From 17 June until 2 July, New Yorkers have a wonderful distraction from the ever-increasing stench that sets in over the city as the heat index rises to about 115 degrees -- The Subway Cinema gang are back with the 4th New York Asian Film Festival, and this year's lineup is their strongest ever.
Probably the most exciting entry in this festival that features films from China, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Thailand and India is the latest from 82 year-old Seijun Suzuki -- the fantasy-musical Princess Raccoon, starring Zhang Ziyi. A well-known film critic of note who saw this at Cannes wrote Filmbrain and told him not to miss this one under any circumstances - advice he definitely plans on following. Other films that have piqued Filmbrain's interest:
Tetsuya Nakashima's Shimotsuma Monogatari (pictured left) was something Filmbrain wrote about back in the early days of this blog. Now called Kamikaze Girls, this explosion of color that tells of the unlikely friendship between the Lolita-styled Momoko and biker-chick Ichigo looks like it might be more irreverent than irritating. Plus, Filmbrain wants to catch the original before the inevitable Olsen Twins remake.
Though Filmbrain is no big fan of the boxing film genre (especially of late), Ryoo Seung-wan's Crying Fist has one big thing going for it -- namely Choi Min-sik, star of Oldboy, Happy End, and Failan, and one of the most consistently interesting actors working today. Here he plays a middle-aged boxer well past his prime -- a role well-suited for him. As long as it doesn't turn into a Million Won Baby (which seems unlikely), it has the potential for doing something original with an otherwise tired genre.
Green Chair, from Park Chul-soo (director of 301/302, for years the only Korean film available in the states) is based on the true story of a 32 year-old woman who was arrested for having an affair with a 19 year-old, which is one year younger than the age of consent. Filmbrain missed this at the Berlinale, but has heard many good things about this tale of l'amour fou.
Two films from Japan that sound positively fascinating are The Taste of Tea, and the oddly titled Survive Style 5+. The former is a quasi-homage to Ozu (in that it paints a simple portrait of Japanese family life) blended with a healthy dose of surrealism. With rave reviews from various film festivals, this is one that looks too good to miss. The latter is a hyper-kinetic bit of absurdist comedy that somehow weaves together five unrelated tales of homicide, hypnotism, homoeroticism, hit men, and shocking advertising. Featuring Vinnie "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" Jones as a philosophizing killer for hire with a personal translator. Both films feature the hardest working man in Japanese show business, Tadanobu Asano, who also stars in Vital, being shown at the festival as well.
Mamoru Hoshi's University of Laughs (based on the two-man stage play by Koki Mitani) is a political satire that some claim is directed at the current US political situation, even though its setting is 1940s Japan. In it, a playwright clashes with a government censor over whether or not his play is patriotic enough, but the two soon wind up as collaborators on a new version of the play.
There's plenty of opportunity to get your geek on at the festival with Godzilla Final Wars and Tetsujin-28. Advertised as the final ever appearance by Godzilla (we've heard that before), this latest entry in the giant lizard's oeuvre was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Azumi) and features uncredited cameos by Monster Zero and Minilla, son of Godzilla (and proof of nepotism within the Japanese monster movie industry). Fortunately, the effects are as cheesy as ever -- rubber suits and models of Tokyo (and New York) will take you back to Monster Week on the Channel 7 4:30 movie. Tetsujin-28 (aka Gigantor) is the king of the Japanese giant robot movies - you know, the ones with actors in costumes shot from low angles fighting battles in Tokyo. Fine, fine stuff.
There are plenty of other good films being shown, including Shunji Iwai's follow-up to All About Lily Chou-Chou, Hana and Alice (which Filmbrain has been meaning to review for the past five months) and Kekexili: Mountain Patrol, set in the wilds of Tibet. Then there's the horror omnibus Three...Extremes (wonderful), a ghost story set during the Vietnam War (R-Point), Kim Ki-duk's naughty teens (Samaritan Girl), and the experimental and disturbing The Late Bloomer. In fact, there's really very little filler in the festival. Tickets are available online through the website. Hope to see you there!