The curtain is about to go up on one of the biggest celebrations of one of the most daring and diverse corners of the film world. For sixteen years, the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) has been one of the biggest champions and promoters of Asian film in the USA and beyond, and the 2018 edition will continue the commitment to honour the continent’s best exports and bring them to wider attention.
A June 29th showing of Dynamite Graffiti, a film of the life of notorious Japanese pornographer Akira Suei, will begin seventeen days of non-stop first-rate Asian cinema.
Films from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are all on show at this extensive and well-curated selection of the best films from the continent. Organisers also do well to showcase films that highlight innovations and developments in Asian cinema, and also reflect the important social and political changes affecting some territories.
One social matter prominent in this year’s program is the timely issue of female shaming and teenage bullying. This problem is explored by four films of this year’s selection: Kim Ui-seok’s harrowing After My Death, uncompromising The Hungry Lion from director Ogata Takaomi, River’s Edge from veteran Japanese director Yukisada Isao, and on the more supernatural end, Naito Eisuke’s Liverleaf.
Carrying on the societal awareness, two selections from Malaysia evoke the change of social and political attitudes in the country. Dain Said’s genre mishmash Dukun has been banned for its scandalous content but will be screened for the first time in more than a decade at the festival, and also showing is the more contemporary Crossroads: One Two Jaga, about a cop fighting corruption in his own police force.
On June 30th, guest of honour Dante Lam will receive the festival’s Daniel A Craft Award for Excellence in Action Directing. It comes in the wake of the huge success of his latest film, Operation Red Sea, which will be screened at the festival, along with two more of his films; the 2010 psychological crime thriller The Beast Stalker, and the martial arts drama from 2013, Unbeatable.
This Lam triple-feature is part of the festival’s staple Hong Kong Panorama strand, showcasing the best new releases to come out of one of Asia’s most productive and diverse national film scenes. Also part of this year’s Panorama is House of the Rising Sons, the story of renowned Hong Kong rock band The Wynners, directed by the band’s drummer, Anthony Chan; phone-scam thriller The Big Call, the latest from cult director Oxide Pang; rising star of Asian action cinema Max Zhang in The Brink, which accompanies Paradox, starring veteran action star Tony Jaa; Stephy Tang-fronted modern take on the traditional kung fu film, The Empty Hands; and social comedy Men on the Dragon.
Directed by Sunny Chen and starring Francis Ng and Jennifer Yu, Men on the Dragon follows employees of a struggling company who join its dragon boat team in the hope it will keep them their jobs, and will be premiering to the world at the festival on July 12th. As such, it will be one of the main attractions of the festival this year.
Receiving a lifetime achievement award from the festival, director/actor Masato Harada will be on hand at a screening of his latest offering, Sekigahara, a depiction of one of the most devastating battles in Japanese military history. Additional showings of his 2015 historical drama Kakekomi and crime thriller from twenty years prior, Kamikaze Taxi, will show how his long and varied career has come full circle.
Jiang Wu and Kim Yoon-seok will both receive acting prizes from the festival: Jiang for his turn as a father searching for his missing son in Wrath of Silence, and Kim for his performance in 1987: When the Day Comes, which is centred around Korea’s June Democratic Uprising.
Sung Hsin-yin attempts to analyse forty years of Taiwanese history in his film On Happiness Road, the only animated contingent of this year’s festival. Fans of the medium need not fret, as three live-action Manga adaptations are on show: from aforementioned Liverleaf and River’s Edge, to Inuyashiki, about an alien life form who turns a terminally ill office worker into an indestructible cyborg, and, most intriguing of all, The Scythian Lamb, where a small-town official unravels the past of six mysterious residents following the discovery of a dead body.
Other festival highlights include; pioneering and talented Filipino filmmaker Irene Villamor’s twist on the romance drama, Sid & Aya (Not A Love Story) – the twist being the female lead is calling the shots; Counters, an unfortunately timely documentary about Japan’s right-wing action groups and those who oppose them; Siwakorn Jarupongpa-helmed, karaoke-based ghost story Premika; The Handmaiden’s Kim Tae-Ri in Little Forest, a quiet drama about a woman who finds a new lease on life after moving to the country – and on the opposite end the award-winning Old Beast, where an elderly man starts living the high life as his time draws near.
If that wasn’t enough, NYAFF’s comprehensive selection caters to all tastes, and keeps on delivering. Fans of crime films will have their fill with the fare this year’s selection has on offer: Gatao 2: Rise of the King, Neomanila, On The Job, The Third Murder, Smokin’ on the Moon and We Will Not Die Tonight.
Festival-goers who like a laugh will be right at home at the screenings of Looking for Lucky and What a Man Wants, while those looking for a little romance can seek out The Ex-File: Return of the Exes, Dude’s Manual and The Last Verse. The Age of Blood, Missing Johnny and One Cut of the Dead are a perfect fit for action fans – the latter of particular interest to attendees partial to zombies – while those who prefer films of a quieter nature are also provided for with fare like End of Summer, I Can Speak and Midnight Bus.
The festival also makes room for two films from a genre that holds an unlikely but ardent fascination in Asia – the western. Festival favourite Tears of the Black Tiger from turn-of-the-century Thailand will serve as companion to a more recent offering from Indonesian director Mike Wiluan, Buffalo Boys.
At the end of it all, NYAFF 2018 closes out in style with BuyBust, the most ambitious and high-octane film yet from renowned Filipino director Erik Matti, who will be on hand along with stars Anne Curtis and Brandon Vera at the showing on closing night, July 15th.
While this is a festival more on the celebratory and inclusionary side, there is also a main competition. Competing for the top prize this year are Crossroads: One Two Jaga, Liverleaf, Men of the Dragon – already discussed – as well as Shiraishi Kazuya’s exploration of the Yazkua underground, Blood of Wolves (July 2nd); Dong Yue’s serial killer drama The Looming Storm (July 9th); Jeon Go-woon’s satire on Korean society Microhabitat (July 10th); and Respeto (July 14th), about a young, aspiring rapper who forms a relationship with an elderly former poet. The main prize will be handed out to the winning film on the last night of the festival.
All this adds up to what will no doubt be a breathless, fascinating and, most of all, hugely entertaining fortnight-plus in New York that will not disappoint those fortunate enough to have a ticket.
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