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Thread: NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL, July 1430, 2023

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    A-TOWN BOYZ (Eunice Lau 2023)

    EUNICE LAU: A-TOWN BOYZ (2023)


    TWO OF THE RAPPERS IN A-TOWN BOYZ

    A different Asian-American reality - in the South

    A 2015 NBC TV feature story shows this is a project that goes back many years. (Eurice Lau's interest in the problems of Asian Americans in Atlanta actually goes back to 2010.) It got a boost from Spike Lee then, and now we have this in-depth documentary about Asian rappers in Atlanta and the gangs they came from, rival Korean, Cambodian, and Vietnamese ones, and how they developed. It's a different picture of Asian immigrant life, far from the image of the perfect family that sends its children to Ivy League schools and instead strives so desperately to start a cleaning business or a jewelry wholesaler that the kids were left in a crib in day care till eleven p.m., crying. They grew up angry, and they joined the various local Asian gangs, which are growing larger.

    Georgia gun laws allow gangs to shoot back when attacked: it's legal. A horrifying example of where liberality about guns in America is leading.

    Spike Lee told Eunice Lau - a tough lady in a black leather jacket whose English is accented - that "it's not about the rap." "No, it's not about the rap," she agreed, "It's about the struggle. Sharply formatted individual interviews and profiles show the depth of Lau's work here, and we hear from the parents, too. The gangs carry out criminal activity, so group photos have blacked-out faces for anonymity. The splashy intertitles add kick and are unusual for a documentary.

    The film follows one progression of a young Asian rap group to a performance at The Velvet Room, a serious mainstream venue, marking their entrance into 'mainstream' rap. But somehow it does not go so well. Further episodes lead to a number of the 'boyz' featured in the film, Vickz, Bizzy, and Eugene getting in trouble with the law and doing jail time. After they get out they tell what it was like. As Asians they were in an extreme minority. Vickz's father buys a restaurant to work with him for a straight life, but Vickz quits after a few months and goes back to rap to 'be my own boss.'

    A-Town Boyz, 72 mins., premieres at the New York Asian Film Festival on July 23, 8.30pm ET at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater.
    WORLD PREMIERE Q&A WITH EUNICE LAU


    THE SPASHY INTERTITLES ADD KICK
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-17-2023 at 02:01 PM.

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    NOMAD (Patrick Tam 1982)

    PATRICK TAM: NOMAD (1982)


    CECILIA YIP, LESLIE CHEUNG IN NOMAD

    Jeune et joli - a Hong Kong idyll from the early eighties

    This new restoration of the 1982 film of Patrick Tam, Nomad, made in Panovision, is of interest because Tam was a mentor of Wong Kar-wai of the Hong Kong New Wave, and it includes a young Leslie Cheung, before he became famous.

    As Simon Abrams says in his RogerEbvert.com NYAFF preview, it also features a "well-synthesized combination of sunny teen melodrama and arthouse sex comedy" - whatever that means, exactly. It's an odd but curiously fascinating mixture. The opening comedy sequence of a gang of young women disrupting the life of a young male lifeguard at a pool seems a bit unnecessary and overly boisterous but it ushers in Pat Ha (as Kathy) stealing the show as the sexy vixen who captures the heart of lifeguard Pong (Kent Tong). Most of the action, though including some oldsters, is about young couples, equally young and nubile, kissing and getting sexy, even on a bus, with a guy descending and exiting from a double decker with the girl still mounted on him. Though they get sexy, they also seem innocent and pure, especially the guys, most of all the pretty, almost feminine Cheung, who even then has something special about him. His girlfriend is called Tomato (Cecilia Yip).

    At one point Louis (Cheung's character) gets pushed over a wall and badly knocked up. Only then, recovering in splints and cast, does he appear in the short shorts that the other guys are so often seen wearing, a fashion so out of style now it looks outrageous. There is a series of short scenes featuring one couple or another. Some are studying Japanese and several Japanese characters enter the not particularly organized story.

    Then it turns out the "Nomad" people have been referring to is an antique sailing vessel owned by Louis' father, and the focus is what's going on on that now and the couples who remain on land. On the boat also, hiding, is the Japanese boyfriend who has deserted from the Red Army and as punishment is ordered to commit hara-kiri/seppuku. At the end that happens, in the goriest detail, the sweetness is over, and the action has turned horribly violent. Maybe this finale is "a prophetic lament," as Abrams says, foreshadowing grim developments and Hong Kong's loss of independence. It just seemed crazy to me, a punishing, doubtless tongue-in-cheek, change of genre and violation of decorum, proof that this film has been on its own wavelength all along.

    Abrams points out that Nomad was Tam's third feature. It's a unique combination of sweet romance, sex, and gory violence that looks beautiful and remote in this handsome restoration.

    Nomad, 96 mins., debuted Hong Kong November 26, 1982. Revived 2005 (Japan) and 2006 (Hong Kong). This 4K restoration, director's cut, debuted March 31, 2023 at the Hong Kong festival. Screened for this review as part of the 2023 New York Asian Film Festival.
    Showtimes
    Friday, July 21
    3:45 PM Buy Tickets
    Venue: Walter Reade Theater



    LESLIE CHEUNG RESISTS THE SHORT-SHORTS STYLE AT FIRST IN NOMAD
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-14-2023 at 02:07 AM.

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    OKIKU AND THE WORLD/SEKAI NO OKIKU (Junji Sakamoto, 2023)

    JUNJI SAKAMOTO: OKIKU AND THE WORLD せかいのおき (2023)


    HARU KUROKI, KANESHIRO IN OKIKU AND THE WORLD

    TRAILER [no subtitles]

    TEASER

    Japan's late Edo period seen from a new angle

    The world of jidaigeki Japanese historical films is a tastily atmospheric one. This time stinkily atmospheric, and more original than most. Sekai no Okiku, which begins in 1858 in Edo (Tokyo) and environs, largely revolves around the very different way that human excrement was dealt with in those days. ("Shit" is the word in the subtitles so it must reflect blunt language in the Japanese.). Junji Sakamoto's mostly black and white square format film takes us into the much different and more basic world of the late Edo period, focusing on two shit dealers or 'manure men,' and Okiku (Haru Kuroki), a pretty temple schoolteacher, daughter of a discredited Samurai (Koichi Sato) living in a humble tenement, who suffers terrible misfortune but finds love. The Japan Times veteran film writer Mark Schilling links this film with the 1957 Kurosawa classic The Lower Depths; but it's sui generis, and graphic enough to shock the squeamish.

    The three are first united in front of an outhouse in a heavy rain. Chunji (Kanichiro), at this point a waste paper seller, stands on one side, Yasuke (Ikematsu Sosuke), `a manure seller with his two pots of shit, is on the other, and Okiku runs up, coming from the temple, too proper to say why she's really there. It's obvious Okiko, who remembers Chunji from the temple where he sells paper, fancies the lean, handsome young man, and scorns Yasuke.

    Things change after that. Yasuke, who has just lost his partner, persuades the initially unwilling Chunji to join him in the more profitable manure trade. Okiko's father is murdered and her throat is slit, rendering her long ill and forever voiceless. A cross-class romance slowly, very slowly, grows up between Okiku and Chunji, though he feels unworthy. The sweet sentimentality of their love reminds me of something in De Sicfa's Miracle in Milan. They are reduced to emphatic gestures because she can't speak and he's illiterate. When she wordlessly proposes to him, he asks if she can teach him to read and write some time, and later he joins a class where she holds up her own handsomely brushed pages of calligraphic text to illustrate the stentorian lesson of the temple teacher (Maki Claude) - he's focusing on "world" - the word and the place - and some adults sit in the back behind the kids, generously welcomed as latecomers to literacy.

    The manure men are scoffed at but not lacking in dignity. Chunji is, after all, good-looking, and has a natural grace. Chunji lives poorly but in town; Yasuko is more of a country bumpkin. Whether or not they scoff, the citizenry would be mired in shit and the farmers lacking in fertilizer without the manure men, who don't seem to have much competition.

    This film is organized quaintly into short chapters - preceded by vertical, calligraphic titles - that end with a few seconds in color. It ranges from bawdy humor to historical examination to harsh social commentary to sentimental romanticism. The camera is often on the sludge Chunji and Yasuko deal in and their big ladles and double short barrels hoisted on shoulders. They must buy it, and the price goes up. They take it to sell to country farmers, and also spread it on cultivated fields - it's a world unlike ours, a simpler, more efficient time when waste is not wasted.

    Many rude and comical mishaps occur, but we're never allowed to forget the unfair abuse heaped on the manure men, who as both orphans, are free but lonely, and still harbor emotional needs. There is an over-explicit aspect about all this, but the strength of the film is that it takes us so deep into the basics of a world whose simple lack of plumbing and flush toilets makes it so very different from ours. The filmmaker hasn't escaped the historical genre but he has made it feel different and fresh.

    Okiku and the World せかいのおき, 90 mins., debuted at Rotterdam Feb. 1, 2023, released theatrically in Japan in April and afterwards shown at Jeonju and Shanghai .Screened for this review as part of the 2023 New York Asian Film Festival.
    Showtimes
    Sunday, July 16
    2:30 PM, Walter Reade Theater
    Q&A with Junji Sakamoto, who will be honored with NYAFF’s 2023 Screen International Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-15-2023 at 01:37 AM.

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    EGOIST / エゴイスト (Daishi Matsunaga 2022)

    DAISHI MATSUNAGA: EGOIST/エゴイスト (2022)


    RYOHEI SUZUKI, HIO MIYAZAWA IN EGOIST

    [WARNING; SPOILERS]

    Seeking family

    Japan may not quite be where the West is on making gay films. Its macho culture is not where Hollywood is on gayness. Reviewing Egoist, Mark Schilling of Japan Times ("Layered LGBTQ drama offers bittersweet romance"), calling it "groundbreaking," comments that though Tom Hanks and Robin Williams scored points as famous straight actors playing gay characters in Hollywood movies, only straight Japanese actors (or at great risk closeted ones) could think of playing the roles of Kosuke (Ryohei Suzuki), the gay showboating fashion magazine editor, and Ryuta, the gay financially strapped young physical trainer here.

    Egoist lives partly in an earlier era for gay films and partly not as indicated by the facts that it has graphic sex scenes one would not see in a movie of the time of Fassbinder, but its somewhat stilted and schematic plot seems Fassbinderish. One might see this as Franois Ozon without the wit. The two men are easy contrasts, poised to satisfy different needs. Kosuke, the successful fashion magazine editor who has made it with the showcase apartment and designer-clothes-stuffed dressing room and dining-out rat pack, feels empty inside because his mother died when he was young. He has a remote relationship with his father , a cute, bespectacled oldster. The boyish, forever smiling Ryuta (Hio Miyazawa), who Kosuke hires as a physical trainer he knows to be cute and gay has neither education (even in physical training, though they meet when Kosuke hires him for that) nor financial security, but he has a mom he lives with and cares for. So Kosuke can fund Ryuta, and Ryuta and his mom can be a surrogate family for Kosuke.

    This seems like a Fassbinder situation but Fassbinder would not have dared the full-on graphic sex scene director Matsunaga presents between the two men within the first twenty minutes. The bigger, stronger, older, richer Kosuke appears to be the bottom, the younger, more delicate seeming and presumably less experienced Ryuta starts things off by giving Kosuke a peck on the mouth out on the street and is the top, more than once in different positions, including in the shower.

    Egoist goes out of its way to be full-on and up to date in its sex scenes. And there turns out to be plot logic in a surprise: browsing on a gay sex app Kosuke discovers Ryuta has another line of work as a call boy. That has to be gotten out of the way, Ryuta, confronted by Kosuke posing as a new trick, accepting a monthly stipend that allows the young man to rely on a less risqu and less lucrative job, which for some reason turns out to be working at a restaurant. Kosuke also seems to be a connoisseur of food: he's seen describing an exquisite creamy dessert to some other men (an intense little set piece), and another time gently admonishing Ryuta, perhaps only fit for relatively unskilled labor in a professional kitchen, for gulping rather than sipping an unspecified special white wine.

    Obviously the high pitch of this film determines that this couple are not going to settle down to a life of calm domesticity sharing Ryuta's mother (Sawako Agawa, whom Schilling calls "wonderfully understated." She is certainly wonderful, later cooly deadpan and stoical. Ryuta takes Kosuke to dinner at the humble flat he shares with her, but nothing is openly revealed or discussed. The men's love may be obvious, but it cannot speak it name. Later Kosuke's financial support of Ryuta continues, though it's not clear how it's working.

    The action keeps showing Kosuke acting as Ryuta's sponsor as much as his lover, now buying him a car so he can drive his mother to medical treatment she now needs. One day, just in time as it turns out, the two offhandedly declare mutual love. But another day Ryuta doesn't answer and Kosuke, knocking on the door, learns from Ryuta's mother that he has suddenly died. Kosuke breaks down at Ryuta's funeral and he and Ryuta's mother have the frank talk they couldn't have at the dinner.

    This is another up to date moment. She turns out to have thoroughly liberal, understanding views and to have had a little conversation with her son after the dinner. She guessed the relationship and said it was important only that you love, not whom you love. Now, in one of the film's most intense and Japanese scenes, there is a verbal struggle at the little dinner table where Kosuke ends by literally begging Ryuta's mother to accept his financial support and explains that he needs this.

    It's in the scenes between Kosuke and Ryuta's mother that the film, however "groundbreaking" in Japanese terms for its bold gay sex, becomes most interesting and most specific (and the meaning of the title emerges). And it's here that the rather plain and masculine Ryohei Suzuki as Kosuke, not altogether convincing as a gay fashionista (except when looking in mirrors or making up his eyebrows), becomes a real person as the helpful loving friend of an impecunious but outspoken older woman. These final moments are on a whole other level.

    Egoist/エゴイスト, 120 mins., debuted at Tokya Oct. 27, 2022, released theatrically in Japan Feb. 10, 2023., also showing at Hong Kong, Taiswan, Italy, and Provincetown. Screened for this review as part of the 2023 New York Asian Film Festival.
    Presented in the 20223 New York Asian Film Festival
    Showtimes
    Saturday, July 15
    8:30 PM Standby Only
    Venue:
    Walter Reade Theater
    NEW YORK PREMIERE Q&A WITH DAISHI MATSUNAGA AND RYOHEI SUZUKI
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-15-2023 at 01:29 AM.

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    HOME SWEET HOME (Takumi Saitoh 2023)

    TAKUMI SAITOH: HOME SWEET HOME スイート・マイホーム (2023)


    MASATAKA KUBOTA IN HOME SWEET HOME

    Nice variation on the haunted house genre

    The Japanese can be superb at horror films - see Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure - and this is a fine one.

    At first it seems like it's going to be a slight variation on the haunted house genre, only with a bright, 'perfect" new house with all sorts of climatic and security electronic gadgets. Simple, cheery Hiromi (Misako Renbutsu) chirps with awe and glee. She and Kenji Jiyosawa (Masataka Kubota from Takshi Miike’s First Love), a gym personal trainer and the young head of family have two little kids, Sachi, a child, and Yuki, a baby. When first lookin at sample houses, Hitomi is pregnant with Yuki.

    The gadgetry of the house exhibits a passive menace. It's wonderment masks a potential invasion of privacy. Already you know there's trouble. But it's more complicated than that. And the early house-hunting and house-choosing scenes almost seem like a comedy, if one that can turn menacing.

    But there is really much more than the menace of the house here as Kenji's whole world turns into a living hell, and Kenji is part of it too.

    The delight of getting the new house is shadowed by the presence of Koichi Amari (Yohei Matsukado) - a menacing, jealous house sales agent, who resents a woman being chosen by the couple to design their new house, as well as represent the sale. After the grim, oily-faced Amamri and Kenji have had a hostile encounter, Amari is found dead. This is when Kashiwabara - a police inspector - first approaches ken to inform him.

    Later he meets Ken and tells him Yurie Hara has been found hanged in her house. In shock, Ken says she would never do such a thing. But the videos have caused her husband to leave her; surely she was not very happy.

    Ken happens to have been having an affair with Yurie Hara a now married woman; they meet for one last time. She looks unhappy. Later, they meet again and she is distraught. Videos of her and Ken have been sent around.

    Ken's odd brother Saturu (Ysuke Kubozuka), who looks like somebody in a horror movie, is crazy, but lives with their mother (Toshie Negishi). He thinks the world is full of "them," evil creatures out to get us. Ken takes him seriously, and Saturu finds the new house full of these unseen creatures.

    While all this is going on externally, the film is exploring the house's dark and scary places too. It has them, low closets where Saturu and a child hid. A cellar and an attic. The cellar is dark too. The security cameras' four screens don't really show these dark recesses, or if they do, what's happening there would be invisible.

    Ken rushes back to the house from a planned business meeting when his wife is on his cell, and she cries out to Yuki, as if in horror. When he gets to the house, there is a police cordon. His wife and kids are safe, taken to hospital for examination. But Saturu lies dead upstairs, stabbed in the back.

    It's difficult to convey all this and how neatly it unfolds, how the house has a quiet life of its own apart from other events. There is no musical score. The unfolding events we follow through Kenji's viewpoint supply excitement enough. Masataka Kubota has a sensitive, mobile face. He seems quizzical, shocked, lost as these terrible and inexplicable curses befall his world.

    After helming two singular films (Blank 13, Zokki) movie star Takumi Saitoh, who starred in last year's NYAFF film Shin Ultraman, embraces this sui generis combination of crime and horror genres with pleasing ease and confidence. In leading us on to hell, the film makes a particularly effective use of sudden stills to arouse doubt and surprise and evoke a world gone mad. Not up to Cure perhaps but this is sly, tasty, nasty stuff that warps the idea of family forever.

    Home Sweet Homeスイート・マイホーム ("Sweet My Home"), 113 mins., was screened for this review as part of the Jul. 14-30, 2023 New York Asian Film Festival at Lincoln Center.
    Showtimes:
    Thursday Jul 27, 9:00pm
    Walter Reade Theater
    Intro & Q&A with director Takumi Saitoh
    .


    MASATAKA KUBOTA IN HOME SWEET HOME
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-15-2023 at 03:27 AM.

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    GEYLANG (Boi Kwong 2022)

    BOI KWONG: GEYLANG 芽笼 (2022)



    TRAILER

    Choreographed slasher "comedy" with complicated plotline

    In this violent nocturnal mlange the evocation of Singapore's seedy "Geylang" red light district provides the background, and it is a glorious cacophony of tawdriness and neon. Despite a disjointed storyline, the violent action sequences have won praise. It's all elaborately linked together by a wild goose chase wherein an ambitious women politician, an immoral doctor, a whore, her pimp and her boyfriend all cross paths through a chaotic night after the whore disappears. Scenes are over-the-top and sometimes stomach-turning beyond much you've ever seen. This sophomore feature for Boi Kwong was delayed to thirteen years after his debut due to funding and production problems. Thus this outpouring of long-stored ideas wherin Kwong gives his all, paying eager homage to his avowed genre film idols: Johnnie To, Andrew Lau Wai-keung and Kim Jee-woon.

    The director has declared further high aims; not only a "revival of the neo-noir crime thriller genre" but an unveiling of "hidden social tensions and the steamy underbelly of human nature." Hardly neo-noir, really it's more of a confusingly plotted slasher comedy - with the comedy very sporadic. But the scenario by writer Link Sng has other aims.

    In a central plotline, the morally confused Dr. Sun tries to save his desperately ill daughter by force-transplanting the liver of a hapless prostitute, known as Shangra-La, whose boyfriend is Jie, a cigarette-seller. It all ends in a gory failed mess. In an attempt to engage social issues, there is Celine, a woman's welfare lawyer (and on-the-scene advocate of sex workers) whose politician husband demands she quit her job before the election to protect his image, but she refuses. "Fatty" (who is thin), pursued by goons is seeking amid comic and scatological delays to get off to Thailand with his aging and confused father to flee from debts to the mob. Everybody turns out to be connected in one way or another as an orange bag with money changes hands a number of times during the night. Knives, some surgical and others merely of the kitchen variety, are often wielded, and there are multiple bloody slashes during the night.

    Everything looks wonderful and fits into the lurid night world background thanks no doubt largely to dp Ronnie Ching and production designer Abdul Samad Jaffar. The action choreography by Sunny Pang gained notice at the Golden Horse Awards. For the fast-moving timeline credit is due to the editing of Neo Rui Xin and Jacen Chan. As for the writing, one must reserve judgment. The idea this movie has that it can be uplifting or its hectic plot line taken seriously is open to question. The short runtime signals the economy of the piece and, given the gory material, is more than sufficient.

    Geylang 芽笼 , 87 mins., in Singapore Mandarin, Hokkien and English, debuted at Rotterdam Jan. 2023, Taiwan and Singapore in Nov. 2022. It was screened for this review as part of the Jul. 14-30, 2023 New York Asian Film Festival at Lincoln Center.
    NYAFF Showtimes:
    Friday, July 21, 6:00 PM, Walter Reade Theater
    NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE Q&A WITH BOI KWONG & JASON HO
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-15-2023 at 07:24 PM.

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    THE ABANDONED 查無此心 (Tseng Ying-ting 2022)

    TSENG YING-TING: THE ABANDONED 查無此心 (2022)


    NING CHANG IN THE ABANDONED

    Illegal migrants targeted by a serial killer

    Tseng Ying-ting's The Abandoned strikes a warm note of homage to Wong Kar-wai and the best Asian movies of the nineties by opening with "Only You" by The PIckets, so hauntingly - and catchily - used at the end of Wong's Fallen Angels. It's being played by Wu Jie (Ning Chang), a depressed homicide detective sitting in a car with fireworks in the sky outside as she holds a big pistol to her head. She seems unable to find the right angle, but she's further saved from ending it all by a sudden hubbub and somebody banging on her window. There's just been a corpse found washed ashore nearby. Duty calls.

    The body turns out to be that of one Waree Napho, a young Thai illegal worker (the subtitles call them "runaway workers"), and she was strangely, ritually murdered, her heart and ring finger removed. A graphic coroner's exam - you know the kind - with the young woman rookie forced to turn away - is an early scene. Cai Wei-shan, he girl rookie - you know the type - graduated at the top of her in the police academy, but she really does look and sound like a little girl.

    The director and his co-writers Pin Chun Lin and Yi-Chien Yang are not trying to reinvent the wheel here. In fact there are many familiar elements of the serial killer police procedural. But they're well done, and there are new elements, the focus on women, and on illegal workers with fake ID whose security is fragile even without a murderer targeting them. The result is a satisfying, well-made film, with the kind of attention to detail and knack for creating atmosphere that this kind of film requires.

    It turns out that Yang Zhen-guo was Wu Jie's police husband, and his suicide is what made her become despondent. Malaise seems contagious. But Wu Jie's boss, the head of homicide (Chen Wei-Min) is the seasoned veteran type who acts as a stabilizing influence here, demanding that Wu Jie stay to help the young female rookie on the case, but also assuring her she'll be alright.

    The film's focus now temporarily turns to the engaging, lightly bearded Lin You-sheng (Ethan Juan), who's now in trouble because a female dead body has been found in a factory. Lin recruit migrants for jobs, especially Thai women, of who Walree was one. He tries to calm the other illegal Thai workers; but how can he?

    To avoid the police, Lin must bury the body in the mountains by himself. In the meantime, his girlfriend, Waree, has lost touch. Wu Jie finds Lin and asks him to identify a body found earlier that turns out to be Waree. Lin is seen by the cops now as the prime suspect in what are clearly serial killings. They turn out to be as weird and ritualistic as you could imagine in this well written and well made film that David Fincher himself might admire. An-Shun Yu makes a very creditable villain.

    Forty-one-year-old Taiwanese director Tseng Ying-ting, whose The Last Verse five years ago (NYAFF 2018) was an earnest treatment of the dilemmas of youth and globalization, this time goes genre, grounding an with an existential edge and reference to the dilemma of refugees in the format of a satisfyingly traditional and well-executed police procedural. Sometimes you can say just as much that way, crabwise.

    The Abandoned 查無此心 ("I Don't Care"),128 min, in Mandarin, Taiwanese and Thai, debuted at London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF)'s Competition section Oct. 22, 2022, followed by its Taiwanese premiere at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival on Nov. 5, also Singapore, Rotterdam, and Netherlands. Six nominations at Golden Horse.

    Cast: Ning Chang, Ethan Juan, Chloe Xiang, Sajee Apiwong
    Languages: Mandarin, Taiwanese, and Thai with English Subtitles
    Year – 2022, Runtime – 128 min

    Showtimes
    Wednesday, July 26
    9:00 PM - Walter Reade Theater
    Q&A with Tseng Ying-ting
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-16-2023 at 10:02 PM.

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    GLORIOUS ASHES (Bui Thac Chuyn 2022)

    BUI THAC CHUYN: GLORIOUS ASHES (2022)



    Pyromania in the Mekong Delta

    Glorious Ashes, the first feature in fourteen years from Vietnamese "poetic" filmmaker Bui Thac Chuyn, makes very little conventional sense at first. The people either don't talk directly or talk too directly. They don't answer each other, or just don't talk. There are no secrets. It's an isolated sui generis world, and people are eccentric. It feels a little like American southern literature of the Fifties: Carson McCullers, early Truman Capote, William Faulkner, but with river boats and palm leaf roofs. It takes about half an hour to acclimate oneself.

    And one problem is that the film seems to defy us to acclimate, and refuse to tell a straightforward story. Whether this is "poetic" or reveals weaknesses in the screenplay and editing is open to debate. But there's no doubt we're in the world of a Mekong Delta river village: that comes through clearly and cinematically. It's primarily as a work of elliptical and eccentric ethnography that Glorious Ashes shines. (Jordan Meltzer seems to say something like this in his Hollywood Reporter review.)

    Three women emerge as the focus. Young Hau (Bao Ngoc Doling), who likes training a myna bird to say "Nahon" and "F--- you," gets married to Duong (Le Cong Hoang) - an early sequence - but Duong never shows much interest in Hau, and ultimately neglects her and runs away, spending most of his time as a fisherman on the delta She provides the film's narration in the form of letters to her absent husband. Wishful thinking: when he is at home he never talks to her or answers her or even makes eye contact - not that he's the only poor communicator, here.

    People know Duong is still in love with his childhood friend Nahan (Phuong Anh Dao), who lives just a few houses down the river, even though she's married to Tam (Ngo Quang Tuan), who works in a ceramics factory (warning: putting him close to fire). Hau is using the myna bird to torment Duong by repeating the name of his lost love. She works seasonally camped out in the ocean as a shrimp fisher(wo)man. Hau and Nahan, the two neglected women, initially deadly enemies, eventually bond.

    Loan (Ngo Pham Hanh Thuy) (the third thread) whose story is more peripheral and darker, is an older woman who was raped as a child. The man who did it, a rough looking sort, is out of prison now decades later lurking at a small local Buddhist monastery. There is a scene where the ex-rapist and the presiding monk rink together, and the monk declares that, at forty-two, he still has no clue about life. There's an anti-clerical as well as a feminist message here: he's been warned by a woman that saying sutras isn't helping anybody. (The healing value of religious ritual don't get a defense.)

    Chuyn's evocation of river boat and forest shack village living in the Mekong Delta feels timeless, sort of. The people are very stylish. No T shirts or baseball caps for them: nothing but understated, elegant traditional dress, long, loose silk pants, long-sleeved shirts, and round hats. No sign of electronics, though the big skiffs are powered by outboard motors and can go fast. An older woman powers hers so fast riding back home from the market the younger woman riding with her gets sick and throws up. One feels Chuyn is best when not pursuing the story elements, with little incidents like this that stand alone. He takes a little too much time getting around to binding the stories together, and all that's really working well is the skillful depiction of the village and river lifestyle.

    While the borderline-absurdist conversations don't yield much in the way of exposition, eventually the focus narrows to Tam and Nahan. In the middle of the picture there is a fire that sweeps through their lean wood house, which Nahan cooly escapes by gathering her things in two sacks and leaving. The house is close to the river and the villagers gather to pass big plastic buckets to douse the tall flames. It's too big to put out, but they may keep it from growing. In days that follow, in this self-sufficient world, men and women come and sort through usable objects, including salvaged pots and pans, and pack away the ashes, the "glorious" ashes. (More ethnographic value.)

    Then there's another fire and another, each new house destroyed again. "We have a pyromaniac in the village," someone tells a newcomer, "and you can be a night guard." The ashes from each fire, Hau says, grow less and less. It is easy to rebuild fast with a collective effort, like an Amish house in Pennsylvania. But "don't go to too much trouble," one woman tells Nahan, "Tam will just burn it down again." Everyone knows he is setting the fires.

    Glorious Ashes is based on two short stories by Nguyen Ngoc Tu. One remembers that Kurosawa's masterpiece Rashomon fuses several short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. And, speaking of rural pyromania, one remembers that Lee Chang-dong's exciting 2018 film Burning is about that too, and grew out of a Haruki Murakami short story published in the New Yorker a quarter century earlier. But here the fusion lacks a storytelling sense to anchor and motivate it.

    Chuyn's film school graduation short film Night Run (2000) won him the first award ever won at Cannes by a Vietnamese film. His debut feature - length film, Living in Fear (2005) won several national and international prizes. His next and penultimate feature Adrift (2009) was chosen to compete in Orizzonti at Venice and won a FIPRESCI Award, and showed in big international festivals. Since 2002 the director has run a Center for Assistance and Development of Movie Talents (TPD) in Hanoi, which he started, and has fostered projects by young filmmakers.

    Glorious Ashes 117 mins., debuted at Tokyo Oct. 24, 2022, showing also at Nantes, Hanoi, Bankok, Goteborg, Helsinki, Udine, and Beijing. Screened for this review as part of the 2023 New York Asian Film Festival (Jul. 14-30, 2023; North American premiere.
    Showtimes
    July 16
    5:00 PM, Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-17-2023 at 01:20 PM.

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    IN HER ROOM ひとりぼっちじゃない (Chihiro Ito 2023)

    CHIHIRO ITO: IN HER ROOM ひとりぼっちじゃない (2023)


    SATORU IGUCHI, FUMIKA BABA IN IN HER ROOM

    TRAILER

    Exhausted lovers in a plant-filled room

    In Her Room is Japanese screenwriter Chihiro Ito's enigmatic, slow-cinema feature director debut drawn from her own ten-years-in-the-works eponymous novel about a timid young dental student called Susumu (Satoru Iguchi of the pop group King Gnu) who falls in love with Miyako (Fumika Baba), a perpetually exhausted woman who may own a fragrance shop, whose airy, high-ceilinged apartment is filled with so many green plants running up the walls and out onto the balcony to the verdant street Mark Schilling, in his Japan Times review, called it a "forest glen." The door to Apartment "101," this greenery-decorated setting, is usually kept unlocked.

    And so others wander in besides Susumu - notably Yoko (Yuumi Kawai), whom the young man befriends and beds in her own darker, more conventional digs, and who accompanies the pair to an avant-garde play production that Ito spends some time recreating. It features a man with giraffe head who other characters come in and devour, behind a draped white sheet. Another visitor to #101 is a bearded young man, who smokes on the balcony, an alternate lover Susumu spies on but doesn't dare to confront.

    "Doctor" Susumu (as he's sometimes addressed; he politely calls Miyako "Miyako-san") is seen occasionally standing over an open-mouthed dental patient beside an assistant, but one fears for the patient: the cherubic pop star is more convincing as a shy lover. For some reason he reminded me of the young Terrence Stamp in Pasolini's Teorema. Often Sasumu and Miyako are seen lying as if helpless, enervated, semi-comatose, exhausted by unseen love-making, or just made very lazy by the summer heat, on her bare floor draped with a scattering of flowered cloths. These arrangements, and the way they're panned over by the camera of dp Tai Ouchi, can be beautiful. The presence of a pet rabbit, with all the plants, reminded me of the real-life Paris apartment of the gay Norwegian photographer, Markus Bollingmo.

    For me there is too much fast cutting and too little focus on the quotidian for Mark Schilling's use of the term "slow cinema" to fit (my standard is Tsai Ming-liang's Days), but his strongest case is that it lacks a score. A distinctive but restrained use of background sound is a main way Ito creates the mood. (It becomes unsubtle only once when one of the couple's more energetic moments of copulation is accompanied by the remote sound of a rock drill.) The vaguely menacing sound design makes you ready for anything. But this is a gentle film, due to its actors, despite off-the-wall moments and surprise jump cuts, and at one time when poor Susumu, just after he's got the normal use of his leg back, is pursued down down the street by a glowing phantom.

    Things are never clearly going anywhere, but stuff happens. Susumu falls down on a street and a car runs over his leg and breaks it, putting him in a cast and on crutches for a while. Nonetheless he continues to visit Miyako and falls to the floor, cast and all, to attach a gift gold bracelet on her ankle. One can sympathize when after a visit to Miyako on crutches he says "stairs, stairs, stairs, stairs," a goodnatured complaint about the effort he's gone through to see her this time. Susumu is carving a lumpy round sculpture of Miyako's head out of wood with a small electric drill, not, one hopes, one filched from dental school. He takes lonely meals of fried liver at a cheap Chinese restaurant where he's waited on by a comically gruff waiter (Hirobumi Watanabe) who monologues for the benefit of the counter cook .Once Yoko turns up there, impatient with Susumu's lack of enthusiasm for this dump, and offering, almost threatening, to provide him with the secrets of Miyako's life, about which he knows nothing. He firmly refuses. We are far from the vibrant world of Wong Kar-wai, where the ramen shop of Chungking Express pulsates with pop tunes and expectations.

    Calling this movie a "dreamscape," Schilling describes it as"by turns erotic, bizarre and unsettling." Yes, in a mild way. But it's also curiously soothing - because it moves so lethargically, and its settings are calm. This is a Tokyo with no crowds, no night time cityscapes, no neon, no subways. no buses. At the end, though, in a rare lunch at home with his mother and her female friend - an elaborate meal declared delicious but hardly consumed - Susumu declares that he has decided to move to Nagasaki, where he's never been, for a complete change, and taking nothing with him. Does she want anything? Yes, "any appliances that are newer," she says.

    Susumu is seen staring peacefully from the floor of his now totally empty apartment. Miyako, alone, is finally viewed entering her own still plant-filled one, picking up from its place on the cloth-draped floor what appears to be Susumu's carved wood head, but smoothed to a Brancusi-esque flatness, and holding it aloft.

    Ito released another reportedly enigmatic film a mere month after In Her Room, this time with a rural setting and called Side by Side, featuring another young male protagonist, but now one endowed with extrasensory perception, or rather the ability to "sense the thoughts of other people." Japan Times' other reviewer, James Hadfield, proclaims the second film "the more satisfying of the two." Okay, bring it on.

    In Her Room ひとりぼっちじゃない ("You're Not Alone") , 135 mins., debuted at Tokyo Oct. 2022, showing also at Udine Apr. 2023. Screened for this review as part of the Jul.14-30 New York Asian Film Festival at Lincoln Center.
    Showtimes
    July 28,6:00 PM
    Walter Reade Theater
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-17-2023 at 03:37 PM.

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    #MANHOLE #マンホール ( Kazuyoshi Kumakiri 2023)

    #MANHOLE #マンホール (KAZUYOSHI KUMAKIRI 2023)


    YUTO NAKAJIMA IN #MANHOLE

    Trapped by himself and others

    Young, handsome, successful realtor Shunsuke Kawamura (Yto Nakajima) is getting married tomorrow to his five-year girlfriend, who happens to be the boss's daughter. *At the celebraton he drinks a bit too much, and, walking off by himself, falls down an open manhole, seriously ripping open his right leg.

    So begins a film that offers many pleasures to the viewer greedy for excitement. *It works on various levels. *First there is the deliciously dark and slimy location, a small, sealed hole ringed in concrete with creepy crawlies along the walls. *A heavy rain starts to fall, flooding down through the open hole making the water rise and lifting with it insulation foam that seeps in, while there is a thin pipe leaking gas and the metal stair along the wall is broken and cracking away, and Shunsuke can't get to the top. *He has difficulty moving, and must seal the open wound to protect his leg from gangrene.

    One thing that does work is his cellphone, which has a fully charged battery. *It better be very fully charged, given all the play he's going to get out of it. First he starts calling everyone he knows. *But only one answers: *an ex-girlfriend, Mai Kud (Nao). *She has a residue of resentments, but she tries to come and find Shunsuke in the district his GPS tells him he's in - only he's not there. *The GPS isn't working, or was sabotaged. * *She gives up and goes home, still however keeping in touch against her better judgment. And it does help that she's a nurse, though the method Shunsuke must use to seal his wound is a gruesome one.

    He can take photos and videos of everything around him, and he sends them out and his plight, slightly altered as to gender, is all over the internet. But he's still stuck, and nobody really knows where he is.

    Meanwhile *an old story of *murder and revenge emerges - when the trapped young man realizes where he really is. Along the way there is much comedy and sociological*commentary introduced through Shunsuke's attempt to use a new social media account where he poses as - you may have guessed it - a beautiful woman, "#Manholegirl".* Ultimately this turns out to be what Jordan Mintzer in his Hollywood Reporter <a href="https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-reviews/manhole-review-1235330169/">review</a> calls an* "initially intriguing and increasingly outrageous Japanese horror flick," which he feels goes on a bit too long.* Yes; a bit.* And I'm not sure that once the cellphone and "Pecker" chatter got going I believed any of this was real.* But it still is intense and exciting, thanks to accomplished filmmaking and the dedicated performance of Yto Nakajima.* He's on the spot, and he doesn't disappoint. Andwe have to thank the writer Michitaka Okada not only for keeping the ideas flowing throughout on many levels, but for delivering a truly dark, sardonic finale. ブラボー

    #Manhole マンホール, 99 mins., debuted in Feb. 2023 at the Berlinale in the Panorama section, also showing at San Diego and Beijing and opening in Hong Kong and Russia. Screened for this review at the Jul. 14-30, 2023 New York Asian Film Festival at Lincoln Center where it showed on July 16.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-19-2023 at 10:00 PM.

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    DECEMBER 赦し (Anshul Chauhan 2022)

    ANSHUL CHAUHAN: DECEMBER ‘赦し’ (2022)


    RYO MATSUURA (CENTER) IN DECEMBER

    TRAILER

    Japanese justice finds a little pity

    December is a Japanese courtroom drama with a less predictable outcome than most, given that the conviction rate is 99% in their system, normally. Here, a little mercy is being considered - though we don't know till the last minute what the judge will decide - for a young woman convicted of first degree murder at age 17. It's seven years later, and a sort of retrial is being conducted. Her lawyer Toru Kizu), proposes that she should not have been sentenced as an adult, to 20 years, and might be eligible for release.

    The defendant is Kana Fukuda (Ryo Matsuura), a young woman who has a haunted look about her. She also often says that she is guilty and deserves punishment. She would still like to be free, to help others. Prospect are grim: she has no one now, never knew her father, and her mother just died. As the trial goes on, though, she testifies, and has decided to speak up for herself. She declares that the victim, Emi Higuchi (Kanon Narumi), whom she stabbed to death when they were both 17, mercilessly bullied her, along with classmates (but she was the gang leader).

    But this is almost peripheral. A big focus is on the victim, Emi's, parents, who are now divorced ( trauma like this often destroys a marriage), but now are drawn together by attending the trial, then pull apart, then draw tentatively together again. Emi's father is Katsu (the single-named Shogen), a writer, who's life has been derailed by their daughter's death and has become his whole focus in life. His drinking is out of hand and he passionately, rabidly, seeks to guarantee that Kana is put away for good. He is enraged at their being this retrial.

    Katsu calls Kana a "monster, as do others. It becomes clear that viciously demonizing wrongdoers is commonplace in Japan and an explanation of the cruelty of the legal system.
    Katsu's ex-wife is Sumiko (the single-named Megumi), who has been married for five years to a man she met in a support group for grieving parents. Things aren't very good for him now, because the new marriage has to take second place to a revival of the torments of the murdered daughter and the bond of pain between Sumiko and Katsu, which has more than a little sex in it.

    Shogen, who places Katsu, is bearded and handsome. He's a mess, but he's passionate and sexy. The new husband is bespectacled and plain. But he is determined to make a go of it. Is this reopening of wounds going to destroy another marriage; revive the old one? WE are left in the dark about that.

    But Sumiko has a realization: it's time to put things to a rest. While Katsu delivers hysterical testimony at the trial, by the time it comes to Sumiko's turn, her words are soft and ambiguous as to whether she cares, or what she thinks.

    As for us, the audience, we are being swayed by flickering flashbacks to Kana's as a uniformed high schooler being attacked and mocked by classmates. We gather that while the murder was wrong, obviously, Kana was driven to it. There's also the suggestion that Katsu's obsession with revenge has destroyed him. The arc of justice is turning toward forgiveness. Sumiko goes to the prison and meets with Kana, an unusual gesture that means Summiko can't participate in the trial anymore. Eventually Katsu chooses to do this too, and he insists he meet freely with Kana, without barriers - which leads to a dramatic, suspenseful scene. By now the main opposition to forgiveness, or correction, since the 20-year sentence can be seen as a judicial error, lies with the judge, a woman, who will evaluate the crime and the sentence in a climactic penultimate scene.

    Much has been made of the fact that this film was directed by a non-Japanese, Anshul Chauhan, who was born in India who started as an animator. He set up his own production company seven years ago. This third feature, and the one of widest appeal, though the first two, Bad Poetry Tokyo (2018) and Kontora (2019) got a good critical reception, signaling a move of non-Japanese directors toward the Japanese mainstream. This may be less important for non-Japanese viewers, and all acknowledge that the film doesn't reveal a "foreign" hand. Nonetheless Max Schilling in his Japan Times review cites December as signaling a new diversity in Japanese cinema. For us it provides hints of new Japanese attitudes toward built and punishment of teenage offenders and some insight into the impact of bullying, the way the trauma of a child's murder reshapes a marriage, alcoholism in Japan, and cracks in the rigid justice system.

    December ‘赦し’, 99 mins., script by Rand Colter and Moteki, debuted at Busan Oct. 22, 2022, showing also at Goteborg, Osaka, Helsinki and Udine. Released in Japan Mar. 2023. Screened for this review as part of the 2023 New York Asian Film Festival.
    Showtimes
    Monday, July 24
    6:00 PM Walter Reade Theater
    NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE Q&A WITH ANSHUL CHAUHAN & SHOGEN
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-19-2023 at 09:44 PM.

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    ART COLLEGE 1994 艺术学院 (Liu Jian 2023)

    LIU JIAN: ART COLLEGE 1994 艺术学院 (2023)


    ZHANG ZIAJUN (DONG ZIJIAN AND RABBIT/DAI ZHIFEI (CHIZI) IN ART COLLEGE 1994

    Animated film about an art school evokes the mood

    The academic world is notoriously tough material for fiction. That goes as well for art school, as shown by Liu Jian's 2D animation on the subject. As Leslie Felperin truly says in her Bianale Hollywood Reporter review, this film shows "a knack for evoking the rhythms" of "dorm-room debates." But such debates go over material you got tired of a long time ago. Thus Jessica Kiang's Variety review types Art School 1994 as "amiable but overlong." This film may be of interest mainly to sinologists, i.e. Chinese film buffs, or any art school grads who don't mind reading subtitles.

    Liu JIan is a specialist in animation who previously made Piercing, about the financial crisis (2010) and Have a Nice Day about an attempted theft (2017); I reviewed the latter, finding its appeal, and its action, a bit wan. But appeal there was, and is here, both for visuals and content.

    Those two top reviewers from leading trade journals covered the new film and it showed at the Berlinale for reasons, one of which is the involvement of two of China's major directors, Jia Zhangke and Bi Gan, to play voice roles here.

    It's the young men, mostly long-haired, often with unlit cigarettes in their mouths, some with little mustaches, who do most of the debating. Working on a painting or sculpture (or piece of conceptual art) isn't much more cinematic than working at a writing desk, but we do see studios. Traditional ones are compared with oil painting ones: they smell cleaner. Gouache painting is disrecommended: it can run if it gets wet. Acrylic is spoken well of: it's permanent. A couple of guys are working on an big painting, and another one slashes it. Whether painting is even valid anymore is considered.

    There is an older guy who never got admitted to the school but hangs out at it all the time. He is debunked, but later turns out to become successful - one of several illustrations that actually going to art school isn't what makes you into an artist, any more than writing school makes you into a writer. What it is, is a place to hang out and be cool (or nihilistic). Or it's a way to find a girlfriend or boyfriend (and one girl trashes another for planning on marrying a dull, safe boy - and she runs away). Most importantly, from the art point of view (apart from learning techniques and media and being provided with materials and studios to work in), it's a way to meet people. To this end, some students wind up being dealers or curators, and galleries come looking for emerging talent.

    Dorm bull sessions are carried on by these long-haired young men with dead cigarettes in their mouths. Does making money matter? Is traditional art the way to go? They often long for travel to the West. Sometimes they simply wonder if art matters - or is the only thing that speaks to the soul - or if anything matters. They cite Sartre, "Madame Bovary's Lover" [sic], Van Gogh's sunflowers, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and many other mainstays of western culture. There is almost an equal number of young women, several studying singing.

    What's special here is that China is coming alive and opening up to the West at this moment. It's also a time when getting someone a new Walkman was a big deal and computers and cellphones aren't seen. The internet was just getting ready to explode. People just talk here. These art students are aware of western art and artists but not directly in touch with them. It varies: Zhang Xiaojun (Dong Zijian) is keenly aware of Kurt Cobain, who's just died, and his less him best friend Rabbit/Dai Zhifei (Chizi), less so. The school, as represented in Professor Feng (Wang Hongwei), is not ready to embrace the adoption of anything outside traditional Chinese art.

    There are conflicts about pairings in the women's dorm and glimmerings of atractions on both sides, but little happens other than a chaste date. There are breakthroughs of understand, moments of intellectual (and maybe aesthetic) excitement, doubtless plans made for the future. But nothing decisive happens. This is about being in art school, and Liu has already shown in Have a Nice Day that he isn't much into decisive plot action. It's all about the talk and the atmosphere. Maybe that evokes ric Rohmer, more likely Richard Linklater, as Felperin suggests, or maybe not. Pleasant but underwhelming.

    Art College 1994 艺术学院, 118 mins., debuted Feb. 24, 2023 at Berlin in competition, showing also at Vienna, Sydney, China and Melbourne. Screened for this review as part of the Jul. 14-30, 2023 New York Asian Film Festival.
    Showtime:
    Sunday Jul 16, 7:30pm (Walter Reade Theater,

    The entire cast/voice list is as follows:
    Rabbit/Dai Zhifei (Chizi), Zhang Ziajun (Dong Zijian), Lin Weiguo (Bai Ke), Xie Caixia (Li Jiajia), Zhao Youcai (Huang Bo), Shou Ma/Ma Yongfu (Renke), Angel (Ziao Yu), Gao Hong (Papi), Hao Lili (Zhou Dongyu), Xiao Mei (Bu Guanjin), Li Baichuan (Xu Zhiyuan), Curator (Peng Lei), Chubster/Luo Hao (Bi Gan), Hu Tianming (Wang Hongwei), The Owner of Tape Store (Shen Lihui), Wu Yingjun (Da Peng), Professor Feng (Wang Hongwei), Afro Hair Chubster (Zeng Hongyu), Afro Hair SKinny (Liu Jian), Section Chief (Zhang Dasheng), Chen Zianyu (Huang Lu), Gu YongQing (Jia Zhangke), Student A (Duan Qi), Student B (Yang Cheng), Student C (Zhang Chenlu), Boss Lady (Fanf Jun), Er Ge (Duan Lian), Guo Sixiang (Kevin Tsai, 'Taiwan, China), A De (Du Haibin), Bar Girl (Hu Wenxin), Zhang Daydong (Zhang Zixian), Young Man A (Xu Lei), Young Man B (Guo Xiaoruo)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-21-2023 at 09:43 PM.

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    REDEMPTION WITH LIFE (Zhang Wei 2023)

    ZHANG WEI: REDEMPTION WITH LIFE 兄弟 (2023)



    Economic over-ambition gone astray

    China’s Zhang Wei is the filmmaker in focus at this year’s NYAFF and Redemption With Life is his featured latest film, with screenings planned for his lauded features Empty Nest, Factory Boss and The Rib (Director’s Cut). The Rib is about a trans person, and "director's cut" doubtless means that he has put back the forty minutes he allowed to be cut out to satisfy the Catholic Church in China as well as due to local anti-LGBTQ pressures.

    A festival blurb describes Zhang's new film, which may be his most ambitious, as opening with "a majestic motorcycle club" snaking along "a glorious Tibetan highway" before a "nested series of flashbacks" reveals "the plight that brought" its participants "on their profound journey." An hour-plus of action will go by before we get back to this initially glimpsed motorcade journey. Those flashbacks are well designated as "nested": they go back and forth from near-present to two years ago, one year ago, and three years ago. It is a confusing way of telling a story.

    The movie, the blurb goes on to say, "plumbs the depths of capitalistic corruption and the fiercely tragic greed and hubris it ignites." This is a large claim, and may make the film sound more sociological and historical and less personal than it is. There are certainly difficulties among these three friends, which are announced when Xie Jianhua, the ambitious investor who's the main focus is seen, early on, getting out of jail following a two-year sentence.

    In a brief early flashback riding together on a more primitive motorcycle and a sidecar the three men yell out their aims in life. One wants to travel the world. One wants to be an artist. The third, Xie Jianhua, wants to make a lot of money. It's he who creates the problems and much of the story revolves around his attempt to atone for them.

    Xie Jianhua has something in common with Zhang's Factory Boss protagonist, who runs a virtual sweatshop but is treated kindly because he gives people work. Both are dubious men of the new China who are forgiven. This protagonist, whose two-year sentence seems like a slap on the wrist, has, we learn, promoted to a big audience (with elocutionary skill) a too-risky investment scheme that causes dozens of people to lose their savings and go bankrupt and some to commit suicide - but his buddies still love him, or try to.

    Though he's seen sympathetically, whether Xie Jianhua's motives are foul or fair remains unclear. His inner life and indeed his personal life are never seen fully. Unfortunately for me Xie and his two friends and others in the film have the same lumpen, middlebrow quality. In particular this hurts with the "artist" friend. He remains pure, we get that. When his "businessman" friend Xie introduces him to a publicist to promote his work, a gallerist to show it, and an auctioneer to sell it when it has gained maximum value, he will have none of this, and walks out. One can sympathize with his suspicion, but still, he doesn't know what an opportunity this might have been. And yet, this hardly shows insider knowledge of the art world: the scene is a bit generic. He is supplied with artwork, but not with the air of an artist.

    Zhang, the blurb says, "peppers his dark meditation with exciting tropes straight out of classic Asian crime and action films." Indeed, and this is problematic. It might have been better if the film had tried to treat the fine line between crime and unbridled capitalism more realistically. Some beat Xie Jianhua unmercifully but one says, "Don't kill him - he owes me money." Are these investors - or are they gangsters? The call of genre seems to twist the story out of shape.

    The blurb also speaks of the woes of capitalism, its "overindulgent excess," the "nouveau riche delusions" (whatever they are), and the protagonists' "egregious machismo" and "brazen objectification of women." But Redemption disappoints on these scores. There is some machismo, some excess of the newly rich. But mostly it's all just wine and cigarettes - cigarettes lit by one of those cinematic Zippo lighters that makes satisfying clacking sounds, this one Xie's with Harley Davidson emblazoned on it. And many toasts with big crystal glasses half full of a dark ros - no wine connoisseurship shown in this lack of variety. This and a limp pole-dancing scene is about as far as the "overindulgent excess" goes. The violence feels decidedly more excessive than the overindulgence.

    The blurb says these men "live by classic codes of honor and loyalty" until "get-rich-quick schemes threaten to tear them apart" (drawn into "tragic greed" and "hubris"). As the biker buddies experience lifestyles of Chinese capitalism, passing back and forth boxes full of new bills, it's mainly the bad investor protagonist Xie who alienates his two best friends, neither of whom had expressed a wish to get rich. But there are others who attack and manipulate him.

    Jia Zhang-ke may be an influence or at least begs comparison here: his documentaries have sometimes disappointed, but his features are essential. No others have been so alive with the pulse of contemporary Chinese history and its wild growth. The blurb-writers are right that there is a "distinctly Chinese moral compass" here, and there are scenes full of guilt and Xie's need for redemption and taking the fall. It feels as though Zhang is more interested in that than the specifics of economics and investment we've seen in US films like The Wolf of Wall Street or Th Big Short or documentaries like Inside Job. Zhang's film comes out of the booming Chinese economy, but its interest is how money corrupts human relations and undermines morals.

    The redemptive male motorcade into Tibet might seem like a great sweeping experience - or a bandaid. You can't reset your moral compass with a scenic motorcycle ride - even though the viewer is as glad as the bike buddies are to get away from all the cramped conversations and nasty fights in back rooms and offices. This film lacks Jia's raw sense of place. Rampant but failed capitalism; guilt and a search for redemption; the ritual journey of a 15-strong motorcycle club (its roaring engines accompanying the final credits), are three powerful themes. Somebody else will have to explain to me how they all fit together into this ambitious film.

    Redemption with Life 兄弟 ("Brothers"), 94 mins., has its world premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival July 28, 2023. Screened as part of coverage of the festival.
    Showtimes:
    Friday Jul 28, 3:30pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)
    Saturday Jul 29, 8:00pm (Look Cinemas, Look Cinemas)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-21-2023 at 03:48 AM.

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    MAD FATE 命案 (Soi Cheang 2023)

    SOI CHEANG: MAD FATE 命案 (2023)


    LOKMAN YEUNG AND LAM KA-TUN IN MAD FATE

    Fate and free will in the rainy season

    Soi Cheang's followup to his Limbo is a deliciously dark and over-the-top action-horror-comedy-thriller about fate, predestination, and Chinese folk beliefs about these things. There will be those who say it goes to far. They can say that in the first ten minutes. If they make it through twenty minutes, they might as well stay for the whole thing.

    This is is Hong Kong cinema at its most extreme, gaudy, tacky, absurdist, adept, and decorated with beautiful dramatic clouds of the rainy season. As Edmund Lee says in his South China Morning Post review, tin this "grisly murder mystery," and "pitch-black absurdist comedy" Siu Cheang is mining his "flair for genre experiments" in a "nightmarish roller coaster ride."

    There are five main characters. First there is a victimized prostitute, Jo (Wing-Sze Ng), one standing for many. Next there is a serial killer who likes to murder sex workers in times of heavy rain (Charm Man Chan). He will have a sinisterly kind encounter with a mustachioed and omnipresent veteran police detective (Ting Yip Ng) when he's having a leg cramp in a snack shop, posing as a physical therapist. At the center of the action is the so-called Master (Lam Ka-tung), a sort, bespectacled scholarly type madly into feng shui, charms, fate, and all that stuff, and eventually just mad (he turns out to have a family history of mental illness). He joins up with a tall, long-haired Messenger called Siu Tung (Lokman Yeung, of the group Mirror, who proves very cinematic). Siu Tung is part Charles Addams spook, part rock idol. Working as a delivery boy, he is also son of the owners of a nearby Hong Kong style Cha chaan teng restaurant.

    Siu Tung murdered a cat when younger and went to jail for it. He's afraid of killing again, and the Master gets onto that, striving frenetically throughout the film to turn around his own karma and Siu Tung's. It turns out knives are tempting to both of them, and keep popping up. And there is that guy murdering prostitutes. And it's very dark, and rainy.

    There is a lot of frenetic action, a lot of rain, and time on a dramatic roof full of huge satellite disks like Richard Serra sculptures, where the Master sets up "formations" to rearrange fate and fortune, and the sky and clouds up there are beautiful toward the end. Not many people survive this story, but the cinematography just gets prettier. Time is also spent at a cheap apartment house, in a cemetery, and in a mortuary, with flashbacks to Siu Tung's turbulent childhood In the opening sequence, the Master is mock-burying a prostitute in a cemetery to trick fate out of killing her. Then there is such a heavy rainstorm she almost gets buried for real in the mud. This trauma causes her to miscarry, and back at the brothel, with the storm still on, she is brutally stabbed by the serial killer. The Master's title is ironic, you see.

    The brothel is where the Master and Siu Tung meet, the latter on a mis-delivery due to a rain-smudged address. Siu Tung's fascination with the girl's corpse shows he's got some kind of bloodlust.

    While the Master grows more frenetic and bonkers as the action progresses, Siu Tung seems to grow saner. He is clearly aware of his buried urge to kill a human and wants the Master to help him resist it.

    The screenplay by Yau Nai-hoi and Melvin Li Chun-fai and the rapid editing of David M. Richardson and Allen Leung keep the action non-stop and up to the "mad" of the title. Cinematographer Cheng Siu-keung, who has worked with Johnnie To, helps keep the vistas beautiful and the blood intense. What's mocked here is traditional Chinese folklore, which may get by the censors. This is also a a message to viewers that they have free will - maybe. But as entertaining as this movie is, it's also dumb. It shows Hong Kong filmmaking is good at blending comedy and horror. Edmund Lee says it may show "a new narrative template" to "dazzle the censors" while still getting "filmmakers’ messages across" in spite of all the "creative red lines in Hong Kong’s post-national-security-law era."

    Mad Fate 命案 , 108 mins., debuted at the Berlinale in Feb. 2023, showing also at Hong Kong, Udine and Singapore festivals. It was screened for this review as part of the July 14-30, 2023 New York Asian Film Festival.
    Showtime: Saturday Jul 22, 2:15pm, Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-23-2023 at 07:53 PM.

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