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Thread: New York Asian Film Festival 2024 (July 12-22 FLC) REVIEWS

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    BUSHIDO (Kazuya Shiraishi 2023)


    TSUYOSHI KUSANAGI IN BUSHIDO

    KAZUYA SHIRAISHI: BUSHIDO (2023)

    A shamed samurai regains his honor

    We've previously reviewed two other Kazuya Shiraishi films: a Silence of the Lambs- style serial killer tale, Lesson in Murder (NYAFF 2022) and before that a yakuza movie, The Blood of Wolves (NYAFF 2018). This is Shiraishi's first foray into a full-on jidaigeki period samurai drama, and, let Mark Schilling of The Japan Times say it, this is a "lovingly conceived and meticulously executed throwback that revitalizes the genre."

    Perhaps not for everyone, because if your memories of the ancient board game of Go, central here, are like mine, you may find its function a little alienating. Or just incomprehensible. I was not good at chess, and when friends in college who were, took up Go, that was even more mystifying. Instead of kings, queens, knights, pawns, rooks, etc., there are just black and white stones, one places on a board covered with a fine network of lines. I could never understand how white stones could be used to trap or "kill" black ones and vice versa. Experts see all the complexities at a glance, which is what happens here.

    Except men wear samurai swords here, and losers of a game may get their head chopped off. At a climactic moment (spoiler alert) a magnanimous protagonist chooses to forgive the two men who have lost a wager and, instead of chopping off both their heads, he brings down his sword and chops the Go board in half, a dramatic effect, if a gesture not good for the sword and terrible for the thick, handsome board. In fact the Japanese title "Gobangiri" actually means "Go board cutting, so if this is silly, it's nonetheless important.

    This film is about honor, shame, contest, and forgiveness. Go boredom and occasional excesses aside, its image of the period is intense, restrained, and beautiful. Nothing here is not aesthetically pleasing and photogenic; it almost makes one wish Japan had never moved into the modern world, things looked so great back then. The protagonist is a shamed, impoverished samurai, Kakunoshin Yanagida (Tsuyoshi Kusanagi), who lives in a tenement with his daughter Kinu (Kaya Kiyohara), who is threatened with resorting to prostitution if 50 ryo gold pieces that disappeared while the hero was playing Go with the aging, amiable businessman Genbei Yorozuya (Jun Kunimura) aren't found again in time. It's a complicated plot, that doesn't matter very much. What counts is the stately pace and the suspense. And there is a very scrappy sword battle toward the end.

    "Sir" Yanagida is reduced to working as an appraiser, and is also expert at Go. He's a man who knows how to distinguish genuine objects from sham ones. He doesn't seem to be quite so good at protecting the honor of his daughter. He is not an altogether appealing protagonist and appears a bit of a snob, as well as eaten up by (justifiable) resentment. Watch this, patiently, for the period settings and costumes and the splendid low-light sequences toward the end reminding one, Schilling reminds us, of Kubrick's tour-de-force candlelit images in Barry Lyndon.

    After Yanagida has resolved the matter of the lost 50 ryu, he disappears in search of the wrongdoers who ruined his reputation years ago by accusing him of the theft of a manuscript that he did not steal, causing his dishonor and his wife to drown herself in Lake Biwa (we see her gracefully walk out into the lake; typically for this film, Shirashi makes this seem a beautiful way to go). Yanagida finds his sworn enemy (Takumi Saitoh), a fellow clan samurai who made the false accusation, and, as Schilling says, "the swords come out."

    Once again Shiraishi has delivered a handsome exercise in genre, the handsomest yet. That this could have been tightened up, by eliminating some of the Go footage and simplifying the plot, is obvious, but it's a splendid looking film.

    Bushido 碁盤斬り ("Gobangiri,""Go Board Cutting") , 129 mins., debuted May 1, 2024 at the Far East Festival in Udine, Italy. Screened as part of the 23rd New York Asian Film Festival (Jul 12-28, 2024), showing Tuesday Jul 23, 8:15pm (Beatrice Theatre, SVA Theatre)
    Intro and Q&A with director Kazuya Shiraishi
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-03-2024 at 10:00 AM.

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    CAREFREE DAYS (Liang Ming 2023)



    LIANG MING: CAREFREE DAYS (2023)

    The excitement of burgeoning doom

    Many of the admiring things Jessica Kiang says in her Variety review of actor Liang Ming's 2019 directorial debut Wisdom Tooth (not seen by me) could be applied almost equally well to this sophomore feature, this one based on a novel (or novella?) of Ban Yu. (Notice of the debut by Wendy Ide in Screen Daily though briefer is similarly admiring.) Liang Ming's work has the same chaotic energy and packed foregrounds (and backgrounds) you get in Jia Zhang-ke's early movies. This one is almost overwhelming in its richness and complexity and overlapping of one event on another. It is just in its overall trajectory's arc toward numb tragedy that it disappoints, seeming to reflect a better grasp of the parts than of the whole. Can a protagonist's arc be called "tragic" when she can also be considered doomed from the start? Or does this matter?

    The focus is Xu Lingling (Lyu Xingchen, also in Wisdom Tooth), who lives in Shenyang, a northeastern Chinese city, usually the setting of Ban Yu's writing, that the film blurbs describe as "decaying" ; this may be mistaken: it just looks busy, crowded and chaotic. Some of the people in the foreground here seem to be going to hell, but doing so with energy and aplomb. Xu is diagnosed with kidney failure. We don't know why, but she will die of uremia without frequent dialysis, and she needs a kidney transplant. Her mother pledges to support, but before you know it, she has gotten suddenly sick and died. Xu's estranged father appears now and offers to help, but he is a serial seducer wrapped up in himself, though he does perform some acts of generosity.

    Eager for companionship and love and unable to be alone, Xu finds her close friend Tan Na (Li Xueqin) and old classmate Zhao Dongyang (Zhao Bingrui), who help her. With the three of them, Carefree Days becomes a road trip, even as we know that Xu can't go far or for long without dialysis, and during the second half of the trip the symptoms of uremia are there: nausea, lack of appetite, fatigue. She barely makes it back home - or does she? Much of this film is full of the sickly excitement of burgeoning doom, where joy and frivolity always have an edge.

    Some of the details of this movie are implausible, or perhaps it's just that though its two-hours-plus length seems overlong, it's not long enough to cram in all the events of an overstuffed novel (or even novella). Xu at one point takes on a job that she can't possibly do. Later she enters a studio and darts back out again: on a platform she has seen her father posing nude for artists.

    The analogy with films like Jia's 1998 Platform and 2002 Unknown Pleasures (the ironic title analogous to Carefree Days) is a very imperfect one because Jia is presenting panoramas linked to a time. Even the two young losers of Unknown Pleasures are seen in a national and historical perspective. Carefree Days, on the other hand, is full of intense, intimate moments and big closeups. Only at the end it may draw back a bit from Xu as if to see her finally as an object, helpless and alone. Recently Mike D'Angelo commented on Stephen Frears' The Hit that he likes "almost every individual moment" yet finds that "it fails to coalesce in a satisfying way," and this comes close to my feeling aboutCarefree Days. I feel that Liang Ming has exciting skills as a filmmaker. The ability to create burgeoning life and make people and their every moment seem so natural and real is unusual and to be cherished. But here after a while, as the trip wears on, there start to be a few too many "individual moments" to care in the same way about them as one did early on. And so the skills wind up seeming to be used rather heedlessly. Nonetheless, this is a filmmaker to watch. Carefree Days deserves to be seen and reviewed by Jessica and Wendy, and all the rest. So far it seems to have slipped through the cracks.

    Carefree Days 逍遥游 (Xiao yao you, "Carefree Journey"), 122 min., debuted Sept. 22, 2023 at San Sebastián. Screened for this review as part of the 2024 NYAFF.

    SCHEDULE:
    Thursday Jul 18, 3:15pm
    Film at Lincoln Center
    Sunday Jul 21, 1:00pm
    LOOK Cinemas W57
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-01-2024 at 04:25 PM.

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    THE ESCAPING MAN (Wang Yichun 2023)



    WANG YICHUN: THE ESCAPING MAN (2023)

    About a boy

    Wang Yichun made an outstanding debut with her uncompromisingly dark 2015 small-town procedural, What's in the Darkness, which interwove a grim murder mystery with a girls's coming of age story. This time also she weaves a playful, surreal mix of love and crime, featuring the story of a prisoner, Sheng Li (Jiang Wu, NYAFF 2018 Star Asia Award recipient),now released after serving 20 years on trumped-up rape charges, who quickly gets lured into helping his former girlfriend, his putative victim, to kidnap the little boy whom she's been hired to nanny. She wants to get back at the parentsfortheir condescending way they have been treating her. Sheng Li has sought out his accuser and become her collaborator. This leads to a bizarre mixture of the benevolent and the cruel.

    This is a story about personalities and social status, abilities and injustice, and also about excessive bourgeois privilege in modern China. As in her first film, Wang is simultaneously focused on several different subjects, another one being the contradictory ways that adults interact with children and how children behave in the world. Maggie Lee described the earlier film as "Like 'Twin Peaks' with Confucian characteristics." This film's festival blurb calls it a "juxtaposition of cynicism and hopeless romanticism." What emerges is that Wang's cinema is a place to go for unexpected combinations. This will be the friendliest kidnapping you'll ever see. It rings new changes on the Stockholm Syndrome, and is unusually forgiving toward some criminal activities and hard on the new bourgeoisie. The level of whimsy becomes extreme, but Wang enters into her own unique world of fantasy.

    The Escaping Man 绑架毛乎乎 ("Kidnapping ...."), 101 mins., was screened for this review as part of the 2024 NYAFF. For What's in the Darkness the 47-year-old director, who studied French before becoming a filmmaker, won the best director award at the 9th FIRST International festival in Xining, China and it was included in the Berlinale Generation section in 2016. This is The Escaping Man's international debut.

    SCHEDULE:
    Friday Jul 26, 9:00pm
    SVA Theatre
    Intro and Q&A with director Wang Yichun and producer Zhao Wendi
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-14-2024 at 03:33 PM.

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    GOLD BOY (Shusuke Kaneko 2023)


    MASAKI OKADA AND JINSEI HAMURA IN GOLD BOY

    SHUSUKE KANEKO: GOLD BOY (2023)

    The bad kids

    There is certainly a special queasy pleasure in immersing oneself imaginatively in unmitigated evil, people who just kill everyone they don't like (like Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley). It's even queasier when the wrongdoers are a trio of young teenagers. These kids are 13, for heaven's sake. (The actors are around that too; Kaneko deserves credit for how at ease they seem.) There's also an adult, Higashi (Masaki Okada) who they catch killing his in-laws by pushing them off a cliff and making it look like an accident. They happen to have been shooting a film by accident when they meant to do a snapshot and caught the double cliff murder in the background. They immediately approach Higashi with extortion in mind. He's not such an easy mark. Eventually Higashi and the kids join up, briefly. Several adults get poisoned - a favorite - using (spoiler alert) Okinawa holiday food treats. Be careful if someone offers you a drink, also.

    Masaki Okada is a tall actor with a pallid beauty of visage that is given a sickly look here, and he is effective, but the memorable actor is Jinsei Hamura as the psychopathic Asahi Amuro, a boy who is so smart he won a math prize the year before, but he uses his intelligence and composure entirely to do harm now. Higashi is married to rich, spoiled Shizuka (Rena Matsui), whose aging parents own a huge company. It is they whom he pushes off the cliff. He immediately goes into a big grief act for onlookers and the cops, which succeeds. This may be a bit implausible as is much that follows, but it's all too absorbing for that to matter.

    We enter a (for most of us) wholly unfamiliar world of violent teern crime, when while his doting mother (Haru Kuroki) is at work, 13-year-old Asahi (Hamura) is gets a visit from by his best bud Hiroshi (Youji Maede), accompanied by Hiroshi’s half-sister Natsuki (Anna Hoshino), who announces she has stabbed her abusive step-father. (As is the custom here a quick flashback spells this out/.) Netsuki thinks he is dead. Asahi shows where he's coming from when he calmly assures Netsuki and Hiroshi the cops can’t arrest her since she’s 14. Hiroshi threatens some uniformed schoolboys next just to get money for them to order some fast food. This is the world we are in.

    This takes place on the island of Okinawa, which imposes its own rules starting with poverty, because it is considerably less well off than the Japanese mainland. But this lurid material, a condensation of a serial, comes from the Chinese iQiyi platform, pared down by writer Takehito Minato. It's an embarrassment of riches, if you like, of so much meanness and evil in a short time that it's nauseating. Only in this piece, if someone feels nauseated, they've probably been poisoned and are about to die.

    Once again a film has been allowed to run a bit too long. But the extra time allows for a lot of final twists and turns, and after all, the original had 14 episodes.

    In a review in The Japan Times, Mark Schilling describes Gold Boy as a "kids-versus-adult story" but points out that this time, our normal inclination to root for the kids is powerfully undermined - by the morally repellang nature of the kids. Schilling describes the film as "a gripping study of evil," and there's nothing to challenge in that - though it would be more gripping if it were less breathlessly plot-intensive and more plausible.

    Gold Boyゴールド・ボーイ ("Golden Boy"), 128 min., Japanese theatrical release Mar. 8, 2024. Screened for this review as part of the 2024 NYAFF (Jul. 12-28).
    SCHEDULE:
    Friday Jul 19, 3:00pm
    Film at Lincoln Center
    Saturday Jul 20, 4:00pm
    LOOK Cinemas W57
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-02-2024 at 05:08 PM.

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    FOR ALICE (Chow Kam Wing 2023)



    CHOW KAM WING: FOR ALICE (2024)

    Some old tunes played again

    Some old themes here. No harm in that, and this aging actor and fresh young one go for a ride in atmospheric Hong Kong settings. The themes: recently released jailbird lured into one last job. . . neglectful father spending a few idyllic, secret days with unfamiliar offspring. . . loved one revealed to have a serious illness. A Hong Kong touches: loudmouth, mother whose boyfriend has a history of abuse. . . heavy rain. . . jumbled housing. . . cramped flophouse room. . . many cigarettes. . . noodle shops.

    Festival literature tells us For Alice "unfolds" in "the faded opulence of Tsim Sha Tsui's Mirador Mansion." Also that we are to see the main action as "an unlikely bond" between "grizzled veteran Tai Bo" (the jailbird) and "rising star Kuku So" and that we are to see him as "a mysterious rescuer." How mysterious he is and how much of a rescuer he becomes isn't so clear, but thanks to the skill and charisma of the two actors, a believable relationship indeed develops through the short hour and twenty minutes of this slow, moody little film.

    Whether For Alice lives up to the festival hype - wielding "colorful yet noirish atmospherics with a maestro's command," making "the dank stairwells and flickering fluorescents" conjur up "palpable peril" and lead to a "cathartic finale" others will have to judge. The ghost of Wong Kar-wai haunts any arthouse Hong Kong film for me: impossible to forget how his visuals sang, how the tawdry became instantly sexy abd mysterious. The writing isn't skillful enough to create real mystery here. The "mystery" comes dangerously close to the obvious, a massaging of clichés. But if this is a kind of neo-noir, we always welcome those. Nice try. But hey, don't try bookending a film with a kid playing Beethoven's "Für Elise" anymore, okay?

    This seems old hat, but actually Chow Kam Wing has had most of his film career in advertising, and this is his directorial debut. Thee writer Lam Tsz Ki seems to have had most of their experience as an actor.

    For Alice給愛麗絲 ("For Alice"), 82 mins., debuted in New York Jul. 13, 2024, and was screened for this review as part of the 2024 NYAFF.
    SCHEDULE:
    Saturday Jul 13, 3:45pm
    Film at Lincoln Center
    Intro and Q&A with director Chow Kam Wing, screenwriter Lam Tsz Ki, and cast members Tai Bo and Kuku So
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-02-2024 at 08:50 PM.

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    LOVE LIES (Ho Miu-ki 2023)


    CHEUNG TIN-FU,SANDRA NG IN LOVE LIES

    HO MIU-KI: LOVE LIES (2023)

    The long tease of an online romance becomes a charmingly inverted rom-com

    Love Lies is a touching and teasingly suspenseful Hong Kong feature debut starring an energetic and brilliant Sandra Ng (Zero to Hero, NYAFF 2021) as Veronica Yu, a wealthy, widowed gynecologist whose (seemingly) deepening relationship on a dating app is actually, unbeknownst to her, with a charming but rather native online deceiver, who begins having second thoughts abut the well-orchestrated running scam he's become the center of. Is there some affection wafting about amid the deceptions?

    The film's costar is K-Pop star Cheung Tin-fu young, as the fledgling con artist, whose nom-de-scam is simply "Boy." "Boy" has just joined a whole office full of pro scammers as a trainee. (These thihgs, sadly, do exist.) Veronica is his first connection, and he is being constantly coached on what to say to her, supervised by the Man in White and given practical minute-by-minute tips by an out-there femme fatale love scam expert buoyantly played by Stephy Tang.

    But Love Lies is above all a two-hander, shifting back and forth mainly between the mutually uncomprehending two points of view of young "Boy" and "Veronica." Both are, from the start, deceivers. She pretends to be merely a young nurse, though her wealth is soon revealed. He pretends to be a middle-aged French engineer, a faux persona carefully calculated by the scam team as most likely to appeal to this Chinese lady of a certain age.

    Various things make this movie work well. The eternal appeal of love stories, because this is one of those, though a strange one; the excitement of deceptions; the suspense waiting to see whether the secrets will come out; and ultimately whether this odd "couple" will finally meet. There's also the fascination of the way, while the middle-aged doctor becomes more and more enamored of her French engineer fantasy, as "Boy, thae "K- Pop star (who no doubt has plenty of experience with public images) goes through a metamorphosis from gangly young rube to smooth, well-dressed, fashionably-bespectacled young operator; and from eager trickster to someone with mixed and gentler feelings.

    The lady is lonely, a widow, and middle aged, and sometimes this shows. But Sandra Ng sparkles and is stylish. Veronica wears her hair short, blonde-dyed and up to date and her bright, nifty outfits show her to be every inch the accomplished professional woman. In fact she is an ob-gyn doctor who is frequently delivering babies, though we don't see that. But though she is a smart woman, "Boy" and his handlers are skillful in both teasing out her affection and tricking her - as is their basic aim all along - into sending large amounts of money to her "French engineer." Veronica remains adamant that she knows she may be throwing away money, and doesn't care. Part of the con victim wants to be deceived. The giddy pleasure of living with an illusion that a con brings can, for a while anyway, be worth the financial cost: Veronica thinks so.

    "Boy" isn't hardened like his handlers, and perhaps he has developed some of the same affection for his victim that she has for his false persona; thus he arranges to give back one of the large sums of money to her. And their online datng game is dangerous, because as they get more intimate, leading to the possibility of talking on the phone, for instance (texting is chosen as more romantic), there is more danger of giving away the game, and ending it.

    Ultimately, you may, like me, start to fall in love with the fantasy and begin to wish that the Chinese youth and the middle-aged Chinese doctor - who are communicating in English because they're supposed not to sperak the same language - could actually meet up in person and still, by some miracle, somehow become a couple.

    But the screenwriters are too clever for that, and have something more complicated in store. First of all they gradually "open up" the hitherto closet drama by keeping the relationship alive and changing while the doctor and the imaginary "French engineer" are (seemingly, anyway) getting closer. The ultimate tease is a plan to meet in Japan, in the town of Sapporo at a resort hotel. But there is much more teasing than that...

    At nearly two hours Love Lies may seem a little long (and note: the English subtitles are faulty), but there is brilliance in this romantic comedy and it leaves us with many happy memories.

    This is, as mentioned, director Ho Miu-ki's directorial debut. She started working as a film screenwriter in 2008, and has collaborated on screenplays for films including the 2010 La Comédie humaine, the 2014 Naked Ambition 2, and 2022's The Mermaid . She was nominated for Best Screenplay at the 36th Hong Kong Film Awards for the latter, which had a successful international release.

    Love Lies 我談的那場戀愛 ("The Love I Had"), 116 mins., was screened for this review as part of the 2024 NYAFF (Jul. 12-20).

    SCHEDULE:
    Monday July 15, 8:45pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)
    Intro and Q&A with director Ho Miu-ki


    "BOY" AT THE SCAMMER FACTORY


    CHEUNG TIN-FU,SANDRA NG IN LOVE LIES
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-05-2024 at 04:01 PM.

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    BE WITH ME (Hwarng Wern-ying 2023)



    HWARNG WERN-YING: BE WITH ME (2023)

    Who are we being with?

    This film which is indebted to the filmmaker's mentor Hou Hsiao-hsien depicts a woman, working in the movies as a production designer, who returns to her hometown of Chiaiyi to see to her ailing father and in doing so awakens memories of family and grandfather and Taiwan's troubled history and a desire to return. In unfolding her tale the director Hwarng Wern-ying (also known as Huang Wen-Ying) melds flashbacks with scenes from a film-within-the-film, juxtaposing black-and-white footage of Taiwan's long period of Japanese domination.

    The father of Faye ("Ma-ya" in the film, Ariel Lin) is stubborn, announcing he won't go back to the hospital for further treatment and insisting on being released home earlier than the doctor wants. Ma-ya is too. She is boarded here by a man, a Mr. Yu (Ethan Juan), who's apparently big in real estate; he drives a spectacular car, a McLaren with flying doors. Flashbacks to 2015 when they first met in Shanghai, apparently, when she spars with him and subtly mocks his pretension to being a man of great taste with a big collection of antiques. Black and white flashbacks to granddad's childhood when the Japanese are taking over Taiwan in 1941, forcing replacement of local gods by Japanese ones. (All this in the first twenty minutes.) Taoism is important in the film, seen as part of the protagonist's search for meaning in life in this grand, if somewhat artificial and predetermined film that tries a little harder than it needs to to impress.

    Also in 2015 Faye/Maya meets another man, a Mr. Fu Chunshan (Vic Chou). She wants to hire him as an architect for a film, though he's said to be expensive. She likes him much more than Mr. Yu, he seems to be much more sympathetic, more of the place, into raising and roasting tea. The black and white flashbacks show granddad's house and the inn he runs destroyed in an earthquake, which was rebuilt and then bombed by the Americans, a similar theme to the film Ma-ya is working on now, it turns out. Supervising the production of her current film allows her, in a way, to revisit and reconstruct her family's past. There are also flashbacks, in somewhat heightened color, to Taiwan in the 1980's when men partied in supper clubs with children, including young Maya, but not their wives.

    In an article about this film, Charlie Smith on Pancouver (Feb. 2024 ) points out the Taiwanese history presented here is "selective": no mention of the martial law declared by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, which was to last for nearly forty years, and an implication that when the New Taiwan Dollar was introduced that year everything was "hunky-dory," but it was not. Smith feels this can be forgiven because of the interesting structure of the film and performance of the lead. But it's not so easy to overlook big oversights about the history of Taiwan in a film that takes such a grand overview.

    The historical parts of the film start to feel a bit like window dressing. A simpler structure might have been a better way to get at the nature of the protagonist who is, already, carefully considered. But in that alternate film the flashbacks and history would have to go, and the concern with Taoism postponed to another movie. However, this is, after all, an autobiographical film about being true to your origins that's also about filmmaking and about debating how a film should be.

    Be With Me 車頂上的玄天上帝 ("The God of Heaven on the Roof"), 130 mins., premiered Oct. 20, 2023 at Hawai'i International Film Festival, and was also shown at Taipei Golden Horse Nov. 9 and Taipei Film Festival Jun. 25, 2024. It was screened for this review as part of the 2024 NYAFF (July 12-28).
    SCHEDULE:
    Sunday July 14, 1:30pm
    LOOK Cinemas W57


    ARIEL LIN, ETHAN JUAN IN BE WITH ME
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-05-2024 at 10:10 AM.

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    SUFFOCATING LOVE (Liao Ming-yi 2023)


    NIKKI HSIEH, AUSTIN LIN IN SUFFOCATING LOVE

    LIAO MING-YI: SUFFOCATING LOVE (2023)

    A rom-com-style movie that drifts into the surreal

    The director's NYAFF 2020 I WeirdDo presented Chen Po-Ching (Austin Lin) and Chen Ching (Nikki Hsieh), a cute couple in the making except they both suffer from OCD, which includes mysophobia, fear of contamination and dirt: it was a defense of oddity. Quirks abound here too, but this film seems to have been less well-received (to go by Letterboxd). Everyone is still cute. As Maggie Lee wrote in Variety apropos of I WeirDo, Lin "who sports a Spock haircut, exudes boyish charm in spades." He still does, and makes a great alter ego or muse.

    He, the Austin Lin character, that is, sets up to live with a girlish young woman called Pai Chia-chi, who turns out to be a control freak whose "few principles" will limit his every movement, and he will have to let her read his phone every day and constantly report where he is. She is a vegetarian, expects him to be likewise, and provides odd-sized meals which he must consume all of. She is a total tyrant. He reports on this to his best bud, who provides an additional male point of reference.

    Before long he runs into former girlfriend Ai-hsien, who is in a seven-year relationship that is running dry: they're supposed to be getting married. He and Ai-hsien start meeting on the sly, and she gives him an extra phone so they can communicate with out Pai knowing. But then he decides to leave that phone on the table so Pai can see it.

    Then, whether it's a dream or a reality, he starts seeing a third woman, whom he knows as Kurosawa. They get close, but he begins spying on her, and also sneaks into her apartment when she's not there. She starts providing him with food and drink, but that begins to seem nefarious, and after she gets pregnant - well, let's not go there. It's at this point that things become quite surreal. There is a dream-devil, a good looking but bald young man dressed in red, with red-painted fingernails and a large silver revolver.

    He sees Pai again and she has become repentant, realizing that she was being cruel. She also is ill, as well as sad. And now she starts serving him meals with lots of meat in them.

    A late scene shows the protagonist visiting an automobile showroom where Kurosawa has him look at a luxurious car. Isn't it expensive? he asks (the price is a million Taiwan dollars). But we will need a good car now that we are going to have a child, she says, and then leaves to go to the bathroom, suggesting he sit at the driver's seat. At this point she has become so suspect you may fear the seat will be poisoned. Then he looks out and sees Pai with another fellow. He smiles his charming smile; she smiles more wanly back.

    One looks forward to further viewings and reviews of Suffocating Love to see what interpretations people come up with. I also await more complete cast information since the final credits are only in Chinese and IMDb doesn't have characters' names linked with actors'. Lin Dayuan and Chloe Xiang reportedly play the other women. It is clear that director LIao remains skillful at filming with an iPhone and likes melding rom-com with thriller and horror elements, also enjoying abrupt plot shifts.

    SuffocatingLove 愛的噩夢 ("Loves Nightmare"), 102 mins., debuted at Taipei Jun. 26, 2024. It was screened for this review as part of the 2024 NYAFF (Jul. 12-28).

    SCHEDULE:
    Saturday July 27, 6:30pm (Silas Theatre, SVA Theatre)
    Intro and Q&A with director Liao Ming-yi and cast members Austin Lin and Nikki Hsieh
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-12-2024 at 09:40 AM.

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    LET'S GO KARAOKE! (Nobuhiro Yamashita 2023)


    JUN SAITO, GO AYANO IN LET'S GO KARAOKE!

    NOBUHIRO YAMASHITA: LET'S GO KARAOKE! (2023)

    Choir kid mentors Yakuza mensch

    This is a coming of age charmer matching unlikely types: a meek, bespectacled boy soprano from a choir and a Yakuza boss who comes to him for voice coaching. (It's complicated.) Sparks fly and then they bond. The kid, as the boss puts it, "goes ballistic" when he's angry. His speeches when aroused are illustrations of the fire that can hide behind a seemingly quiet Japanese exterior.

    The boy is Satomi Oka (Jun Saito), and he's the star boy soprano of his mixed choir, but as the story begins he's worried about the final competition. The secret is that his voice is changing and he may not manage the solo any more. That is pushed aside when he is suddenly approached by a sleek, suited man, Kyoji Narita ("Crazy Kid," Go Ayano), who grabs him and says "Let's go Karaoke!" The leader stages Karaoke contests among the gang. Kyoji is afraid of losing, and the loser gets an ugly, mocking tattoo crudely and painfully etched on him by the boss himself. He knows of Satomi's musical accomplishment and wants help. For all Satomi's musical experience, this unexpected new job will take him far afield. He never expected to have one-on-one sessions with a gangster.

    What follows is quite hilarious and unexpected, revealing the human and vulnerable side of Japan's most menacing gangsters and the courageous and macho side of apparently meek types like the boy soprano. At one point Satomi is called on to assess the singing abilities of each member of the whole gang, and with his brutal and specific comments, he astonishes. Frequenting Kyoji and oddly bonding with him leads Satomi to Tokyo's colorful Minami Ginza district. The boy and the gangster start exchanging text messages, and however often Satomi tells Kyoji to go away and stay away, the communication continues and the bond keeps growing.

    Kyoji's hidden paternal instincts obviously are aroused and so is Satomi's need to expand his horizons, and show he can not only use that changing voice to sing sweetly, but to yell authoritatively. Our own desire to root for the underdog is aroused along with our need to see the good in bad guys. Perhaps director Yamashita wants to avoid the obvious, but I would have liked the Yakuza to be played by an actor a little more conventionally tough looking than Go Ayano. But in the heat of the moment that can be overlooked and the film, though slight, goes down easy.

    Let's Go Karaoke!, 108 mins., debuted Taipei Nov. 2023; released Jan. and Feb. Japan and Taipei. It was screened for this review as part of the 2024 NYAFF (Jul. 12-28).

    SCHEDULE:
    Wednesday July 24, 6:00pm
    SVA Theatre
    Intro and Q&A with director Nobuhiro Yamashita
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-05-2024 at 02:35 PM.

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    THE MISSING (Carl Joseph E. Papa 2023)


    CARLO AQUINO IN THE MISSING

    CARL JOSEPH E. PAPA: THE MISSING (2023)

    Through delusion to healing

    In this unusual animated film, which was the Philippines' Best International Feature Oscar entry for its year, an alien about to abduct a child speaks to him in Tagalog. Wny not? The influence of Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin seems obvious here, though the abduction is the clearest part of it, and how the film feels about events is different.

    Araki's film begins with a man's sexual abuse of two young boys, Brian and Neil. Fast forward to years later when they're young men who react dramatically differently to this traumatic event. Neil, now played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a gay hustler. Brian, played by Brady Corbet, blocks out the childhood abuse with the belief that he was abducted by aliens. So there is something of Brian in Eric (Carlo Aquino). Eric and the present-time part of the film is rotoscoped. In using this process Papa has said he was influenced by Richard Linklater's Waking Life.

    Eric is closely in touch with his mom but lives alone in an apartment and works as an animator, and his colleague, the one we see, is Carlo (Gio Gahol). They seem attracted but communication may be impeded by lots of things, first of all that Eric is mute. Not only that, he has no mouth. The animation omits it, and later he loses an eye, and other parts. Eric's traumas as a child are gradually indicated by flashbacks in a more childlike and naive kind of animation. These short, staccato, more stylized passages are rather opaque at first. When the chatty Tagalog-speaking alien comes for Eric it's clear enough. In these childlike animations we see Eric, aged nine, when he was still able to speak (voiced by Jeremy F. Mendoza. And eventually we'll find out the secret that has been imposed on him and we guess why.

    It seemed a good choice on Araki's part not to show us Brian's fantasy memories of alien abduction. But Papa has a wholly different approach to childhood sexual trauma. While in Mysterious Skin Neil, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, gets most of the attention, this is as if from the point of view of Brian, who in Araki's film seems beyond help but here finds healing. Maybe Araki would have shown the aliens if he'd been making an animated film. The beauty of Mysterious Skin in how grounded it is in the real. The beauty of The Missing is that it takes us emotionally through its protagonist's trauma and out into healing.

    A folksy Filipino flavor comes with Rosalinda, Eric's caring mom, who turns out to be open to Eric's gayness and his nascent "thing" with Carlo. Rosalinda is played, rotoscoped, by Dolly De Leon, the actress playing the shipboard cleaning lady who takes over the second half of Ruben Östlund's Triangle of Sadness.

    The action of The Missing is slow to get started at first. Eric is tormented and blocked. He has a lot to deal with and what really troubles him isn't made clear, through the primitive flashback animation, until an hour into this ninety-minute film. Earlier, Rosalinda sends Eric (he goes with Carlo) to look for his uncle Rogelio (voiced by Joshua Cabiladas, who also does the Blurry Man and the Alien), who's been unresponsive, and they have to break into his apartment, and find him dead in his bed - and not recently, which is scary and disturbing. Now Rogelio’s daughter Precy (Christela Marquez) appears, and she has become as mute and mouthless as Eric.

    In a car trip Carlo sensitively plays along with Eric's irrational fears of aliens, which seem very real and emotionally disturbing, and by sharing helps him work through them. Eric's battle with the burden of trauma embedded in aliens, helped by Carlo and a little by his mother Rosalinda, leads him to a dramatic ritual of healing and he gets back all he has lost, his eye, his ear, his penis, his hand, and finally his mouth. He can throw away the whiteboard he has been wearing around his neck to communicate with. Sitting symbolically near Rogelio's grave, Eric speaks to Carlo and Rosalinda, and the first thing he says is that he has something to tell them.

    The film is another example of how animation can be used to delve into imagination and find shorthands to complex emotional truth. It seems laborious at times, but that emotional message is powerful enough to explain the Oscar submission. Papa uses his sources in a new way. The Missing is a touching, heartfelt film.

    The Missing/Iti Mapukpukaw, 90 mins., debuted the Philippines (Cinemalaya) Aug. 5, 2023; also shown at Rotterdam, Palm Springs, Jeonju, Netherlands. It was screened for this review as part of the 2024 NYAFF (Jul. 12-28).

    SCHEDULE:
    Sunday July 21, 4:00pm
    Film at Lincoln Center


    GIO GANOL, CARLO AQUINO IN THE MISSING
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-07-2024 at 12:42 AM.

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    WHEN THIS IS ALL OVER (Kevin Mayuga 2023)


    JUAN KARLOS LABAJO IN WHEN ALL THIS IS OVER

    KEVIN MAYUGA: WHEN THIS IS ALL OVER (2023)

    Rampant covid self indulgence, self-questioning, and class disparities in a Manila condo highrise

    Kevin Mayuga's playful examination of full-on covid self indulgence in a Manila condo high rise may owe something to the HBO anthology series "High Maintenance" of six years ago with its linking personality, a Brooklyn pot dealer known only as the Guy. That's what the protagonist (Juan Karlos Labajo) is called and does here, except he's more involved not only in drug purchases, which range freely over the psychedelic panorama, but in every scene, especially arranging a big rooftop party hosted by a quartet of privileged young misfits. But the working class maintenance staff are not much better, breaking the rules, getting high, giving a crowded little "surprise" birthday for one of their own, which they think is a necessity. Isn't he the senior member of the group?

    Tanya (Nourijune Hooshmand) and Taylor (Chaye Mogg), originally call the Guy toget an order of weed edibles. But they keep talking.The rooftop party arrangement comes when he learns Taylor's father can arrange him to get the US visa he wants. When he geets it and he tells his mom in the US he plans on coming, things start to look different. The Guy keeps getting asked to take the drugs to prove they're legit, so the movie is full of trips. The biggest one is when Guy is being evicted from the condo and his mother's rejection causes him to question everything, and he takes a life-changing dose of psychedelics. It's a cinematic acid trip that compares with the best ones.

    The Guy is a link, not really privileged or snooty like the party-givers, but white, and big, and not forced to work. This is unlike Rosemarie (Jorrybell Agoto), whom he connects with when she hounds him to get off the roof, and then bonds with by blackmailing her to get the upstairs keys for the party. She is little, harried, and works at three jobs. When the Guy says they'r alike, she can't accept it. "The thing you have that I don't," says Rosemarie, "is luck." And you just look at his big white face and his unruly curly hair and you see why she thinks this. This is a world of class, of snobbism, of obsequiousness. And i't a retro world, further frozen by the pandemic. The pandemic, however, is something everyone is working hard to ignore here. Meanwhile we know the Guy may be higher up on the social ladder than Rosemarie, for sure, but he's not anywhere. His main project is to get a visa and come to the US.

    But this isn't unadulterated social commentary. It is primarily the Guy's journey toward self knowledge. It also comes generously packaged in a wild stoner comedy filled with both old fashioned and new getting high scenes and noisy psychedelic party sequences sleekly lensed by cinematographer Martika Ramirez Escobar. The opening titles already announce that, though this is familiar material, its approach is sleek and up to date. Partly exasperating and partly fun, When All This Is Over is a snapshot of Filipino urban society's concerns about class and need to escape from oppressive situtions.

    When This Is All Over, 87 mins., debuted at Pasay, Philippines (Cinemalaya) Aug. 5, 2023, also showing at Udine May 1, 2024. It was screened for this review as part of the 2024 NYAFF (Jul. 12-28).

    SCHEDULE:
    Thursday July 18, 8:45pm
    Film at Lincoln Center
    Intro and Q&A with director Kevin Mayuga
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-07-2024 at 05:57 PM.

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    SALLI (Lien Chien-Hung 2023)


    JUSTIN LIN, YANG LI-YIN, ESTHER LIU, A SETTER, AND A WHITE COCKREL IN SALLI

    LIEN CHIEN-HUNG: SALLI (2023)

    Chicken farmer in rural Taiwan is lured to Paris by a dating app, learns independence

    In this unusual and various movie from Taiwan, Hui-chun (Esther Liu), a vibrant, relaxed country chicken farmer in her late thirties, goes onto a dating app using the name Salli looking for onscreen romance. Everyone around warns her she's just going to get scammed but she persists. She has been joined on the farm from Shanghai by Lin Xin-Ru, her niece, who is a little like her daughter. Her busybody aunt (Yang Li-yin) is also urging Hui-chun to find a mate. The wedding of Hui-Chun's younger brother Wei-hong (Justin Lin) is coming. Fortune tellers and feng-shi experts have declared Hui-Chun's bedroom the best one for the newlyweds, and also declared it would be bad luck for her to attend the wedding. Via the app Xin-Ru sets up for her, Hui-chun seeks to remedy her single status, and she finds, or thinks she does, a French man called Martin, supposedly a gallerist in Paris, who's instantly interested in her and starts wooing her and calling her "mon poussin" (my chick, my sweetheart). The secret is (spoiler alert!) that there really is a French guy the other end of the line.

    This plotline recalls, but winds up quite different from, the similarly dating app-focused NYAFF feature from Hong Kong, Love Lies, where an accomplished, but single, middle-aged Chinese lady obstetrician falls for a dating app Frenchman who isn't. The first section of Salli is marked by its loose, romanticized depiction of farm life, with people running around grabbing chickens for soup, occasionally throwing them some feed, and chased by their friendly dog. One would not want to stay on a farm where the farmers walk around the barnyard in flip-flops, but it looks like great fun, and the acting of Liu, Lin, and the others (including the dog and a handsome white rooster, which Hui-Chun treats like a pet) is relaxed and charming in this setting and the farmhouse life freshly and amusingly used. I rather wish the film had stayed here. But the filmmakers have other things in mind.

    We may be wondering how this rural chicken farm is going to be the setting for a rom-com, however. Well, it's not, because, propelled by a somewhat gratuitous disaster on the chicken farm, Hui-Chun is going to spend her savings not on the app "boyfriend's" scam but to take a tour to France ostensibly, to meet "Martin," and prove to her family that he's real.

    Bear in mind that this film is a Taiwanese-French co-production. So once Salli abandons her quick Taiwanese tour of Paris, what happens is, well, French, filtered through the rose-colored glasses of a Taiwanese picture of French life.It's an adventure that entertains Hui-Chun, but she's content to walk away from it. In this new Paris section of the film she undergoes a transformation into someone more sophisticated and polished but also content to be who she always was. She is less naive than she was when the film began, and from an older female member of the tour with much experience of men she has received a message: it's okay for a woman to be single. Really good, in fact.

    Then comes the third section of the film, Hui-Chun back in Taiwan, where her life is again transformed through brother Wei-hong's wedding, which after all she is invited to and becomes a big part of. Afterwards, he has decided to open a chicken restaurant in Taipei. Hui-Chun will continue to be herself, but in a new framework, raising chickens on the farm for the restaurant.

    The critique of dating app scams again, as in Love Lies, has obviously been abandoned in favor of something else, this time the idea that it's okay for a woman of a certain age to choose to live independently. This film doesn't altogether make sense, but its combination of rural Taiwan segments and Parisian ones is unusual and interesitng. More importantly, it's an original character study, for which Esther Liu makes an excellent tabula rasa, a blank slate in whom we can read all sorts of new possibilities. She goes from naivete to a kind ofd worldly wisdom. She embodies not only beauty and glamor but also plainness; a woman just being real, being herself. Salli, her app persona, turns out to be someone fabulous and cool.

    Salli 莎莉, 106 mins., debuted at Busan Oct. 5, 2023., and was also featured at Taipei Golden Horse, Göteborg, Osaka, Singapore, LA (Asian Pacific) and Taipei. Screened for this review as part of the 2024 NYAFF (Jul. 12-28).
    SCHEDULE:
    Sunday July 28, 4:30pm
    SVA Theatre
    Intro with actor Austin Lin
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-08-2024 at 12:35 AM.

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    OLD FOX (Hsiao Ya-Chuan 2023)


    BAI RUN MIN, AKIO CHEN IN OLD FOX

    HSIAO YA-CHUAN: OLD FOX (2023)

    Boy learns about inequality from sly local boss in a Dickensian coming of age focused on real estate

    With Old Fox director Hsiao Ya-Chuan has made an old-fashioned but highly accomplished and thought-provoking movie about the basic moral conflict between justice and power. The ruthless and cruel local factory and property owner Boss Xie (Akio Chen), who is like a well-dressed lizard tooling around in beautiful cars, befriends the 11-year-old Liao Jie (Bai Run-yin) because he feels the boy is a kindred spirit, the mirror image of himself at that age. Jie's father, Liao Tai-lai (Liu Kuan-ting) ,Xie thinks, is like Xie's own late mother, a "loser," softhearted, not tough. "Inequality," Boss Xie repeats to the boy, "inequality." There is a power structure, he teaches the boy, and you must learn to be ruthless to get to the top of it. He remembers that he began himself very poor, his mother a street cleaner who died of blood poisoning

    The boy is tempted by Boss Xie's lessons and some of his power wears off on him simply by visibility, by his riding back and forth in Xie's big black chauffeured Mercedes and expensive new red sports car, which intimidates bully boys who lingered around and menaced the boy earlier. He gets dirt against the bully boy's mother that he wields to threaten the boys and make them run away. Jie has been called a "snitch" and doesn't even know why. His new skill at menacing the bullies is as satisfying to him as it is infuriating to him when his father in a gesture of kindness gives up the possibility of a cheap store space he had gained from Boss Xie. Jie really has come to identify with Boss Xie. . . but then he begins to feel the man's cruelty and brutality and rejects him.

    The movie is complicated, despite its schematic ideas, and I am not sure I follow it after one viewing. It also gives us glimpses of other possibilities. There is, for example, a brief stream of black and white images of penniless boys begging for help, like many generations of Liao Jie, shot like clips from Italian Neorealist films. There are several women who come and go, without explanation. And, at the end, there is a present-day scene of an adult Jie, now a sophisticated and accomplished architect. In his work and Zoom consultation on the design for a glamorous but understated house it doesn't seem the contrasts between justice and power really apply.

    The time of the main action, 11-year-old Jie, is 1989, a moment of rapid economic growth and insecurity in Taiwan, when some made a killing and others lost everything. Jie's father, Liao Tai-lai, is a waiter dreaming of owning a small space where he can open a beauty shop in memory of his late wife, the boy's mother. But his savings aren't enough when property prices suddenly double. The boy repeatedly tries to persuade Xie to sell his father a property at a price he can afford, but what Xie wants to do is teach the boy to be tough and self-interested, indifferent to morality and to human feelings, like him. Drink cold water, he says in a memorable moment, close your eyes, and say "None of my damn business!"

    There are other characters, notably Miss Lin (Eugenie Liu), the young woman people refer to as "Miss Pretty," who is Xie's rent-collector. (It's all collected in person in cash every month.) She is an agent of the cruel boss but herself a kindly person with the renters, and she knows Liao pčre, who serves lonely and sumptuous meals to her at the restaurant. She seems a somewhat mysterious character. In fact we don't go deep into any character. We often see Liao pčre and his son meeting at their little home and we see the boy in school uniform, but school we don't see. We see the father play the saxophone and take in tailoring, but this hardly makes us know him. We are instead restricted to a stylized world of power and weakness, haves and have-nots, the soft-hearted and the hard-hearted. We know the boy has talent because he solves a Rubik's cube. This is an old-fashioned world as well as an old-fashioned movie. The characters are conceived in rather Dickensian terms, but the stark contrasts still work. As the boy, Run-yin Bai is the best in the cast, his performance a marvel of restraint. He presents a whole panorama of stoney expressions. When he smiles, it's a breathtaking moment. Director Hsiao's suave control can be seen at work.

    Old Fox 老狐狸, 111 min., debuted Oct. 27, 2023 at Tokyo and Nov. 11 at Taipei (best feature, best director), Golden Horse (best director award, other awards), and this year (Apr.-May 2024 at Udine Far East Film Festival. It was screened for the present review as part of the 2024 NYAFF (Jul. 12-28).
    SCHEDULE:
    Friday July 19, 6:30pm
    LOOK Cinemas W57
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-09-2024 at 10:05 AM.

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    A BALLOON'S LANDING (Angel Teng 2024)


    FANDY FAN (AS A-XIANG), TOP, AND TERRANCE (CHUN-HIM) LAU (TIAN-LU), BOTTOM, IN A BALLOON'S LANDING

    ANGEL TENG: A BALLOON'S LANDING (2024)

    TRAILER

    In search of Jin Run-Fa

    What this movie from Taiwan about the unrequited attraction of two young men may lack in verisimilitude or logic or sexual oomph in its screenplay it compensates for, if you view it sympathetically, via the charm and good looks of its twin protagonists, the complex romantic wistfulness of the action, and the beautiful scenic locations.

    In the main action a frustrated Hong Kong writer, Tian Yu, meets a Taipei street gangster, Xiang, and the two of them embark on a journey to find the Bay of Vanishing Whales, a place that leads to paradise. But a Letterboxd comment (in Chinese) is "The Taiwan travel promo has no plot at all, and the parallel time is very fragmented." Some have commented it's not really gay but just a movie packaged as "queerbait." This indeed is a long tease of a gay romance, with no punch line, just the wistfulness.

    At the outset, the poetic voiceover mentions the death of legendary actor/singer-songwriter Leslie Cheung along with the passing of the speaker's parents. One of Cheung's songs will be referenced later. The voiceover is spoken by Tian Yu (Terrance Chun Him Lau), a young writer in Hong Kong who, though he has admirers, is adrift. He winds up going to Taiwan, which he used to visit on summer trips with his parents as a child, where he wakes up in a room in Taipei with a male hustler, A-Xiang (Fandy Fan), whom he owes money. He tries to escape, and keeps being pursued by the increasingly enthusiastic and clingy A-Xiang, who wants his money, and seeing he's loaded, sticks around for more. There's probably also an initial attraction, but that is only hinted at with a look or two, and scuffles that are an opportunity to get physical. They have a good time, including attending a summer fireworks festival, but nothing happens, that we see, other than closeness, and the longing that follows, years after.

    Flashbacks and voiceovers recount how Tian Yu as a student found a letter from an orphanage from a boy of eight called Jin Run-Fa. They begin a correspondence. It is Jin Run-Fa who tells Tian Yu about the Bay of Vanishing Whales. Tian Yu in turn tells the boy about how years ago he fantasized writing the story of a boy alone on a remote desert island who finds a bottle washed up on the sand containing a message from ten years in the future. As I've written previously, even Wong Kar-wai indulged in romantic hooey like this, borrowed from Chinese pulp novels. It weaves in and out to add a dreamy, poetic aura to the foreground narrative and to intermix fantasy with unrequited experience.

    Of course it would turn out - it seems obvious when it's sprung on us - that Jin Run-Fa later changed his name to A-Xiang, so Tian Yu has, without their knowing it, met the boy he corresponded with when he was a student. And this gives him an excuse to go back to Taipei and seek out the young man who, anyway, he was wanting to see again, after he has snuck back to his, after all, successful life as a writer there - his novel is going to be made into a TV series - a dry, bureaucratic interlude that makes the viewer long for the Taiwan seashore and the energetic, good looking young hustler. (A-Xiang is supposed to be considerably younger than Tian Yu, though the age difference of the two actors, 30 vs. 35, doesn't show much.)

    For the Chinese audience much of the fun may be in contrasting the lonely, jaded Hong Kong writer guy with the vibrant young Taiwanese hustler. Different cultures and dialects linked by, perhaps, a common need. And for all of us, the charm is in the actors. On the road trip A-Xiang, with the Taiwan heartthrob Fandy Fan turning on the charm and energy in the role, dances around the glum, reserved Tian Yu, the latter in approach-avoidance mode, pretending to reject A-Xiang while following him in a trip to the coast through various changes of venue and means of conveyance, on the pretext that A-Xiang can take him to the Bay of Vanishing Whales, almost a mythical, dreamlike place Tian Yu knows or dreams of only from the lost boy's letters. But after a while the motor bike rides and dips in the water and tastes of new dishes Tian Yu starts to smile and feel attracted, hinted at when he grabs A-Xiang around the waist on the motorbike. He enjoys being with A-Xiang very much. But not that way.

    Director Angel I-Han Teng is already known for a successful LGBTQ+ drama series, "Fragrance of the First Flower." But she doesn't have the kind of remarkable grasp of male homosexual desire, and sex, for a woman, that was displayed so notably by Patricia Nell Warren in her unforgettable mid-Seventies gay page-turner, The Front Runner. In fact this movie seems to dance around rather than plunge into male-to-male desire. If this is a homosexual awakening for Tian Yu as some presume, it remains on a very platonic level. A Balloon's Landing seems to want to linger forever at the first glimmerings of experience.

    A Balloon's Landing 我在這裡等你 ("I'll Be Here Waiting for You"), 100 min. Screened for this review as part of the 2024 NYAFF.
    SCHEDULE:
    Sunday July 14, 4:15pm
    LOOK Cinemas W57
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-09-2024 at 09:01 PM.

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