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Claus Mueller


Claus Mueller is a Film Festival Ambassador to filmfestivals.com

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene.


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2017 New York Asian Film Festival

The festival presents popular Asian cinema in North America and has been identified as “the best film festival in New York byThe Village Voice and as “one of the city’s most valuable events” by the New York Times. Because of its reputation the festival has been expanding its program and audience, approaching now more than 6000 people. NYAFF is growing even though two similar film festivals, Japan Cuts and the Asian American International Film Festival take place in New York during July and early August.

Celebrating its 16th anniversary the New York Asian Film Festival was held from June 30 – July 16 in collaboration with subway cinema and the Film Society of Lincoln Center presenting 57 films which were all produced in 2016 and 2017. The festival introduced the new juried NYAFF Main Competition with seven films by first- and second-time directors who had this year their North-American premiere. Honored this year were Eric Tsang, Hong-Kong with the Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award, Gang Dong-won, South Korea with the Star Asia Award and Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Thailand with the Screen International Rising Star. Duan Yihong received the Star Asia Award, recognizing his body of work. He is the first actor from China to whom this award was presented. The newly created Excellence in Action Cinema Award was given to South Korea’s Jung Byung-gil. More than 30 filmmakers, and celebrity guests from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia attended the festival. Featured in the main competition were With Prisoner (Andrew Wong, Hong Kong), A Double Life (Yoshiyuki Kishi, Japan), Jane (Cho Hyun-hoon, South Korea) The Gangster’s Daughter (Chen Mei-juin, Taiwan), Bad Genius (Nattawut Poonpiriya, Thailand), Birdshot (Mikhail Red, Philippines) and Kfc (Le Binh Giang, Vietnam).  Bad Genius won the Best Feature award. Japan’s A Double Life received the Special Mention Award and the Vietnamese director of Kfc Le Binh Giang was given an Honorable Mention as the Most Promising Director.

NYAFF presented 6 films from China, 10 films from Hong Kong in the special Hong Kong Panorama section, 15 films from Japan, 12 films from South Korea,7 films from Taiwan, 3 films from the Philippines, and one each from Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia. It is interesting that 23 of the 57 films shown at the NYAFF were Chinese language productions. There were 13 features from Hong Kong, China and Taiwan in the program of the Asian American International Film Festival scheduled in New York from July 26 to August 5 2017.  Chinese language films are served by well-established festival outlets in New York City. This may account for the absence of a Chinese Film Festival in New York City, though it may be politically problematic to include Taiwan in such festival.

In 2016 the festival changed its focus towards China and South East Asia, a reorientation maintained this year with an emphasis on “Young Blood”, new film makers from Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Panorama part of the festival program also reflects the 20th anniversary of the establishment of Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region of China replacing the British control.  What is also emphasized is the attempt to provide more inclusivity of the story of Asian cinema by including Asian-American films and more documentaries. Programming of the festival reflects these changes. From Hong Kong’s Young Blood the selection of 6 new film makers mirrors the fact that 28 directors made their debut there over the last 12 month. The rise of China propels Chinese language films having become Asia’s leading producer of genre films and mainland China as essential for co-production enterprises and for the exhibition of foreign language films be they Americans or Indians. There are relatively few South East Asian films in the program but from the festival’s perspective articulated in the catalogue “Southeast Asian cinema has the potential to become an idea factory for global cinema. The Vietnamese film Kfc is an example of how all boundaries of traditional filmmaking can be broken.  In the festival program there is also a stress on South Korean filmmakers holding up a critical image of their society and its “moral sewers” and on the Taiwanese “resurgence with new films by some of its cinema’s best directors”. 

Birdshot, Mikhail Red, Philippines / Quatar, 2016   Set in an isolated rural environment Mikhail Red presents the story of the cover up of a dozen murdered farm laborers and the embrace of violence. A bus with farm worker passengers disappears and an eager young policeman, Domingo tries to solve the crime. Maya, an innocent young teenager living with her father Diego, the caretaker of the fields adjoining their home, kills a rare protected eagle in a nature reserve. In spite of some evidence that a powerful landowner is behind the murder as evidenced by testimony from the wife of a missing worker and the eventual discovery of the workers’ corpses Domingo is forced to abandon his quest to solve the crime due to the orders by his superiors and threats to his young wife and infant child. He and his fellow officer Mendoza are instead commanded to find out who shot the eagle. Domingo readily embraces the lawless and rule breaking behavior of his corrupt senior officers and takes part in the torture of Diego who was ordered to the police station. Diego denies having any knowledge about the eagle. Diego manages to escape and the following morning kills Mendoza and is gunned down himself by officers trying to bring him back in. Maya has a chance to shoot a wounded Domingo but lets him live. All the characters live on the fringes of society where survival is the principle goal and only those with power win. Domingo adapts to the firmly entrenched violence surrounding him and his family. In her first acting performance as teenaged Maya, Mary Joy Apostol provides an outstanding performance.

 

Bad Genius, Nattawut Poonpiriya, Thailand, 2017   As an international premiere Bad Genius was the opening film of the festival. It provided a striking perspective on the Thai high school milieu and the impact of class structure on that system. Those with financial means can purchase their success and those without it have a chance of survival only if their intelligence is great enough. The genius student Lynn has no problem succeeding in an elite high school and can map out her great future. For a friend who has more money than brains she devises a successful multiple choice cheating system which other students learn about. Those applying to an American Ivy League school as Lynn does need to take an exam in Sydney. She develops a sophisticated cheating system and trains students how to use it. The fee they pay her will be used to finance her studies. She takes the exam but a fellow genius student spills the beans. Both are expelled from the high school. Bank suggests setting up a system to beat all US university entrance examinations. Lynn is ambivalent.

 

A Double Life, Yoshiyuki Kishi, Japan, 2016    This film offers the audience a startling investigation of the question of identity, who we are and why we exist. Tama, a philosophy student is unable to complete her work on what it means to be human and appears disconnected from her world and herself. Her professor, Shinohara, proposes to follow a randomly chosen person carefully recording that person’s habits and secrets. She picks a book editor who lives across the street and is a family man with a child and dedicated wife. In her pursuit stalking him she discovers that he has an affair, and observes him and his lover having sex in an alley.  His work interaction with a writer in a restaurant is also noted. She collects information about him from a neighbor taking care of the residents’ garbage and carefully records what happens to him including his wife’s suicide attempt. At one point he confronts Tama and accuses her of tailing him. Tama responds that she is not allowed to talk with him, an answer he does not understand. He cannot understand her motivations and suspects that she was hired by his wife to follow him. Tama cannot relate to those close to her or express her emotions. Her boyfriend leaves her because she cannot give him an answer as to why they are together. The deepest parts of her have somehow remained empty but since she started tailing others those parts seem to fill up. She derives meaning by experiencing others. Her professor encourages her research and suggests small changes in her thesis. As he suggests, placing yourself in someone else’s life is a path to know yourself and passion may be the only way to truly value another human being.

 

The Gangster’s Daughter, Mei-juin Chen, Taiwan 2016   Separated from her parents Shaowu is raised by her grandmother on a remote island. When her mother passes away she meets for the first time her father Keiko at the funeral. Her father makes his living as a gangster and she is sent to live with him in Taipei because she had problems at the local school. As an independent spirit her adjustment to urban life and the new school is difficult. She gets attached to her father, though troubled by her father’s involvement in the criminal world. Abiding by his old criminal codes Keiko refuses to get involved with the drug trade though his bosses urge him to do so. One afternoon he discovers in Shaowu’s bag a cigarette box with hidden drugs which had been given to her by a school mate. The platform for inevitable conflict between Keiko and the bosses is set.

 

Claus Mueller    filmexchang@gmail.com

 

 

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