Even for those who can’t get a ticket, the New York Asian Film Festival continues to be one of the best gateways into far-eastern cinema around.
Continuing to see success eighteen years after their first edition, the festival is now expanding from its annual two-week summer blowout to also stage a standalone selection held across two weekends this February.
The first-ever Winter Showcase centres around the premise of “Crazy Broke Asians” – more than just a pun, or a description of the running theme of what’s on show. This title highlights the fact that, without proper financial backing, quality films like these would not find their way to western audiences.
Actor Han Ji-Min will be on hand at the screening of the opening night film, Miss Baek. Showing for the first time in the continent, the film follows the eponymous Miss Baek as she attempts to break away from her problem past while trying to help a young girl to avoid the same fate.
These themes are echoed in other festival fare, in particular Yang Ik-june’s Breathless, while others seemingly reverse them, such as Patrick Tam’s After This Our Exile. While dissimilar in its story, Eric Khoo’s Mee Pok Man also explores the concepts of unlikely alliances and people living on the fringes of society.
Moving from figurative fighting to literal fighting, 100 Yen Love sees Ando Sakura of Shoplifters as a slacker whose life is turned around when she takes up boxing. This selection is complimented by Crying Fist, starring Oldboy‘s Choi Min Sik as one of many strugglers who attempt to win a big cash prize at an amateur boxing competition.
The showcase picks up momentum, but remains true to its theme, with a pair of heist thrillers. First is the fast-paced and multi-layered Fly By Night, the debut film of Malaysian director Zahir Omar; then gangsters search for a driver who has gone missing with stolen money in the mixed medium animation – and one of the most interesting films on show, Have a Nice Day.
Of course, an Asian film festival would not be complete without a slate of action films, and the NYAFF Winter Showcase brings together highlights from yesteryear and today throughout the second weekend.
Classic kung-fu flicks 7 Grandmasters, The Mystery of Chess Boxing and The Swordsman of All Swordsman will all be shown, followed by an early entry from Hong Kong satirist Stephen Chow, King of Beggars. Finally, the showcase closes out with a double bill of Indonesian action from director Gareth Edwards; Menratu and The Raid: Redemption.
This well-curated collection are all prime examples of some of the things Asian cinema does really well – unconventional stories, characters from unusual walks of life, storytelling that can be bold, unflinching and daring, and, of course, plenty of masterful ass-kicking.
While Crazy Rich Asians continues its crusade to bring Asian cinema into the mainstream, those ready to make the effort can see here that what’s going in Asia’s underground is already far more interesting, unique and entertaining.
The good news for those unable to get to New York in time is that at a lot of these films are available to stream and on DVD. For those not too well versed in cinema from the continent, these are all worth seeking out, and could lead to more when you’re done. For already committed fans, it’s time to go crazy.