut helmers often do, the need to pause for air. The temptation of stylish pop genre violence has been too great. It's fun, but it swallows up the film's earlier promise.

    However the first twenty-five minutes of so are among the freshest and most stylish footage the NYAFF has to offer this year, and we must be grateful for that. Better luck next time, Mr. Teng.

    Life for Sale 售命, 106 mins., Mandarin and Taiwanese, English subtitles, debuted in Taipei in early May 2022. Screened for this review as part of the July 15-30, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. International Premiere.

    NYAFF SHOWTIMES: Showtimes
    July 24
    9:30 PM
    Q&A with Tom Teng
    Walter Reade Theater LincolnCenter
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-25-2022 at 08:28 PM.

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    MANCHURIAN TIGER 东北虎 (Geng Jun 2021)

    GENG JUN: MANCHURIAN TIGER 东北虎 (2021)


    ZHANG YU AND XU GANG IN MANCHURIAN TIGER

    Cold laughter in China's far north

    A review in Sino-Cinema by veteran Asian film specialist Derek Elley says of this extremely dry, off beat comedy that it "overstays its initial welcome." He describes in detail how the director shows off an indie style of longueurs and eccentric provocations. Though this effort is more commercial than previous ones, it did not do well at the box office.

    A coal-mining city in set in Heilongjiang province, located in China’s northeastern corner, closer to Russia than to Beijing, the present day, winter. Xu Dong (Zhang Yu of An Elephant Sitting Still) operates his own bulldozer loading coal at a mine. He’s broke, is married to the heavily pregnant Meiling (Ma Li), and has a young mistress, Xiaowei (Guo Yue).

    Before this "deadpan dramedy" takes shape, we see a few sketches introducing the characters. Xu Dong (Zhang Yu) is an excavator machine operator in a mine of this constantly cold Chinese Northeast, and between a cigarette and an excavation, he enjoys the regular visits of his mistress Xiaowei (Guo Yue), not the first, we learn. Despite her insistence, he is firmly and melancholically convinced that his marriage is the only thing he has left in his life. On the other hand, it's his wife who keeps the marriage together. With the same determination she instructs Xu Dong to get rid of their handsome German Shepherd, Ruyi, to prepare for the baby. He struggles to find someone who will buy the animal as a pet and not for the meat. As a last resort, he leaves it to builder Ma Qianli (Zhang Zhiyong), who has a spacious courtyard and a reputation as a successful businessman. Xu Dong also tries to help Luo (Xu Gang), a friend who has mental illness and considers himself a poet, by getting him a job as a schoolteacher, but this is not successful. And Ruyi winds up eaten.

    The themes of Geng Jun's film are various: family and the attachment to money; desolation and the lack of a social structure of assistance for the disabled; betrayal, viewed fatalistically, at the expense of respect for women. The protagonist never really pays the price, except through awkward and clumsy triangular situations, which are as worthy of our scorn as of our forgiveness.

    The film won the top prize, the Golden Goblet, at the 24th edition of the Shanghai International Film Festival, June 2021, Variety reports. Geng’s previous film, Free + Easy, won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017. Manchurian Tiger is his fourth feature.

    Screened for this review as part of the July 15-30, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival.

    NYAFF SHOWTIMES:
    Sunday, July 17 at 1pm, Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-14-2022 at 11:47 PM.

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    RIPPLES OF LIFE 永安镇故事集 (Wei Shujun China 2021)

    WEI SHUJUN: RIPPLES OF LIFE 永安镇故事集 (CHINA 2021)



    TRAILER

    Tumultuous three chapter filmmaking sort-of documentary evokes Jia Zhang-ke and other role models

    Wei Shujun, the young director of the semi-autobiographical (and wholly indulgent) Striding into the Wind shown in Competition at the abortive 2020 Cannes Festival, depicted himself as a dissolute, slightly jokey sound man driving a beat-up jeep Cherokee. But he has been a Cannes protégé since his short film On the Border 延边少年, was awarded Special Jury Distinction in 2018. This time he reveals the extent of his ambition (and his enthusiasm for cinema) in this ironic, but rich and beautiful mocumentary about the cast and crew of a pretentious indie film about to be made in rural China about "authentic" people.

    The film is divided into three interlocking chapters. The first one, entitled Waiting Alone, in particular is gorgeous (thanks a lot to dp Wang Jiehong), and at points evokes Jia Zhang-ke's exciting early work. Every shot is complicated and fascinating and fun, full of people and junk. The color is like you've never quite seen before and a delight to the eye. The plot again is very meandering but focuses on certain crew members and on a squabbling local couple, the vibrant, pretty young wife, Xiao Gu (Huang Miyi), with a year-old baby, also running her in-law's little restaurant which now finds itself catering for the film crew. She and her husband argue about whether she should breast feed; the husband quotes edicts from his mother to countermand his wife's wishes. Meanwhile the crew members turn their cameras on her and like what they find.

    Wei Shujun's previous feature seemed so meandering, disorganized and indulgent I didn't review it. Derek Elley's description of it in his Sino Cinema review (after one of his typically meticulous summaries) was "a pointless two hours spent in the company of uninteresting people," and that did not seem too wide of the mark. But something about the detail of scenes, and the lack of self-centeredness about this, second feature by most counts, fourth by Elley's more inclusive reckoning, makes one feel forced to take notice. But it's still not easy to describe or to do justice to all the often chaotic details.

    The film overall concerns a big female star who after 20 years away brings a film crew to her remote hometown for a shoot. The Chinese title means "Yong'an Town Story Collection" and the film was shot at Zixing City, Hunan Province. The production is afflicted by disagreements among crew members while as mentioned, Xiao Gu, the bored local restaurant operator, is excited at the prospect of becoming a stand-in for the star and the star suffers from being too famous.

    The first chapter belongs to Gu; the second one, called It Looks Beautiful, begins with the arrival of the film’s leading lady Chen Chen (Yang Zishan). Chen Chen's desire to return to the simpler life of her youth is deceived by her realization that now that she's a star, of course nobody treats her as a normal person in Yong'an Town any more and they celebrate her in endless cumbrous ways she must smile and endure while old friends and acquaintances turn away from her, try to gain favors from her, or are sadly changed. This is a combined study of the disenchantments of "success" and the disillusionment of a simpler past that's forever lost. It's a chapter rich in colorful celebratory scenes, fireworks and costumed dragons and crowded reception parties, chaotic material still sometimes suggestive of Jia Zhang-ke.

    The third chapter, perhaps more in a Hong Sang-soo mode, focuses on the director (Liu Yang) and the screenwriter (actual film screenwriter Kang Chunlei), who argue over the philosophy behind the film and what it should feel like. This chapter is entitled Pluto Moment, referring (I gather) to the 2018 Zhang Ming film about a film crew who get lost in the mountains and never complete their film. This title signifies a creative impasse experienced by the script writer and the artistic differences between him and the film director. The scriptwriter is a melancholic romantic and a fan of classic rock; the director is a sanguine pragmatic ex rapper (a Wei standin?). They appear incompatible and it doesn't look like the script is going to be completed. And it will never be authentic even if it is, because the crew realize it ought to be made in Hunan dialect, which they can't do.

    Screen Daily compliments Wei for "Swiftly delivering on the promise of his freewheeling, semi-autobiographical debut feature" and calls the film " a dexterous rumination on the pursuit of authenticity" The reviewer, John Berra, suggests Wei this time "courts comparison with the meta-comedies of Hong Sang-soo" because the film's local ingenue is complimented for resembling Hong's muse Kim Min-hee - whom she has never heard of, of course. Hong may come to mind in the third chapter, while obviously the first evokes Jia, and the second could bring to mind The busy, crammed early segment is nothing like Hong's minimalist dramas, but early Jia Zhang-ke can't help but seem real influence and not an unsuccessful one.

    Ripples of Life is inconclusive, by intent, but begins to live up to Wei's extravagance and promise. This is one to savor and rewatch.

    Ripples of Life 永安镇故事集 ("A collection of stories from Yongan Town"), 123 mins., in Mandarin and Hunan dialect with English subtitles, premiered at Pingyao in Oct. 2021, and also debuted at Cannes 2022 in Directors' Fortnight, showing later at London, Busan, and Brussels and other international festivals. It was screened for this review as part of the July 15-30, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival.

    NYAFF SHOWTIMES:
    Monday, July 18
    6:00 PM AT THE Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-16-2022 at 02:14 PM.

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    MAMA BOY 初戀慢半拍 (Arvin Chen, Taiwan 2022)

    ARVIN CHEN: MAMA BOY 初戀慢半拍 (TAIWAN 2022) |


    VIVIAN HSU, KAO KO IN MAMA BOY

    TRAILER

    A sheltered son breaks away

    The situation of Mama Boy brought back memories of the classic 2001 French comedy by Étienne Chatiliez, Tanguy. Xiao-hong (Kao Ko) is a sheltered young man, nearly thirty, who lives at home - but only with his mother, who is very bossy. And this is not like the posh bourgeois Parisian world of Tanguy. Meiling (Yu Ziyu), Xiao-hong's mother, works in retail. And rather than perpetually at university, Xiao-hong works in his uncle's tropical fish store. Xiao-hong is a strange, touching character who finds a unique way out. Director Arvin Chen has a fresh approach, but it is the performance, and the presence, of heartthrob Kao Ko that makes this film especially memorable.

    Xiao-hong is a peculiar young man. He is tall and almost silent, and appears glum. In the trajectory of the film he will gradually open up and start to smile. He has been completely under Meiling's thumb. She is trying to find him a girlfriend, but when she sets him up on a dinner date, mom intrudes via smartphone and becomes an obtrusive third party present at the table and the girl flees from the restaurant with dinner untouched. As Meiling, Yu Ziyu risks being shrill and sometimes is, but the secret of Chen's comedy is that it stays human.

    In Kao Ko's wonderfully restrained and surprising performance Xiao-hong is strange, mysterious, sad, but also very sweet. In his quiet containment there is a world of potential waiting to be let out. Yes, he's an odd creature, but he's presentable too, tall, poised, on the edge of "handsome guy."

    It's Xiao-hong's cousin at the fish store who drives a wedge into the young man's isolation by dragging him to a "love hotel" to lose his virginity. Against his will he's pushed into a room with one of the girls, known as Apple, a specialist in virgins. When she starts to service him he immediately flees. But it's at once clear that he has liked the madam, Sister Lele (actor and pop star Vivian Hsu). And for obvious reasons. He's not awkward with her as he is with the restaurant date or the cute young woman who comes to buy fish because she's been told it will cure her insomnia. Sister Lele is a mature woman and also beautiful. In Vivian Hsu's excellent performance the audience finds Sister Lele attractive too, at ease and casually elegant.

    And sad and problematic. But that comes later. Xiao-hong starts coming to the brothel all the time. He just sits in the room with Apple and then leaves on his motorcycle. Sister Lele of course hears what's going on, but she tolerates it, and Apple likes having such an easy customer. We know that he is living for the glimpses of Sister Lele.

    As the world of Sister Lele's problematic son Weijie (Fan Shaoxun) comes into play it's jarring, a break in the gentle social comedy and a hint of danger and violence. Weijie is slick, handsome, confident, a con man whose unwise scheme selling knockoff wine is going to get him into serious trouble with dangerous loan sharks and with the law. He only sees his mother when he desperately needs to borrow money from her. The film seems to slip into a different, gangster genre. Weijie is a liar, a trickster, an angry man. Weijie and his mother make the relationship of Xiao-hong and his mother seem not so bad after all. When Weijie glimpses Xiao-hong's relationship with his mother he is angry and there is going to be trouble.

    Chen avoids sentimentality in the relationship that develops between Xiao-hong and Sister Lele when he starts accompanying her to a dance bar, an old hangout of hers and learns a little about her past. But when he starts dancing around in the fish store - a memorable image of the tall young man and the sweeping, graceful movements - it tells us he's in love, a little delirious, transformed. She's a lonely woman and divorced her husband immediately after Weilie was born. Her trials with him make her time with Xiao-hong a comfort.

    Xiao-hong starts haltingly dancing with Lele, staying out at night. His mother is not happy. He won't tell her what he's doing or introduce her to his new "friend." By now he is all focused on Sister Lele - he still calls her that, treating her with great respect and almost awe, which she cannot help to especially like. The movement of the film is that as Xiao-hong grows more confident and happy, but always restrained, with Lele and they have a great time dancing and he takes her home on his motorcycle, the trouble Weilie is in is correspondingly getting worse while Meiling is getting more angry at Xiao-hong's suspicious new independence. There is a subplot of Meiling's chorus and a male singer of the group who's interested in her, a retired police academy professor. This connection will lead to big trouble for Sister Lele when Meiling finds out who her son has been seeing all this time.

    It is inevitable that this sweet comedy will move into disaster and some violence and end with disenchantment. It will end with Meiling's statement that she and her son have both learned important lessons. It would seem that Arvin Chen hasn't a mean bone in his body. the lack of irony of Mama Boy is essential to the unique quality that Kao Ko's subtly nuanced performance embodies as the lead.

    This is the his third feature set in Taiwan and in mandarin for forty-four-year-old writer-director of Mama Boy Arvin Chen, who was born in Boston of Taiwanese immigrant parents and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, graduating from UC Berkeley and USC School of Cinematic Arts. After college in 2001 he moved to Taiwan and worked for Edward Yang, an interlude that had a decisive effect. He returned for film school at USC. His short made there, "Mei," won a Silver Bear at Berlin 2007, and his debut film Au Revoir Taipei won awards at Berlin, Deauville, and San Francisco. It will be interesting to see if in future he incorporates his American background into his films. A story in Taiwan News[/i] about Mama Boyreports that he has lived in Taiwan for the past decade. He is completing two other films and says that he plans "to focus on international co-productions."

    Mama Boy, 94 mins., debuted at the Udine Far East Film Festival, and it opened in Taipei. It was screened for this review as part of the July. 15-30, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival at Lincoln Center. North American Premiere.

    NYAFF SHOWTIMES:
    Showtimes
    Saturday, July 16
    3:15 PM
    Walter Reade Theater
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-14-2022 at 12:36 PM.

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    DEALING WITH DAD (Tom Huang, United States 2022)

    TOM HUANG: DEALING WITH DAD (2022)


    PETER S. KIM, ALLY MAKI, HAYDEN SZETO IN DEALING WITH DAD

    A Chinese American family faces a depressed dad

    With an uneven start, and some glitches along the way - Tom Huang brings in too much and leaves some threads dangling including several unnecessary relatives and a young Taiwanese immigrant (Anthony Ma) - Dealing with Dad winds up being a touching and astonishingly bold portrait of the problems, hopes, dreams, and ordinary satisfactions of a first-generation Chinese American family living in California. It's also a very welcome addition to the New York Asian Film Festival. New York is, after all, in America, but Asian Americans are woefully underrepresented in mainstream American movies and in this festival.

    As the title implies, there is humor in Dealing with Dad, in which director Huang has a strong background, but it's built around very real issues, particularly one Huang dealt with in his own family and one that's shirked by many, particularly in the Asian-American community: depression. The Taiwan-born father (Dana Lee) who is not young, has lost his job and that has triggered a bad one: he spends all day in bed lifeless, debilitated, staring at the television in a daughter's cluttered former bedroom, having already turned his own into a dump. He won't acknowledge anything is wrong, nor will his wife.

    The comedy - maybe not so much - is that in this very reduced state Dad is not a little, but much nicer, too weakened to be the loud, violent, overcritical, overbearing asshole brute he normally is. Do the adult children really want him back like that, the way he was abusing them as kids and adults?

    The action begins with the parents' most accomplished of their American-born offspring. Their daughter, Margaret (Ally Maki), is a hotshot, with a job on a startup, taking charge of her kid Nikky's school bake sale, and married to a nice African American husband, Jeff Atlas (Echo Kellum). But she has stress dreams, something like the trailer of The Shining. She keeps working a Rubik Cube and reciting a mantra, "I can choose how I feel, and I feel peace," to calm down.

    Jeff tells Margaret she has to go to deal with the Dad problem. Against her will she goes and against his will she gathers her banker older brother Roy (Peter S. Kim), who's overweight from stress eating due to his broken marriage, and they hop a plane and go north to Milpitas, where their old rooms await them, except Margaret's is occupied by Dad. Their mother (Page Leong), with her blunt, comical English, is kooky, racist, and dramatically stingy, and forever misunderstanding and pushing to get the kids married. She loves Nikky but forgets and calls him a mongrel. She's not much help here. Roy's a bit of a mess: he's having to face being served with divorce papers - another thing that's funny, but not exactly.

    Younger brother Larry (Hayden Szeto), who's 33, is already there. He's a case of arrested development, still living at with Mom and Dad and seeming more a boyish hobbyist than an adult. There are some good scenes of him and Aaron (Ari Stidham), the large, bulbous, bearded manager of a hobby store, bargaining for the sale of some of his choice action figures. His character is very specific. Cash poor, he likes that Dad gives him money unquestioningly now, and, living at home, he likes having Dad be quiet and out of their hair.

    On the way to the house in the rental car Roy and Margaret talk and we see several flashback glimpses of Dad's truly horrific meanness and sometimes violence.

    A lot of interesting stuff happens that show off the family's interactions, which can be hot tempered, but have an underlying love behind them. After a visit from a nice young Indian psychiatrist they know (Karan Soni) who confirms the depression diagnosis and prescribes Zoloft, Margaret eventually persuades Dad to take the pills and start seeing a therapist who (improbably?) makes house calls.

    And then, Dad is an asshole again, as bad as ever. But that has taken quite a while, and by that time Roy's and Larry's fortunes have improved immeasurably, Larry has a place of his own with Sarah (Megan Gailey) and a job at Aaron's store, and Margaret is doing as well as ever. They have learned things about Dad's life in Taiwan and things given up in America that make them understand his sacrifices for him.

    The point has been made: Asian immigrant parents can be clueless and cruel, but they care, and the families are tight, for life. Depression is a disease people have trouble dealing with, but it can be cured. And director Tom Huang has done a remarkable job of talking about his own experience in a way that's humorous, but also truthful (including references to the pandemic, by the way). Audiences like that. It's what blurbs call a "bittersweet comedy," but it feels more unique than that label. This reviewer didn't want it to end.

    The multi-ethnic cast members aren't exactly mated with each of the characters they play but are all the more fascinating as a picture of the complexity of Asian American life - maybe, except that only English is poken here other than a few words between mom and Shiao Li.

    Dealing with Dad, 106 mins., debuted at Cleveland Apr. 3, 2022, showing at other festivals including Alabama, Oxford MI, Phoenix, Tucson, San Francisco's CAAMfest and LA Asian Pacific. Screened for this review as part of the New York Asian Film Festival, July 15-31m 2022, It showed July 15.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-18-2022 at 04:57 PM.

  14. #29
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    RECLAIM 一家之主 (C.J. Wang Taiwan 2022)

    C.J. WANG: RECLAIM 一家之主 (TAIWAN, 2022)


    BAO QIJING AND YU JIAAN IN RECLAIM

    Portrait of a retiring woman lacks shape

    CJ Wang's feature debut revolves around a woman who's life revolves around others. She is Mrs. Yeh or Ye Lanxin (Bao Qijing), who once wanted to see the world and be an artist, and now is a soon-to-retire children's art teacher whose husband (Kou Shixung) and children order her around like a servant and she humbly obeys. Her placid nature keeps this situation from feeling as ugly as it is. Much of the film gets lost in financial speculations whose outcome isn't altogether clear, and so the film doesn't quite go anywhere. It has made its point, which is to show a glimpse of the complicated life of a middle class Taiwanese woman, but the result is not an altogether successful film, at least for non-Taiwanese viewers.

    This is a film rich in details but also lost in them. It seems to want to be a gentle chronicle of domestic life à la Ozu (but with an ironic twist?) but that doesn't come off, and there are dangling threads, in particular one about a young man who shows Mrs Yeh properties for sale and offers her off-the-cuff investment opportunities who may or may not have swindled her. The property-viewing scenes are repetitious.

    There are interesting scenes with Mrs. Yeh's elderly mother (Yu Jiaan) who is elegant but has Alzheimer's. (Isn't she a bit too well turned out for one so out of control mentally?) She gets into trouble at the nursing home and so Mrs. Yeh wants to bring her home. To this end and also because of the value Taiwanese attach to property investment, she starts searching for a larger house to buy. (Her husband takes little interest in this. Isn't that odd??) Her relations with her mother lead up to a dream sequence which is supposed to lead to a sense of fulfillment and understanding, but this passage is overlong and doesn't come off. And all the property-viewing scenes: where are they going, exactly?

    It feels, from a western point of view at least, as though Wang is a bit, sometimes a lot, too forgiving, or at best just ambivalent. The husband whom a festival blurb calls "mansplaining" is worse than that. He's really just an a-hole, inexcusably exploitative and condescending. He is a blunt illustration of Taiwanese society's lingering, deeply inbred misogyny, which allows women still today to be assumed to be responsible for all the trivial duties around the house, and as mothers likewise obliged even toward adult children. Mrs. Yeh makes a few gestures of independence, equivalent to saying "Do it yourself," but the screenplay doesn't make clear if these are changes or anomalies. One mild gesture of change comes when Mrs. Yeh doesn't answer a phone call from their son, who, after they have spent so much on his education for so many years, now suddenly tells them that instead of taking a local teaching job, he is going to go to the country with his wife and take up farming. This is news so devastating that she doesn't dare tell her husband.

    The key element is the relationship with the mother, because the point is that Mrs. Yeh used to be a daughter herself, who had hopes and dreams long now lost in duty; the mother now is set free in her meandering world of dementia. And what will become of Mrs Yeh? But it's difficult to deal with a character with dementia because she is cut off and opaque.

    Reclaim provides a great deal of detail of everyday life from the point of view of a sixty-something woman, including those all-important scenes in Chinese films of food preparation and eating. But the detail pours out unheeded; the screenplay needed refinement. The film and especially the latter part with its confused dream sequence need paring down and reshaping, with tweaks in the house-hunting segments as well. CJ Wang is nonetheless a promising young director with a gift for the mundane who may provide more shapely depictions of domestic life in future.

    Reclaim 家之主 ("Lord of the House") , 123 mins., debuted in Taiwan June 11, 2021. A review by Daniel Ku in Vogue(which can be viewed in English translation) can be found here reveals that Bao Qijing won numerous acting awards. International Premiere.

    NYAFF SHOWTIMES:
    Friday Jul 29, 6:00pm
    Asia Society
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-16-2022 at 12:31 PM.

  15. #30
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    THE SALES GIRL (Janchivdorj Sengedorj, Mongolia, 2021)

    JANCHIVDORJ SENGEDORJ: THE SALES GIRL Худалдагч охин (MONGOLIA 2021)


    BAYARTSETSEQ BAYANGEREL AND DULGUUN BAYASQALAN IN THE SALES GIRL

    TRAILER [without subtitles]

    Odd job

    From the look of The Sales Girl the director Janchivdorj Sengedorj has much wit, even if slipping on a banana peel is an obvious visual joke to open with. The camera plants itself square in front of a path and watches till somebody falls on the banana peel, and it's a student called Namuuna, who breaks her leg. She seeks out the protagonist, Saruul (Bayartsetseg Bayangerel), to fill in her afternoon job. Saruul is shy and withdrawn, sure to be discreet, needed because the job is in a sex shop.

    Bayangerel, who plays this role, goes through a transformation from drab girl to sleek, confident beauty very convincingly and very fetchingly. She is a glory of this tale. But so also is the owner of the sex shop, the owner's house, the market place where Saruul's parents work, the differently ornamented felt slippers they make to sell there, and the sounds we hear all around us. Sengedorj's way with sound is a special delight. We prick up our ears to hear the great variety of ambient sounds and the way they meld into the score - because the music is at all times diegetic, part of the local environment, performed by a small band, singer Dulguun Bayasgalan and the popular indie group Magnolian.

    Saruul is often hearing the band, and us with her, through the big headphones she likes to wear. Once on a bus as she sings along a young man sitting in the back is singing along too: he happens to be the leader of the band. At the end before the credits and through them the whole band appears, drums, three guitars, and a violin, playing on the wide promenade Saruul walks along, strutting her stuff now.

    Every day Saruuj, a student of nuclear engineering to please her parents who wants to be an artist, has to take the day's cash from the sex shop to the store owner, Katya (Enkhtuul Oidovjamts). Oidovjamts is the other glory of the movie and almost seems to dominate it, were Saruuj's (i.e. Bayangerel's) transformation not so vivid and so attractive to watch. Katya has had many lives and many husbands and is a little bit famous. She is sophisticated, so is her apartment, and she speaks Russian. But now she lives alone with the alcohol she tipples, the cigarettes she smokes, and a cat called The Boy. Saruuj starts spending more and more time with her. She is learning a great deal, and having fun. Katya also obviously needs her; she's lonely. Sometimes Katya's pronouncements on life are a bit tiresome or irrelevant. But the point is, she is teaching Saruuj to pay attention, to care.

    There is also a young man, terribly bored and wanting to become an actor, who has a huge dog. He and Saruuj sit in front of her apartment building talking of nothing much. But like the pistol in the play, he will be used later on.

    Not everything makes sense or fits and there may even be some continuity trip-ups, but Sengedorj gives pleasure because he's confident and has panache. Scenes follow one another unexpectedly but inevitably and while sometimes things heat up, he knows when to take a break.

    The sex shop has its moments too of course, and it's a lovely one, red walls, glowing light, dildoes and inflated dolls attractively arranged as if there were a place to have sex, not just shop for it. The shop is part of Katya's mystery: why? She doesn't seem to need the money. But she believes in sex shops, and also in horoscopes and fortunes and good and bad luck. Around her hovers a hint of spirituality and magic realism. To Katya Saruug brings openness and laughter.

    Somehow as a result of spending time with Katya, Saruug's fuzzy, drab looking face starts to be smooth and glow and her hairdo gets better. And then she sleeps with a boy and that leads to a talk with her parents. It's not about the boy. It's about her major. She begins wearing skirts, sometimes red, and painting in an art class; physics has been dropped: her life begins.

    The Sales Girl is the kind of festival experience that makes one wish small movies from obscure countries could find a wider audience. A delightful, richly accomplished film.

    The Sales Girl Худалдагч охин, 123 mins., debuted at Osaka. Screened for this review as part of the July 15-30, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. North American Premiere. This film won the Uncaged Award for Best Feature Film at the festival.

    NYAFF SHOWTIMES:
    Thursday, July 28
    6:30 PM at the Walter Reade Theater
    Q&A with Janchivdorj Sengedorj
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-23-2022 at 12:45 AM.

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